In this edition of Music & Wine, I am focusing less on a specific album, and instead reflecting on the career of one of my favorite singer/songwriter/poets, Leonard Cohen. November 7 marked 3 years since his passing and I took a moment to read a few selections from his collected works and listen to bits and pieces from his albums, starting with 1971’s “Songs of Love and Hate.” A friend who hadn’t heard his music before and I listened and enjoyed a bottle of Saperavi from Georgia (the country), which perfectly matched the deep, soft bellow of his voice in his early music, and the even deeper, more gravelly and darker tones of his music through the 1980’s, all the way through his final work, “You Want it Darker.” I could spend hours drinking wine and listening to his music, and would happily do so if you’ve got the time and are willing. For now, though, here’s what happened when I looked back in his catalogue last night.
My sister introduced me to Leonard Cohen when I was very young, perhaps too young to even really grasp the gravity of his poems and novels, but nonetheless I was drawn to it. His command of atmosphere given the economy of his language was mesmerizing. It’s something years later I was drawn to when I first heard his music. There is no waste. When I went fishing for the first book of his I’d ever received and didn’t see it, I realized it was likely long gone, in a closet or on a bookshelf of a friend or lover who never returned it. So it goes, the journey of paperbacks and the coming and going of people in and out of our lives. I put on “So Long, Marianne” one of his most famous songs about a muse that had drifted away with time. My friend appreciated and noted the wine, the Lukasi Saperavi 2015, fit the music very well. But it wasn’t until we jumped into late 1980’s/early 1990’s Leonard Cohen that she was struck by something in his sound…
1988’s “I’m Your Man” and 1992’s The Future represented a major shift in Cohen’s music, away from the folk sound, and into darker electronic instruments and sounds. His voice, ever deeper and darker, was filled with a rich sensuality, captivating and brooding. To be plain, it sounds like he could talk anyone right out of their clothes even if the music isn’t what is conventionally considered “sexy.” The sound and the content is grittier, confident and potent. The wine grew in this same way, maybe drawn out of the glass by the songs, or maybe something less romantic and more realistic I suppose. Aromatically seductive and sweet, with an undertone of rocky minerality and dark, sappy fruit. The tannins were pleasantly grippy, almost exotic in nature. It was hard to stop exploring the wine, as is evident in the fact we intended to have one glass but instead finished the bottle. I wonder if her reaction to the music would have been the same without the wine, or vice versa. I was jealous of her, experiencing this music for the first time, but happy to be celebrating him and passing on his great works to another, in lieu of the books that are still at large…
We wrapped up with one of his last works, the song You Want It Darker. His wit still sharp, sensuality still in tact as 82 years young. I never got to see him live, he didn’t perform too much in his later years no matter how much I begged the music gods. For now, the best I can do is the feeling I get when someone else hears it for the first time, and the wine is flowing, and his hangs in the air over all of us. Like I said, if you’ve got the time and are willing, I’ve got A LOT of wine recommendations for the occasion.
Would love to hear your thoughts on Leonard Cohen and what you think the best wine for the man would be. Hope to hear from you soon.