By Judith Viorst
I had a very profound and very personal relationship with Leonard Cohen—not that I ever met him. Back in the 1960s, when I first fell in love with him, I didn’t know many people who were that captivated, or even that familiar, with his insinuating music, astonishing lyrics and haunting—though admittedly not great—voice. There were plenty of spectacular musicians out there, commanding vast adoration from their fans. But I loved Leonard.
As a deeply committed wife and mother of young sons, I found that his songs insistently put me in touch with an unruly, ungovernable part of myself. On some level I truly believed that if Leonard knocked on my door and said, “Come away with me now,” I’d have gone. Wild woman? Responsible wife and mother? Coward? He didn’t knock, and so I’ll never know.
Over the years I listened to Leonard in every room of my house, and delighted in hearing his music on movie sound tracks from McCabe and Mrs. Miller to Shrek to Take This Waltz. My middle son, Nick, picked up on my enthusiasm for his songs, and now we’re into a third generation of Leonard fans. Nick’s sons, Nathaniel and Benjamin—two of my grandsons—are able to do a quite creditable version of “Like a Bird on a Wire.”
A couple of years ago, I received my dream birthday present: tickets to go, with my husband and Nick, to a Leonard Cohen concert. Madison Square Garden was packed with fervent fans, and Leonard didn’t disappoint. Frail-looking, hoarse-voiced, pushing 80 and still sexy as hell, he performed for almost four hours, singing every song we loved, offering encore after encore, and literally skipping on and off the stage. He was, as my kids would put it, awesome.
And now he is dead. As I read one eloquent tribute after another, I am reminded that it’s been a long time since he’s been my very own Leonard Cohen, that millions upon millions of women and men have embraced him, that my favorite lyric—”There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”—now seems to be everyone’s favorite lyric. That the world has had a very profound, very personal relationship with this ladies’ man, this questing man, this reverent and irreverent man, and (certainly his favorite word) this broken man.
Judith Viorst is a poet and author whose books include Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Unexpectedly Eighty: And Other Adaptations.