Remembering Laughing Lennie

Tabitha Steemson gives a touching tribute to the late Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

The day before I left home to come to Oxford I found a hidden stash of my parents’ records in a cupboard in the sitting room. In this, amongst the Kate Bush and the New Order was a “The Best of Leonard Cohen” album. One might recognise the cover – it’s a sepia picture of him looking in a circular mirror in Milan, and as he himself described it “I hardly ever look this good, or bad, depending on your politics”. I had known, and liked, Leonard Cohen before spotting this amongst the other vinyl. Just this summer I had been in Montreal, and there I had purchased his first ever novel, ‘The Favourite Game’. We called him ‘Laughing Lennie’ in my family, in homage to the bitter, serious humour that runs consistently through everything he does. This record, however, started something new. When I asked my dad if I could take it with me here, he was overjoyed. As it turns out, it was one of the records my mother brought with her when she first came to Oxford, 38 years ago almost to the day. This was, of course, a cliché, but a significant one. I packed in the back of the car the next morning, and a love affair began.

That record has spun around my record player more times than I can count since being here. Everyone who has come into my room has at some point been subjected to Laughing Lennie. It’s helped me build relationships (the Oriel Chaplain also loves Leonard Cohen), it’s helped me make people laugh (apparently my insistence to call him sexy despite a 64 year age difference is comical), and it has helped me deal with the sadness and insecurity that I’ve felt since being in Oxford. The thing about Leonard Cohen, is that he is (or now was) sincere. He was a man, a Jew from Montreal, who loved music and loved poetry and loved women. He wrote songs about himself, songs that make sense to those that listen to them but weren’t written to be universal. He never thought too highly of himself, but he was never self deprecating either. He was just a man, a beautiful, talented man, who had things to feel and stories to tell. I always admire poets. People who can write what’s inside my head in a way I could never do. Leonard Cohen was the epitome of that – he took the soul, the human condition, and put it to music. For that, I (and many others) will be eternally grateful.

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This year we have lost too many heroes. It hurts my heart to think of the minds and the intellects that were here twelve months ago and now are no longer. These deaths can, as a silver lining, reignite our love and passion in those that we lost. So, if you haven’t already, go and listen to Leonard Cohen. Listen to ‘So Long Marianne’ and dance and sing with a friend. Listen to ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ and share in a vulnerability that not many other grown men have been willing to expose. Listen to ‘I’m Your Man’ and cringe at the creepy sexiness of it all (and try to imagine your parents doing their first dance to it, as my god-sister has to). Listen to ‘You Want it Darker’ and giggle at the cheesy backing singers who seemed to never be more than a verse away from his deep and moving voice. I hope that this death can bring new ears to my hero. I hope that someone who is struggling to find their feet, albeit in Oxford or in life, can listen to a man who loved and who felt and feel that they are not, and will never be alone. Laughing Lennie, you will be missed.