Thanks for the Dance: A Leonard Cohen Masterclass in Bidding Adieu
Always late to discover anything great and worth writing about, it’s only this week that I’ve lucked upon Leonard Cohen’s fifteenth and final album, the November 2019 posthumously released “Thanks for the Dance.” It’s been a treat, and the title track has instantly become the sweet dreams lullaby I play to soothe my baby to sleep while I rock her in my arms, able to rely on Leonard’s velvet smooth, golden vocals to comfort her on the slumber-bound drift. The only danger being, of course, that I don’t collapse too, floating away to snooze-land myself while embracing my daughter and pretending to be a responsible adult as I waltz her round the living room. So far so good.
You see, when Montreal’s Godfather of Gloom passed away in late 2016, I thought it was his “You Want it Darker” album, released in October of that year, that was his parting gift to a humanity he’d already showered with literary, musical, comedic and gentlemanly excellence far beyond what we deserve. But no, wrong as usual, the Tower of Song residing wordsmith had set in motion the creation of a fifteenth album when confronted with the mortality-confirming reality that cancer was sure to bring forth his departure from this world sooner rather than later.
With a terminal outlook and a determination to do what he’d always done, create life-affirming beauty masquerading as song, Leonard enlisted his son, a supremely capable musician himself, to ensure the album would be completed whether Leonard lived to see it realised or not. Leonard’s predictions were right, the Dr’s prognosis spot on, and for the three years from his 2016 passing until the album’s 2019 release, his Holy Ghost worked in harmony with a bevy of musicians, bringing to life the final album whose first drafts had been put together over a lifetime, but final polish required his son’s meticulous dedication.
The ten minute documentary short film depicting all this can be viewed here:
It comes as no surprise that Leonard’s approach to death was as gracious, sage and generous as his approach to life, but it’s a lesson in how to live, and how to die, that I’m grateful to have been influenced by at the tender age of 40. It’s a sad truth that close to 50,000 Australians will die of cancer this year, and likely every year for the foreseeable, and I guess doing the maths, I sort of assume cancer will play a big part in eventually toppling me.
For the past little while, I’ve been very much won over by the keep-your-bad-news-to-yourself way of thinking, believing that to weigh others down with your own terminal woes does no one any good, just leaves a fatal stank in the air, making life uncomfortable for all. And it doesn’t take a psychology professor to realise this way of thinking is most likely very much because I think that’s what my dad did with me, never being honest with me regarding his own rapidly deteriorating health, not wanting to weigh me down with something so grim.
I’ll never know, and will never hold anything against my dad, my hero in every way for eternity, but if an oncologist's Big C terminal destination speech ever comes my way, Leonard’s example of sharing such details with your nearest and dearest, and hopefully having a life-affirming project to work towards to fill every dying moment with as much loving, assertive action as possible, well that’s about as close to perfection as I can envisage for truly living life to the fullest, giving a big, proud, firm middle finger to the shadow of death hanging over us all until the glorious, thanks-for-having-me end.
PS - No one in literature (or film) has captured the magnitude of how valuable a goodbye is more so than Yann Martel in Life of Pi, explaining Pi’s heartache of watching the Bengal Tiger Richard Parker disappear into the jungle once they’d finally traversed the Pacific Ocean and reached Terra Firma, “You know, I’ve left so much behind, my family, the zoo, India. I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye. I was never able to thank my father for all I learned from him, to tell him without his lessons I would never have survived.”
PPS – Thanks for the Dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVsYz5rB8Bw