R.I.P. L. Cohen

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

Usually, when a musician I really admire dies, I like to spend a few days diving deep into their discographies, reacquainting myself with the familiar songs and uncovering deep cuts. Already this year, I spent many hours exploring, for example, David Bowie and Prince, two great singers, songwriters, musicians.

Last week, we lost another great singer and songwriter, Leonard Cohen, who died at age 82, apparently on Nov. 7, although I didn’t hear about it until late on the day it was announced, Nov. 10. I listened to a few of my favorite songs that night, and then they next day I started in on what was planned to be a day-long meal feasting on his music.

But I just couldn’t do it. After listening to three albums, Songs of Love and Hate, Various Positions, and Songs from a Room, I was just an emotional wreck. His songs just carry so much weight, too much gravity for background listening during a work day. And the words are too piercing and too powerful.

So, I put on something word-less and happy—Booker T & the M.G.’s—and went about trying to refocus my day. And then I felt myself finding some unexpected sense of renewal—like something melted and then reforged stronger.

And then, over the weekend, I watched Saturday Night Live, or, as I watch it, Sunday Morning Prerecorded, and saw cast member Kate McKinnon’s cold open performance of Cohen’s song “Hallelujah.” She was dressed in character as Hillary Clinton, and despite the fact that at one moment she literally winked at the audience, it was a relatively straight-laced performance.

It was a brilliant gesture that connected two of the week’s biggest news items. And brought new perspective to “Hallelujah,” one of Cohen’s most overplayed and over-covered songs. The final verse especially had new poignancy as performed by a “Clinton”: “I did my best, it wasn’t much/I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch/I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you/And even though it all went wrong/I’ll stand before the Lord of Song/With nothing on my tongue but ‘Hallelujah.’”

Brad Bynum