The first Leonard Cohen song I heard was Suzanne, a track that George, my friend who also happened to be the token intellectual at our school, Oklahoma Christian College (then known as Oklahoma (Very) Christian College and now known as Oklahoma Christian University), repeatedly played on his reel to reel tape deck in 1968.
I didn’t care for it.
Thirty-five years later, I gave Leonard another chance.
It worked out better this time.
So, it wasn’t an early album like Songs of Leonard Cohen or I’m Your Man that led me to become a Leonard Cohen fan. Nor was it one of the Cohen covers performed by any number of musicians I admire, from Judy Collins to Willie Nelson. Nor was it a tribute album like Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat or the I’m Your Fan collection. No, what won me over was one of his songs that appeared on a movie soundtrack – and I didn’t even see the movie until a year or two later.
“Waiting For The Miracle” was released on Leonard Cohen’s 1992 The Future album and appeared in the Wonder Boys (2000) soundtrack, along with songs by Bob Dylan (“Not Dark Yet,” “Buckets of Rain,” “Things Have Happened,” and “Shooting Star”), Van Morrison (“Philosophers Stone”), Neil Young (“Old Man”), Tim Hardin (“Reason To Believe”), and other heavyweights.
“Waiting For The Miracle” is still one of my top ten Leonard Cohen songs, but the reason it proved so pivotal in my life had as much to do with the context in which I heard it as the quality of the music.
Here’s the back story: Julie1 and I met, fell in love, and – nine years, two husbands, one wife, and two careers later – got together to spend an outrageously wonderful 20 years as partners before I lost her to breast cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding. Two years after Julie died, I began dating. I first heard “Waiting For The Miracle” on the Wonder Boys soundtrack album on a CD player in a car belonging to one of the first women I courted.
Within a few months, the woman was a (fond) memory; “Waiting For The Miracle,” on the other hand, was the beginning of my affection for Leonard Cohen’s music that endures today.
Why? Well, there was that voice – it was so deep that I could feel its vibrations, and most importantly it was an adult voice singing an adult song. I didn’t grasp all the lyrics the first time (e.g., “stand beneath my window with your bugle and your drum” – what the hell?) but I certainly got some of them:
I dreamed about you, baby.
It was just the other night.
Most of you was naked
Ah but some of you was light.
Let’s be alone together.
Let’s see if we’re that strong.
Yeah let’s do something crazy,
something absolutely wrong
while we’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
It was a dignified song presented in a dignified way. It spoke to the value of going on even though – or perhaps because – life is a difficult journey through a vale of tears that inevitably ends badly. And, God, it was sexy.
Within weeks I accumulated all of the Leonard Cohen songs then available. In 2006, thanks in large part to the impact Blue Alert, the Anjani Thomas-Leonard Cohen collaboration, had on me, I began writing about Leonard Cohen’s world. Now, a few thousand posts later, I continue to find his music central to my life because
Leonard Cohen offers the possibility of living with grace, dignity, and integrity, without submitting to illusions, without succumbing to indifference, and without indulging in denial of our own failures and flaws, in a world that is too often corrupt & malevolent.
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen).
- Julie was my much-beloved, fiercely smart, extraordinarily sexy wife, who died in 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a prize-winning writer. This blog includes many other posts about her and the unlikely but true story of our romance as well as several of her short stories and other pieces. For the location of the various content about or by Julie, see Julie FAQ. [↩]