You saw her bathing on the roof,
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you…
This duality of romance and spirituality would become a highlight in Cohen’s eclectic career. “Hallelujah” was recorded for Cohen’s 1984 album, Various Positions, which brought Cohen worldwide acclaim. More so than any album, Various Positions challenges its listener to contemplate difficult subject matter. The album opens with the haunting “Dance Me to the End of Love”, a song that can be powerfully interpreted as chronicling the fates of concentration camp prisoners.
Cohen’s connection to the past can also be seen in his 1969 album Songs From a Room. He frequently makes references to past historical events, or even biblical stories, by evoking wartime imagery and angry deities. Cohen’s effort to conjure up the past can be heard in the “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes”, “The Old Revolution”, and his hypnotic cover of “The Partisan” about the French resistance movements against Nazi Germany during World War II. On the other hand, “Story of Isaac” was inspired from a parable in Genesis that accounts one man’s unwavering faith to a fear ruling God.
More so than anything, Cohen will forever be known for his poetic expressions of love and doomed relationships. The 1998 album I’m Your Man contains a number of songs to that effect. “Everybody Knows” is a song that about societal troubles that come in the way of true love. “Take this Waltz” is a seductive number about Cohen’s burning affection for a poetess who had a lasting impact on his songwriting. Cohen’s romantic and sometimes idealized view of woman can be heard on I’m Your Man, where songs like “Suzanne”, “Sisters of Mercy”, and “So Long, Marianne” express his curiosity and longing, as well as betrayal by the women in his life. Cohen explored similar themes outside of his music. Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers, which precedes his songwriting, follows a love triangle set during the tumultuous 60s.
Beautiful Losers is now considered a seminal piece of post-modern Canadian fiction. During the last five years of his life, Cohen’s songwriting took an equally beguiling turn as he began to examine spiritually darker themes. His 2012 album Old Ideas shows Cohen acknowledging his mortality, particularly in “Going Home” and “Show Me the Place”. Cohen’s peaceful acceptance of death can be heard on You Want It Darker (2016), a bleak but lovely summation of his life that Cohen uses to bid farewell before departure. Listen carefully to “Leaving the Table” and you can hear Cohen reconciling past grievances and indiscretions in favour of peace and tranquility. As such, the listener gets the impression that he knows this will be his final musical offering. Cohen’s acceptance of his fate displays a powerful sense of closure rarely displayed by another artist, a sentiment we would not expect from anyone other than Leonard Cohen.