A broken offering — Leonard Cohen

A cracked voice, an empty bank account, a tour of duty. Who would have thought so much light could still get in?

Leonard Cohen’s autumnal years have been afflicted, and his writing nuanced, by more than a simple awareness of his own mortality. The Canadian singer-songwriter spent most of the 1990s in a Zen monastery in California, during which time his manager (and former lover) Kelley Lynch siphoned off several million dollars’ worth of earnings, mostly from the sale of his publishing company to Sony. Not being particularly astute in such matters, it took Cohen several years to work out what had happened, by which time he was facing a severely diminished bank account and a rather larger tax bill.

The resulting legal squabbles no doubt sapped Cohen’s creative powers, and used up even more of his diminished funds. That Lynch was ordered to pay him back was little consolation — she hasn’t done so, and is now in prison for harassing him. Yet Cohen was able to cast a ruefully theological spin on events and all the time he was forced to spend in other people’s offices. As he put it to one Canadian journalist in 2009: ‘If God wants to bore you to death, I guess that’s His business.’ Such, we might think, is the wisdom of Cohen. His music has always awakened impulses in his devotees to see him as some sort of mentor for the melancholic. But this impulse took a new twist once Cohen’s own fortunes looked bleak: what would, or could, he do in the face of this personal crisis?

The reality, of course, was that Cohen needed to find some cash. His output had never been prolific (he has released a dozen studio albums in a 45-year recording career) and, in any case, his critical acclaim has never been matched in sales figures. Where he had always been able to turn a respectable profit was through live shows, though he hadn’t toured since the early 1990s. Through necessity rather than any particular inclination, Cohen went back on the road. Continue reading


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