This morning has seen a wave of superlatives from music fans, DJs, journalists, politicians and, of course, a huge spectrum of musicians, all of whom have been touched by the music of Leonard Cohen.
Speaking to Ryan Tubridy, Dave Fanning, a man who has interviewed virtually every household name in the world of music and movies, joined in that chorus, describing the Canadian legend as, “the most interesting person I have ever met.”
Although news of Leonard Cohen’s passing only emerged this morning, the 82-year-old actually died on Monday of this week, and has already been buried. But in a year that has seen the departure of David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali, was the news a shock?
“If you think about it, at the beginning of the year, David Bowie knew something. No question about it. His last performance was an amazing thing. The Black Star album. The way he shuffled off this mortal coil. To an extent, I think Leonard Cohen has been doing it for the three albums he has released over the last three or four years. It’s a bit of a swansong, right through to the very end.”
Last month, Leonard Cohen gave an interview to the New Yorker magazine, which Dave Fanning looked back on as a “goodbye”, of sorts. And certainly, he was a man who, in recent times, publicly proclaimed himself to be ready for death.
In the last decade or so, Leonard Cohen has visited Ireland on various occasions, playing legendary concerts at Kilmainham and the 3Arena in Dublin, as well as Lissadell House in Sligo, a venue closely associated with one of Cohen’s own idols, WB Yeats. But ironically, as outlined by Dave Fanning, this might never have happened, had Cohen not been forced to tour again, following the loss of his entire estate.
“In the 1990s, he went to a place called Mount Baldy, in the environs of Los Angeles. Whatever fairytales were trashed into us at school, the spiritual search that Leonard Cohen was on all of his life was absolutely fascinating. The ‘who are we, why are we here?’ questions. He’s been constantly on this quest.”
At Mount Baldy, he became a Japanese monk, leaving the life he knew behind. Unfortunately, he also left his fortune, his nest egg, in the hands of his business manager, Kelly Lynch, who proceeded to “siphon off” that fortune. When this emerged, Leonard Cohen initiated court proceedings, and Kelly Lynch is now in the LA County jail, according to Dave, undergoing “anger management classes, psychological training and alcohol education schemes.”
The first set of Leonard Cohen’s legendary Irish concerts took place in 2007, in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, in Kilmainham, and Dave Fanning remembers them well. “The first night was so amazing… The love coming from the audience.”
What was his appeal? Clearly, it went beyond music. It even went beyond the poetry of his lyrics.
“I’ve often been asked who was the best you’ve ever met. Why change the answer now? I’ve always said Leonard Cohen. I’ve met him twice, in London, both times. He’s the most erudite, most gentle, most interesting … You could get lost. After about 45 minutes into the first conversation, it was like, “please, don’t stop this. I’ll shut up, you keep going.” I’ll tell you, he was a really sexy man.”
Reeling in the Years 2016 will be a difficult show to put together, in years to come. David Bowie, another idol of Dave Fanning, the superlative Prince, the extraordinary Muhammad Ali, the universally loved Terry Wogan: each departed this year, each deserving of multiple tributes.
In the days to come, television and radio producers, newspaper and online editors will all attempt to capture, in summary, documentary style, the prolific brilliance of Leonard Cohen: poet, philosopher, musician and true artist. Some of them might even come close.
To listen to Dave Fanning’s personal tribute from this morning on The Ryan Tubridy Show, click here.