One year ago today, Leonard Cohen died. I first heard his music in 1976 when a student teacher took over our 4th form English class and played Suzanne as an example of poetry. Thank you, Mr Student Teacher.
Last year, in between Christmas and New Year – that hazy lazy reflective holiday period – I wrote the following short story in remembrance of Leonard Cohen.
So Long, Sixteen
The last of the ham and the pudding is given to the chickens. You think, how disgusted Jesus would be at the waste generated in honour of his birthday? Now there’s just New Year’s to get through. The thought of resolutions and reflections on the year that was are sickening. Maybe January will be peaceful. Lazy summer days: holiday novels, stone fruit, salty skin, sleep inducing televised sport, no work, no commitments.
But the truth is you want it darker. You scour the internet to find hints of war, financial collapse, political scandal and unsuccessful celebrity marriages. You polish off the gifts of beer, wine and spirits not for the euphoria but to relish in the hangovers. It’s a slow and tortuous suicide – a coward’s exit for sure. Care factor zero. Watching and waiting for some real drama, not bullshit day to day histrionics, but the real deal. And not over there somewhere, but right here right now on our doorstep with a battering ram. Something to wake you up from the nightmare that this is as good as gets.
From the ashes of the desired violent revolution, you dream up the required treaty. It is only words, yes that is true. Words are all we have to define ourselves and our place in the cosmic mix. Words are everything. The human world is built of words. A rousing tune and a universal symbol emblazoned on a flag will accompany your attempt to articulate a new and more eloquent expression of the human condition. A complete package to keep us on track. Vigilant against the blinding glare of shiny new gadgets made by the third world slaves to sedate the first world sheep for the sole benefit of the one percent in their gated palaces. Yes, we need a treaty.
“Darling, the Joneses have invited us over to watch the fireworks from their terrace.”
You despise the Joneses and their terrace, their phony friends and the whole concept of fireworks, and the fact you’ll have to take something even though they said to bring nothing. What you bring will be placed to one side and ignored. You may as well go down and shoo away the chooks, retrieve the ham and pudding, wrap it in recycled gift paper and let Richard Jones deal with it on January 1. That would be being on the level. But you say yes to the invite and will spend your dwindling holiday pay on an acceptable bottle of a wine that will not be acceptable at all.
Your submission, from a fear of saying no, despite an irrefutable right to decline, eats away at the pathetic remains of your once healthy identity and integrity. You pray for Armageddon and then remember you’re an atheist.
Your family and friends can see that you are leaving the table and they don’t understand. They are searching for a label to describe your condition. The theoretical spectrums of autism, anxiety and depression are discussed in your absence. Yet you hear every word, it is written on their eyes.
Mixed together, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, make poo-brown – that is a fact. The only sensible response is to discard the worn out palette and start again with charcoal on white paper. Can’t they see that? Can’t they see that brown won’t do? Or grey, for that matter. Everything is so grey these days. Nothing is right or wrong, relativity gone mad. And everyone feels the nausea, if they listen to their gut that is.
“Where are you, lover?” she asks.
“I am lost,” you manage to reply.
“Talk to me,” she offers.
“I can’t tell you what it’s like, only that if I didn’t have your love I think I would simply disappear and be nothing.”
She let’s you be lost. Just like she let you change your career mid-stream, and like she let you buy that guitar and let you stop the number of kids at two. Letting you be is her greatest gift. Even after her affair there was no thought of going solo. Your imaginings of her naked and wild with Richard Jones hurt like nothing else, not even the ruptured duodenal ulcer compared. And the revenge infidelity, a seedy ménage à trois with Mrs Jones and her Filipino maid, only added trauma.
Time and brutal honesty did the healing. And you can’t help but think that the whole sordid affair, the absolute violation of marriage vows made in the maelstrom and ignorance of passion and youth, was needed to set things right. Your love has never been stronger. You are lost in the world, not lost from her.
After years of accumulation there were years of shedding, and now you’re travelling light. No God, no philosophy, no goals, no desire for unnecessary stuff. For a while it seemed the better way. Now doubt with a capital D has struck again. Existential terror. Uncertainty running feral, indecision rife, January looming. Waiting for it all to break, for some cracks to let the light through.
A reluctant man with a deep and rich voice strums simple chords to ask the universe for guidance. We dare to call him spiritual and he backs away again. This time for good. We cling to an idea that if we steer your way, Mr Cohen, we will be delivered from all pain and suffering. And yet we know that is a lie, like all the lies that weather us down to dust.
On New Year’s Eve you pick up your one remaining guitar and strum F#minor – your very own string reprise treaty.
“It’s nice to hear you play again, lover,” she says.
“Hallelujah, Suzanne,” you cry with a smile.