A good friend of mine taught me a valuable lesson when I was a younger man. As he knew I had a predisposition towards the new and perfect, he instead encouraged me to seek beauty in the ill-used and oft-damaged. He showed me how scarred things display their flaws freely and should be embraced for the history they openly convey. In a Japanese household, if a beloved piece of pottery is damaged, it is often repaired with gold dust, then loved just as before or even moreso with a thereafter prominent presentation, a philosophy known as Kintsugi. The gold does not seek to diminish the damage, rather to celebrate it. My friend often found broken things and cherished them.
“If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, then mine must be the shame
You want it darker“
I do not always understand why an artist decides against releasing a video for an iconic work of theirs, though I am sure Leonard Cohen simply lacked opportunity in this case. Sadly, he would die mere days after releasing his final album You Want It Darker. The images taken from the album’s photoshoot show him sitting, likely because he was wheelchair-bound by that time. The entire album would be conceived in his living room due to mobility issues. Shared Cohen, “In a certain sense, this particular predicament is filled with many fewer distractions than other times in my life and actually enables me to work with a little more concentration and continuity than when I had duties of making a living, being a husband, [and] being a father.”
Over a musical career that spanned nearly five decades, Mr. Cohen wrote songs that addressed—in spare language that could be both oblique and telling—themes of love and faith, despair and exaltation, solitude and connection, war and politics. It’s inevitable that Mr. Cohen will be remembered above all for his lyrics. They are terse and acrobatic, scriptural and bawdy, vividly descriptive and enduringly ambiguous, never far from either a riddle or a punch line.New York Times obituary, November 10, 2016
Cohen too was a proponent of seeing beauty in brokenness. From his song aptly titled “Anthem” would come some of his most iconic lyrics: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” He would later lament it takes him so long to finish songs because “Nothing works. After a while, if you stick with the song long enough it will yield. But long enough is way beyond any reasonable estimation of what you think long enough may be… ‘Anthem’ took a decade to write. And I’ve recorded it three times.” Interestingly, it would end up appearing on the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers.
“Magnified, sanctified, be the holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning, for the help that never came
You want it darker”
I had heard of Cohen, primarily from his contemporary standard, “Hallelujah” for which he is best known. However, this namesake track was brought to my attention by a newer blog I have been following, made by a brilliant woman, poet, and serial sharer-of-darkness named, jai (preferring her name to remain uncapitalized). She posted the video on her blog, Dark Matter, which I highly recommend, as her works are often lovelier, though darker than most, as requested.
“They’re lining up the prisoners, and the guards are taking aim
I struggle with some demons, they were middle-class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission, to murder and to maim
You want it darker”