I was sorry to hear that Leonard Cohen had died. It comes to us all and he was aged eighty-two apparently but he was an important figure in my younger life.
When I was twenty-one I knew what I knew about poetry by being force-fed Wordsworth and Eliot at school, more or less all of which went over my head. I knew Dylan of course and had come to appreciate that lyric composition had a lot more depth than Up in the Morning and off to School .
Then I met Anne Corner and Anne owned a copy of Songs of Leonard Cohen. By myself I would never have picked it up; doomy, gloomy meaningless American music about love affairs on Greek Islands that were as far from my young consciousness as it was possible to be.
I loved Anne. She was little with very short blonde hair: in those days, as now girls wore long flowing locks so she was to my eye interesting and different. But she was only fifteen, five years difference and that is a lot at that age. She found it difficult to mix with my friends, all of them in jobs with money and independence and I found it near impossible to mix with her friends, still in school uniforms with their heads full of exams. But she changed my life: she was a different generation, sharp as a tack the way youth can be, into everything, anything that was new. Wasn’t remotely interested in what had gone before. She adored Songs of Leonard Cohen, took me through it line by line: explained the nuances; explained the meter and the clever use of allusion. Show not tell but even more subtle and poetic than Dylan.
I didn’t know then that he was fifteen years older than us and that love affairs on Mediterranean islands was what people of that generation did and wrote about.
Effectively, Anne and Leonard allowed me to grow into the person I am today; I kind of dropped a generation. My school friends already married with a child and another on the way, working in the yards as draughtsmen or in the engineering factories along the Tyne as toolmakers moved on into a life I knew I never wanted.
We lasted three years on and off. I wanted to tie her down, get engaged or even married: I knew even then that I would never find anyone else so great, so beautiful, so soulful but she wanted out. Within a year she had a child by a gigolo who ran the moment he learned she was pregnant. Which of course was what I had wanted: a child and a partnership.
We lost touch and I never made any attempt to contact her again or find out what happened to her. Years later I met her dad he was an architect working for Alan Smith but it was in a business context and it would simply have been rude to enquire about her.
Songs of Leonard Cohen was the only one of his albums I ever bought: it’s upstairs in a box in the loft along with the Neil Youngs and the Joni Mitchells; Canadians all. I seldom play it. It stands alone as one of the greatest albums ever, not just from the late sixties, a decade crowded with genius albums but since forever. As I say, it changed my life.