I was deeply saddened to learn last night of the death of poet, novelist, and musician Leonard Cohen. For the countless fans that have connected with his music over the course of his 50 year long musical career, Cohen has served as equal parts companion and court jester, writing lyrics that were usually equal parts beautiful and cynical, mixing barbed love songs with enigmatic social commentary and plenty of self-deprecation. This was all packaged in his distinctively conversational lilt, a voice that I used to love to fall asleep to until I spent some time with his post-Songs From A Room work and realized just how biting and angry he was. Around the same time I started to suspect that his feelings towards women might be more complicated than I had thought--after all, he came of age in the 50s. All of this is to say that he wasn’t just the love-worn troubadour that the "general listening" CD collection staple The Best Of Leonard Cohen would have us believe. He was messy, cryptic, and seemed to contradict himself readily.
I wanted to share New Skin for the Old Ceremony today for a couple of reasons. It houses some of his more potent political songs, specifically “There Is A War” and “A Singer Must Die”—songs that are lyrically vague enough to be timeless, and as such feel apropos on a day as bilious as today. It also marks a turn in instrumentation for Cohen, incorporating new percussive textures, violas, mandolins, and jazz inflections—still minimal, but more orchestrated than the bare bones guitar-and-vocals of his previous records. From there, it’s easy to see a mostly straight line building up to the unabashedly synth-pop critic’s darling I’m Your Man. Finally, New Skin is the Cohen record to which I feel most attached: in particular, the brutally worded “Why Don’t You Try” has been a reproving reminder to ask uncomfortable questions about loneliness and codependency after every break-up I’ve gone through since I was a teenager. As with much of his music, New Skin offers new insights with every listen, so we're all the more grateful for his large and generous body of work. Thank you for everything, Leonard.