Say a prayer for the cowboy
It’s 1968. Leonard at the time is living in a small cabin in Tennessee. Nineteen-year-old Suzanne Elrod is an occasional resident, having met him in a hotel lobby some time before. Leonard buys a horse, a grey mare, from Ray “Kid” Marley, a young rodeo star living next door. The horse is unbreakable, a joke Leonard takes in stride as the price for being a ‘city slicker’ in the country. Attempting to ride it is unthinkable; the mare gets away before he can mount a saddle. The cabin sits on 1500 acres, with lots of space and a barn and some hay. The horse comes and go as it pleases. Leonard, after hearing that horses like sugar, stands at the fence, hand outstretched, loosely grasping some sugar cubes. She slowly comes over, eats the sugar, and runs away again. Suzanne laughs, and says “Leonard, just let it go by / That old silhouette / On the great western sky.” Leonard pens the ‘Ballad of the absent mare’, and both are gone, like the snow, the smoke, the song.
Leonard outlives Kid Marley by ten years.
It’s 1965 and Janis Joplin is staying at the Chelsea hotel. She enters the elevator, around three in the morning, and there is Leonard again, still tanned from Hydra. He is a self-proclaimed master of “the buttons of that elevator”. She isn’t looking for him, she is looking for Kris Kristofferson. He’s much shorter than Kris. She never lets on. They go up to her hotel room, Janis talking brave and sweet, hair unmade, the bed unmade. “She gave herself completely, and when she decided to stop giving herself, she cut out completely. That was Janis.”
Those were generous times.
Around 1948, a teenage Leonard is watching girls play tennis behind Murray Hill Park with their tanned legs and white skirts. William Lyon Mackenzie King is Prime Minister, or maybe it is St. Laurent by then. He meets a Spaniard playing the guitar, and captured by the rapid fingerings and chord progressions, he asks him to take a few lessons. The two settle on a price and meet three times in his mother’s house in Montreal. He teaches Leonard what starts his performance career: how to tune a guitar, six chords, and a trick for playing tremolo. The flamenco pattern underlies his early poetry readings and governs his later songs. The Spaniard never shows up to the fourth lesson. Leonard phones up his boarding house and the landlady answers, saying the man has taken his own life. He knew nothing about him — what part of Spain he had come from or why he had chosen to live to Montreal. He did not know why he was staying at the boarding house, nor why he had appeared there in that tennis court. He did not know why the man had taken his own life. He said he was deeply saddened.
We are deeply saddened, too.
Leonard Norman Cohen died on Monday 7th November, 2016. He was buried in his hometown of Montreal on Thursday 10th November in a traditional Jewish memorial service. He observed the Sabbath for all of his life.
Dr Judyta Frodyma is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada. She was the Editor-in- Chief of The Oxonian Review in 2013 and has a DPhil in English Literature from St Catherine’s College, Oxford.