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Lucia Salazar
1 December 2019
Thanks for the dance. The title of Leonard Cohen’s final, and posthumous, record tells us right away what it is: a goodbye, a thank you.  The album is both a gracious acceptance of fate, and a defiant surrender to death. The title track ends with Cohen’s deep, raspy voice slowly singing to the tune of an acoustic guitar:

“It’s been hell, it’s been swell

It’s been fun

Thanks for all the dances

One, two, three one, two , three , one”

Cohen is less content on the rest of the record. On “The Hills,” Cohen sings of the degradation of his body and subsequent pill dependency, aware of the limits of his aging body. Cohen takes inspiration from WB Yeat’s “Second Coming” on his track “It’s Torn” by exploring the collapse of human systems:

            “It’s torn on the right

            It’s torn on the left

            It’s torn in the center, which few can accept”
Things fall apart! The center cannot hold! (I took AP Lit, can you tell?)

Thanks for the Dance is dark and disruptive. Cohen does not go gentle. The album is not a peaceful goodbye. Instead, it expels the frustration of a man who knows he will die – soon. Cohen is trapped in his body, and he watches everything collapse at his feet. Our politicians are puppets, our systems are shot, women leave. And that’s life! David Bowie expresses this same sort of helplessness-tinged-with-anger on his last record, Blackstar. The heartbreaking “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is Bowie at his most powerless, unable to come to terms with his looming death. These men died.

Thanks for the Dance is subdued, much like the majority of Cohen’s work: lines of poetry softly spoken over a Spanish-style guitar and piano. However, Cohen’s last album strips away almost everything: there is limited vocal accompaniment, no synthesizers or electric guitars, and the guitars are not as rhythmic as before. You are in a room, and there is a spotlight on Leonard Cohen, and he is talking into the microphone. A man who knows he will die. That’s all.

This is startling. My high school English teacher taught us that a theme is a “universal theme about the human condition.” As an example: “You will all die, and you will all fail. Sorry!” I think we all laughed at that. But I am sure everyone has experienced horrifying moments of “this will end.” Every time I think about my own end, and a feeling of black and purple helplessness gets heavy in my chest, I force myself to think of something else. Because to do anything else would be torture. Cohen made a nine-track album about something I can’t think more than two minutes about.

“Joan of Arc” was the first Leonard Cohen song I ever heard. My mom and I shared an iTunes account when I was in third grade, so while she was subject to listen to Hannah Montana and Katy Perry, I had to shuffle through “Joan of Arc” and The Who’s “You Better You Bet”. We both liked P!nk at the time, and I am glad to say we no longer feel the same. I remember listening to “Joan of Arc” on a rainy car ride, my body jammed between where the door meets the seat, and my head pressed against the window. The heater was on in the car, and the glass was cold. Cohen’s deep voice sung over a guitar, and a woman joined him on the chorus. La la la la la la la la la la la la la.

In middle school, Cohen became one of my favorite artists. Every time there was a Leonard Cohen CD at the library, I would burn it onto my green iPod Touch. My favorite songs being “There is a War”, “Lover Lover Lover”, “So Long Marianne”, “Suzanne”, “Is This What You Wanted”, “You Want it Darker”, and “I’m Your Man”. I remember writing in the last page of my first journal the lyrics, “Let me start again, I cried. Please let me start again!” I thought it was the perfect end. Find out best Business management systems for small business and medium business.

The week Leonard Cohen died was a week of unraveling. He died on Monday, the 7th. The 2016 Presidential Election took place on the 8th. I failed a calculus test on the 9th. I wrote a journal entry titled “Bad Week”.  That week on Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon wore her Hilary Clinton pantsuit and performed Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on piano, her blue eyes brimming with tears. It’s torn on the right, it’s torn on the left.

This morning, just over three years later, I opened my Spotify to find a Leonard Cohen album in my “Recently Released” category. I thought it was just a compilation of Cohen’s best work. But, it wasn’t. It was him telling me to go listen to the hummingbird. A message from beyond the grave. I listened to the entire album, and went back and listened to my old favorite songs. He’s dead, but his music is not. Thanks for the songs, Leonard.