Many years ago, in a shabby flat above a bakery and a travel agent, I made a practice of listening to Leonard Cohen on Sunday mornings. This gesture, in the days of long hours listening to Pantera and Sepultura on hot, VB filled afternoons, was not without significance. We were listening to Roots, Chaos A.D and The Great Southern Trendkill a lot back then. It was a pretty dodgy flat and was visited by quite a few chancy sorts. It was not the most productive of times.
So pursuing my Leonard Cohen fantasy was unusual for its subject if not for its unprofitable use of time. Part of it was simple courtesy to my flatmates and our nodding guests (Leonard wasn’t shouting); part of it was trying to make Sunday mornings seem cosmopolitan and sophisticated, slightly more literate I guess; and part of it was a vain attempt (in both senses) to broaden my emotional horizons beyond my adolescent range of guilt and revenge. I was not really successful in any of these objects.
My courtesies mattered little because Sunday morning wasn’t really able to be demarcated from Saturday night and the bodies on the sofa objected to Leonard more loudly than if Master of Puppets had been my taste. Actually they wouldn’t have minded Metallica; we were that kind of crowd. And there was never going to be anything cosmopolitan and sophisticated about Sunday mornings when being hung over was the impression du jour, occasionally replaced by coming down hard: there was no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. It was common most mornings at that particular flat and Sunday never any different.
As for my emotional horizons, perhaps I gave myself too little credit: there was plenty complicated and delicate about where I was and the shape I was in. Leonard spoke of these qualities but I couldn’t go for his shrugging melancholy. Later I found it comforting, tuning into Leonard became gesture of acceptance. An embrace of a trembling, valiant grown-up-ness that was more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than anything I had envisaged picking up the empties from the floor, more than anything I could have imagined for myself when taking the kebab wrappings to the bin.
But I listened to Leonard Cohen on Sunday mornings, the same disc over and over, until it was an act of discourtesy and was acknowledged as such by my flatmates. I began to sing, always a dangerous act in shared housing, and eventually was asked to leave. I fled, abandoning much for the sake of haste and pleased to see the back of it all. It was also an enormous relief to not have to listen to Leonard. He was first rate as a weapon but he had been my poison ally for so long I too was becoming poisonously mature.
As time passed the poison seemed sucked out of us both. He sounded more like the cadences of wonder and yearning and these seemed fitting, matched to my own awkward gestures toward something worthy. All of this is a long way of saying that I really adore ‘The Partisan’, that when I feel wonder and yearning I hear Leonard sing “the wind, the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing.” ‘The Partisan’ has become an accompaniment to my greater hopes. No one hears it but there’s a grin that comes when my inner Leonard sings and I have faith that one day we will come from the shadows and freedom soon will come. As it did from that shitty flat.