Leonard Cohen lays out his philosophy for life, and it’s just what you would expect. He’s a downtempo kind of a guy. When I hear this, I hear it as a decades-too-late reply to Marlene Dietrich, who crooned “A guy who takes his time, I go for every time” back in her day. Dietrich didn’t leave much question as to what she meant, and she was, indeed, a fast-movin’ gal, if you catch my meaning. We can be sure what Leonard Cohen means about it too. He’s talking about cruising along savoring the slow stuff, and sensualism has always been his philosophy. Of course, he comes from a different time, when the pace of life was not so jacked up on synthetic adrenaline, and taking things slowly just to enjoy them didn’t seem like such an exotic luxury. Well, we all have something to learn from the old geezer, don’t we?

Samson in New Orleans

Leonard Cohen never flagged in his old age, and for that he is an inspiration to us all. He made being elderly seem nearly appealing, or at the very least, not appalling. Who wouldn’t want to be a gentleman-poet in their sunset years? Cohen’s persona was well-suited to it, of course; he had an air of well-weathered wisdom even as a young-ish man. If it wasn’t the wisdom of age in his voice on those early records, it was at least the pursuit and the promise of such. His last couple of records are unmistakably works of wisdom earned. That’s not a perspective that pops a lot in the pop world, because the pop world exists mostly to inflame the young. It’s a system of planned obsolescence, designed to be outgrown. For anyone who’s outgrown their own pop moment, it’s a comfort to turn to Leonard Cohen’s placid and pithy voice. He offers an aspirational image: no longer an attempted ladies’ man, but still fully creative, spiritual, and much given to canes and good hats.


If you didn’t think Leonard Cohen was an important pop cultural figure, well he is now. He’s scored the much coveted opening credit slot on the second season of True Detective. That divisive show, if you haven’t seen or heard of it, presents a view of the world about as tar black as a creative vision can get before descending into pure horror territory. But not without a hard-won sliver of redemption. Leonard Cohen is not an artist with quite such a dark view, but he too has a vision of spiritual redemption as something fought for against horrific odds. With occasional specks of graveyard humor, he tells us that we find our light despite other people’s best efforts.

My Oh My

Leonard Cohen, 1977.
Photograph by Arnaud Maggs. Found at Library and Archives Canada. 

Leonard Cohen’s popular problems as of 2014 are mostly the same ones he was dwelling upon in 1967; the bittersweet business of pursuing love in an increasingly ugly world. It may sound trite when I put it that simply, but those are the things that have been Cohen’s concern, and he, being one of the poets of our time, can elevate such basic topics into the realm of high meaning. Getting older doesn’t seem to have changed his perspective much – he still sighs a weary sigh at the grotesqueries of the world around him and turns back inward to pursue desire. He’s always sang in the voice of a slightly battle scarred old rogue, a ladies’ man just past his prime, having lived to an age when being a ladies’ man is as sad a life as a fun one.