FRESH AIR: Now 82, Cohen has a new album, You Want It Darker, with songs that wrestle with mortality, question God and long for transcendence. Originally broadcast May 22, 2006.
PREVIOUSLY: Leonard Cohen Is Ready To Die
PREVIOUSLY: The first sound Leonard Cohen makes on his new album is a nanosecond’s rush of labored air. It’s not a wheeze, exactly, or a hiccup. But it’s not a singer’s note, either. The singing (such as it is) soon follows, and the 82-year-old’s somber tone signals that matters of grave import are about to be discussed. He’s making an inquiry into the peculiar strain of creeping soul distress, both personal and universal, that he’s been diagnosing since at least 1992’s The Future. We lack the precise terminology for this condition, because the dimmer switch doesn’t go that low. To Cohen, the particular darkness that defines his 14th studio album is nearly inescapable, and found everywhere. It’s in the sad futility behind the image “a million candles burning for the love that never came.” And it’s in the ambivalent confession, “I struggled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame / I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim.” It’s a thick blanket of grim. And then, after verses soaked in sentimental old-man rue and seemingly personal details, Cohen pivots to a curious “we” for the chorus: “You want it darker … we kill the flame.” MORE