Following Leonard Cohen’s death on November 7th, news of which spread this past Friday, artists, critics, and plain old fans have sprung forward to pay homage to the great singer-songwriter. Many have recalled Cohen’s famous lyric from “Anthem:” “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” Even as we mourn Cohen, the beauty of the tributes excerpted below provide some light, and help prove his point.
1) The Memphis Symphony Orchestra Chorus’s flashmob “Hallelujah”
A Tennessee grocery store is likely not a site where anyone expected they’d be brought to tears over Cohen, but the Memphis Symphony Orchestra Chorus had other plans. Surprising shoppers on November 10th, the day news of Cohen’s death broke, the Orchestra performed one of his most famous songs: “Hallelujah.” Watch the moving video below.
2) David Remnick’s last interview with Cohen
This past summer, New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick spent a few days with Leonard Cohen. (The ensuing profile, “Leonard Cohen Makes it Darker,” appeared in the magazine’s October 17th issue.) In light of Cohen’s death, Remnick revisited his interviews with Cohen, producing a special edition of “The New Yorker Radio Hour.” Much of the podcast revisits material from the profile, but hearing Cohen’s thoughts on the end of his life in his own words lends them a new depth and grace.
3) NPR’s retrieval of a 1993 interview with Cohen
So long as we’re chasing Cohen interviews, NPR’s revisiting of a backstage talk with Cohen in 1993 is a gem worth listening to. Early on, for instance, Cohen admits he has “5 or 8 notebooks” full of drafts of his song “Democracy,” a rare insight into the depth of his creative process.
4) Maria Popova’s close reading of “Democracy” in light of the election
Those 5 or 8 notebooks gave rise to a song dense with observation about the complications and insufficiencies of democracy. (For instance: “From the wars against disorder/From the sirens night and day/From the fires of the homeless/From the ashes of the gay/Democracy is coming to the USA.”)Popova, the mastermind behind Brain Pickings, breaks down the song’s timeliness, showing off the intricate wealth of Cohen’s lyric as she does.
5) Chris Martin of Coldplay covers “Suzanne”
Playing an encore at London’s Palladium on Friday, Chris Martin performed an acoustic cover of Cohen’s “Suzanne.” “Sending my love to Mr. Leonard Cohen for those amazing songs,” Martin said, according to EW. “You changed my life.”
LIVE: Chris Martin of Coldplay performs “Suzanne” in memory of the late great Leonard Cohen #AtlasOnTour#RIPLeonardCohenpic.twitter.com/BDzUTfzUmE— Atlas Project (@ColdplayAtlas) November 11, 2016
6) Leon Wieseltier’s paean to Cohen in the New York Times
Calling Cohen “the most beautiful man I have ever known,” Wieseltier writes about his decades-long friendship with Cohen in prose so poetic that it would have surely won its subject’s approval. “He lived in a weather of wisdom, which he created by seeking it rather than by finding it. He swam in beauty, because in its transience he aspired to discern a glimpse of eternity: There was always a trace of philosophy in his sensuality,” Wieseltier comments.
7) Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox’s eulogy in Pitchfork
Cox, who covered Cohen’s “It Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” in 2012, wrote in Pitchfork of Cohen’s enormous lyrical power. “Leonard Cohen wrote what I believe to be the single greatest lyric I have ever heard,” he wrote: “‘Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows.’ The first time I heard it I was young enough that it almost slipped by me but moments after hearing him sing it, plainly, without affect - I was picking my jaw up off the floor.”
8) Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton sings “Hallelujah”
Chalk this up as, surprisingly, perhaps the saddest of the bunch: Kate McKinnon opening Saturday Night Live, in character as Hillary Clinton, singing “Hallelujah.” There’s humor there — for those who thought Clinton cold, the lines “I couldn’t feel/So I tried to touch” will strike an amusing chord (ahem) — but the performance is suffused with grief. “I told the truth,” McKinnon sings, unusually subdued, “I didn’t come to fool you.” Whatever your thoughts on Clinton, that line certainly holds true for Cohen. His honest appraisal of humanity’s flawed beauty will be missed.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax