2016 — Present Time
After hearing the news a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but feel immense sensitivity towards the realness of mortality, the finite time we have on this planet, the people that have inspired me and the legacy I want to leave behind.
1995 — I was 9 years old
It’s a cold winter night, and my father is playing “I’m Your Man” for the first time on his infamous 24 Speaker Surround Sound System. My childhood house was not nearly spacious enough to truly benefit from that kind of acoustic power, let alone walk around safely without knocking down a tower or two, but that’s just how my father rolled.
“Dad, why do you need so many speakers?”
“Darling, just please listen to Leonard Cohen’s voice.”
“If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I’ll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver, climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I’m your man”- Leonard Cohen
Subwoofers and amplifiers were literally used as coffee tables, yet despite complaints and countless police visits, nothing would get in the way of Cohen’s golden voice permeating through the space, reverberating deeply inside our chests, and massaging our souls long into the night.
As I would sit there on the carpet floor far passed my bed time, listening to one song after the next, I could viscerally hear a hero in the making for me.
Somewhere within, beneath or behind that husky voice of his was a distant beacon of truth— a calling for my own self-examination and self-development — a musical right of passage from boy to man.
In hindsight, it may have been my first small glimpse into the powerful intersection of art and spirit, where the creative human potential yearns to share something with another while silently longing for deeper connection.
Somehow back then I felt that if I paid close attention I could maybe discover some hidden treasure that only men with deep voices knew about, men like Cohen, men like my Dad. My sweet father Georges, the rugged quintessential looking man on the outside, but on the inside: infinite generosity and love, all the while bearing a similar physical resemblance to Cohen himself. My two male heros. Mommy I love you to death.
As the end of the album drew nearer, my dad must have noticed me shuffling through the cover art to find the lyrics for the final track: “Tower of Songs”
I could always tell how pleased he was by my enthusiasm for his musical taste.
As Cohen sings in the background, my dad urges me once again, to pay close attention to Leonard’s wise rumble; to his presence, to his power:
“Joe, what a voice ha?! Listen, listen…”
“I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Song”
I remember always nodding with renewed amazement and agreement to the moments where my father would ask my brother and I to take part in the sensory realm; the flavours in the food, the acting in a film, the music, the music, the music.
When it came to Leonard Cohen, I can now see that a part of me must have unconsciously been bearing witness to some sort of — wisdom recognizing wisdom — wise men recognizing wise men; a legendary artist sharing his poetry with the world, with my father… and my father finding common ground in the lyrical confessions and reflections of a womanizer, of a lover, of a father, of a man being carried along the way, through the ebb and flow of longing and loss, desire and liberation, torment and peace — the very footsteps tracing the pathless road towards some kind of fulfillment… and maybe a profound kind of self-reform that all spiritual practice seeks to cultivate.
As I gratefully dig up this memorable evening in my childhood and re-relate with my first innocent aspirations, I can recall how impressionable I was early on, and how I still am to this day, when confronted with those who’ve lived, suffered and attempted to overcome the weight of the world, the weight of existence.
Like all great work of art, Leonard’s writing and music reflects an aspect of our magnificent human condition to those who need it.
1997 — Two Years Later. Zen & Leonard Cohen
“Please forgive me for not going out with the band at this moment, but I’m trying to learn some things and get myself into a shape which I hope will result in songs that are deeper and better, and maybe on that basis I’ll be forgiven.”
www.1843magazine.com — Mt Baldi Monastery in LA
Stina Dabrowski interviews Leonard Cohen at the Mount Baldi Zen Buddhist Monastery where Leonard would retreat in order to immerse himself in disciplined Zen Buddhist practice. A 50min Documentarywas made about his day to day life there as an ordained monk, and about his much needed time away from the world of temptations.
2016 — Present Time
I only stumbled onto this documentary three weeks ago, the day I found out that he passed away.
After hearing the news, I just felt so sensitive, for days… experiencing the very realness of mortality, the impermanence of it all — like being flooded by ice cold water to remind me that ice cold is indeed COLD — conversely I was also reminded of the unbelievable times in which we live in: to create freely, to share, reach and be heard. I really thought of our beloved Leonard, and what he gave to the world, to which I quickly asked my self: “Am I working as hard as I can? Doing, Creating and Sharing my skills and talents with the world? I will, I must.”
How meaningful is legacy? I think its so important.
I knew that Leonard was deeply involved in the Zen tradition, however only during that week did I stumble onto that documentary. All I could feel was immense gratitude for the privilege of witnessing Leonard in his very private and exposed day to day spiritual regime over at the monastery, further revealing how his quest for lasting solace was the only thing that mattered to him in that particular period of his life.
With a 5–6 year personal history in daily Zen Meditation, listening to him answer Stina’s questions resonated with me in ways that I could have never previously tasted if it weren’t for my own ongoing spiritual work.
I suppose this is why I am exploring, relating and expressing all of these emotions and reflections to you.
The conversation below is from Stina Dabrowski’s interview with Leonard Cohen at Mt. Baldi:
Stina: “Doesn't it bother you to not tour with the band for your greatest hits record?”
Leonard: “I can’t interrupt these studies here. I am involved in an activity now that cannot be interrupted. It’s too important for me to interrupt it. Its too important for any future work that I might do. Its too important for the health of my soul.”
Then Leonard quoted an old hebrew saying:
“If I am not for myself, who will be? and if not now, when? If I am only for myself, then who am I?”- Hebrew Saying
Leonard was doing the kind of inner work that helped him steer his way through his struggles, not around them. The discipline of sitting inside our own noisy temple, to realize that the mere sitting still, brings about a natural peace, from in to out. The beauty is of course in the call to action that suffering provides, that however deep any of us suffer, we are can be immediately destined to experience the contrast, “that’s how the the light gets in.”
And now below is a song from the album that largely came as a result of the time taken to cultivate all of this self-reform, towards re-claiming himself, and re-uniting with an often clouded peace living veiled within us all. Our Birthright.
I listen to this alone in my NYC loft, missing my father who eagerly waits for me to go visit him in his castle of speakers. My childhood playground.
Thank you Leonard, Thank you Daddy