Leonard Cohen Speaks the Truth

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Leonard Cohen has a new album out. Popular Problems. I’ve listened to it twice and it lives up to the tremendous expectations I have of every new Cohen album.  Coming just two years after his last album, he also claims that the next album is already half-written. He’s 80 years old now and seemingly not wasting any time.

Anyway, I was reading the review on Pitchfork (7.6 out of 10, which seems about right) and there’s this quote from Cohen in which he’s talking about a lesson he learned from his Zen master (who died in 2014 at the age of 107) and which struck me as seriously fucking true:

“Roshi said something nice to me one time,” he started. “He said that the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. Which means that this hero that you’re trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life—this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they’re not heroic defeats; they’re ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die—I can’t invest any more in this heroic position.'”

I just love the way he starts off that story. “Roshi said something nice to me” followed by something that could be taken as astonishingly depressing. But it could also be pure optimism – because if something is wrong, how can you fix it unless you know what it is?

Here’s the lyrics to one of the new songs on the album, Almost Like the Blues. I think the second verse is killer. And then the third verse is even better.

I saw some people starving
There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning
They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic
It was almost like the blues

I have to die a little
Between each murderous thought
And when I’m finished thinking
I have to die a lot
There’s torture and there’s killing
And there’s all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing
Lord, it’s almost like the blues

So I let my heart get frozen
To keep away the rot
My father said I’m chosen
My mother said I’m not
I listened to their story
Of the Gypsies and the Jews
It was good, it wasn’t boring
It was almost like the blues

There is no G-d in Heaven
And there is no Hell below
So says the great professor
Of all there is to know
But I’ve had the invitation
That a sinner can’t refuse
And it’s almost like salvation
It’s almost like the blues

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