Leonard Cohen
"You Want It Darker"

by Jim Di Gioia

October 31, 2016

Our days are numbered. Using a multi-page, celestial spreadsheet, there’s some sentient, omnipotent accountant somewhere tallying our revenues and expenses.They are calculating down to second, the date and time of our expiry. There will be no warning. There will be no judgment. We will not be able to plead our case for an extension. The numbers don’t lie, and they are unforgiving.

Poets like Leonard Cohen have always explicitly understood how the end will come to us, but have kept this knowledge hidden in the beauty and starkness of their words. As a recent review of his new album, You Want It Darker suggests, he’s had a sense of finality about him. An extremism, pushed to the farthest limits. Be it love, death, sanctity or depravity, Cohen’s never been afraid of going to the edge. Like an equation that has many possible solutions, Cohen’s lyrics, each in their own way, have felt like a settling of affairs before the tax man (or henchman) comes to collect.

That’s never been more evident than on “You Want It Darker”. He chants “Hineni, hineni” (Hebrew for ‘Here I am’) and “I’m ready, Lord” like a devout, resigned servant; sing/speaks of his struggles (“They were middle class and tame”) as a choir and cantor amplifies his human frailty. With a casual shrug of the shoulders and a ‘what can you do?’ grin, Cohen looks deep into our soul, reaches out and puts one of his stately hands on ours. The gesture is tender, is touching, and is terrifying.

He couldn’t have timed sharing this song of sobering honesty and frankness any better. As the final days of 2016 give way to cold and darkness, and as he himself settles into his eighty-third year, “You Want It Darker” is a wake-up call. It is a gentle and warm warning alarm. It is Cohen reminding all of us who mindlessly go through life that time is not limitless for anyone, not even a perennial talent like himself.

Jim Di Gioia

Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.
Jim Di Gioia

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