Not that anyone asked, but Leonard Cohen was a kindred spirit to me for the following reason. I felt that he was someone who had a predator spirit, but was clearly self-conscious about it, just like me. I felt that his songs spoke to those like me who are susceptible to making other humans their muses, to deriving ‘inspiration’ from humans they find beautiful, to roving and waiting like hungry wolves. Sometimes I see what I am and I say that I and my kind are a pestilence upon the innocent earth (Radiohead’s ‘creeps’ and ‘weirdos’ lol). But Leonard Cohen taught me to meditate on my objectifying instincts to make them into self-aware acts dignified enough to be shared with the muse, in principle or in practice. ‘We are ugly, but we have the music,’ he said. I guess he took this sublimation to its logical extreme in ‘If It Be Your Will’, making an act of admiration into a form of totally submissive worship. At the other end of the spectrum, he taught me not to overstate inspiration (‘that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often’). To me, the same thread ran through all of his lyrics about desire – a painfully strong intention to say, and to only say, something true. His comments on the mundane and the sublime are cut from the same cloth.
I’m not entirely sure what made me start writing this but (and now I apologize for possibly turning this into another boring-ass 2016 socio-political facebook fart) it might be because I believe it’s easier for me as a woman to be confessional about my predatory spirit (I’ve never been chastised about ‘the female gaze’), and I do like to speak up (if and) only if I can say something I think other people aren’t saying. Of course, I can only speak for myself. But I think what I mean to say is that Cohen, among others, has helped me deal with my masculinity, and for that I’m supremely grateful.
My job means that I’ve regularly worked with (mostly male) photographers and artists for most of the last decade, so the male gaze has, for better or worse, ended up being one of my primary objects of casual study throughout my adult life, haha. ‘Let me see your beauty broken down,’ it says to me during my typical working day, ‘as you would do, for one you love’. I’ve learned to deal with this request with more compassion as I recognize with increasing sensitivity that the roving poets and I are the same creatures. It dawns on me anew every day that, despite what people like to say about male desire being ‘simple’, which perhaps it is, I’ve nevertheless been fortunate enough to discover the sheer variety in the relationships men have with their desire – one of the most complex and fascinating things I’ve come across in nature. I’m grateful that Leonard Cohen shared this aspect of his nature with with such clarity.
So thank you, Mr. Cohen for teaching me to handle inspiration with dignity, to take my subject matter seriously and not myself, and to strive for truthfulness at all costs in my ongoing attempts to convert my human desires and longings into something worth sharing.