Leonard Cohen once said that “music is the emotional life of most people.” For any other artist, that might have seemed like a throwaway comment that rang true enough for a soundbite, but Cohen lived that belief to the fullest throughout his entire career.
He strove to deliver hard truths without pulling his punches over top of some of the most touching musicality anyone has ever produced. He was candid and intentional. He offered a sense of solace in the hard times and become a sobering realist when we needed it most. Below, we’re going through 8 of the most poignant lyrics Cohen penned throughout his career. Let’s begin.
1. And I choose the rooms that I live in with care / The windows are small and the walls almost bare / There’s only one bed and there’s only one prayer / I listen all night for your step on the stair (“Tonight Will Be Fine”)
Part of what makes Leonard Cohen’s lyrics so great is how simple and transparent they can be. “Tonight Will Be Fine” is one of his most straightforward. With a concise touch, the loneliness of an ascetic existence is summed up in the lines above.
2. And leaning on your window sill / He’ll say one day you caused his will / To weaken with your love and warmth and shelter (“Stranger Song”)
“The Stranger Song” is the tale of a woman who is giving love to strangers and receiving nothing in return. Featuring some of the most poetic lines ever committed to song, Cohen expresses deeply moving and yearning lyrics with a casual air.
3. Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in (“Anthem”)
Often when a music legend dies, there is always that one line that is used to distill their entire legacy into one moment. For Cohen, that line seems to be There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in – there are worse lines to be remembered by.
4. Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you? / It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth / The minor falls, the major lifts / The baffled king composing Hallelujah (“Hallelujah”)
You can’t discuss great Cohen lyrics without mentioning his magnum opus – “Hallelujah.” Arguably one of the most famous songs of all time, “Hallelujah” discusses love in perhaps the most encompassing way ever done in song—nearing religious levels. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person on earth that doesn’t know this track and for good reason.
5. Your letters, they all say that you’re beside me now / Then why do I feel alone? / I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web / Is fastening my ankle to a stone (“So Long, Marianne”)
In “So Long, Marianne,” Cohen once again delves into the complexities of love. This track highlights Cohen’s unparalleled ability to deliver imagery in his lyrics. Painting a contrasting picture between enduring love and fleeting lust, this Cohen track deserves its dues among his most impressive efforts.
6. I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? / Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet / But I hear him coughing all night long / Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song (“Tower of Song”)
It can be hard to present a song that has both a sense of solemnity and light-hearted nature. “Tower of Song” however does just that by tipping his hat to the artists that came before him. Although he aligns himself in good company there isn’t an ounce of ego to be found. In its place, there is a marked sense of reverence.
7. Listen to the mind of God / Which doesn’t need to be / Listen to the mind of God / Don’t listen to me (“Listen to the Hummingbird”)
A posthumous album, Thanks For The Dance, was released three years after Cohen’s death. The last track from the record acts as a sort of last word for Cohen. Taking things back to the bare-bones poetry he employed in his early career, “Listen to the Hummingbird” even feels like Cohen is being put to rest. Calm, even-tempered, and deeply moving, the track is an apt ending to a chapter.
Photo: Sony Music Publishing