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depression

16 Leonard Cohen Songs to Get You Through the Tough Times

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Let’s be real: Leonard Cohen remains one of the best musicians ever to grace this world. Since his death last year, the world is a little dimmer without his grace and beauty, but his music still and will always give the world an extra bit of light.

When I’m feeling particularly bummed, Leonard Cohen is one of the musicians I’ve always turned to–his poetic and honest lyrics comfort me while also inspiring me (hey, I’m a writer, what can I say?).

So many of Cohen’s songs possess a wisdom and prophetic observation, that the task of choosing a finite number of songs felt almost impossible. Some I chose for this list are classics (like “So Long, Marianne”) while others are lesser known. Many speak to love and loss. For a man with profound love in his heart, he also spoke candidly of dealing with depression, saying:

“When I speak of depression, I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse. I’m happy to report that, by imperceptible degrees and by the grace of good teachers and good luck, that depression slowly dissolved and has never returned with the same ferocity that prevailed for most of my life.”

Of course, he also had a lot to say on finding happiness too:

“There’s been so much talk about the mechanics of happiness. Psychiatry and pills and positive thinking and ideology. But I really think that the mechanism is there. All you have to do is get quiet for a moment until you know where you are… You can cooperate with the vision that alcohol gives you, you can cooperate with the vision that LSD gives you. All those things are just made out of plants, and they’re there for us and I think we ought to use them. But also there’s another kind of high to get from refusing to use them.”

Here are my picks:

1. Take This Longing

“Just take this longing from my tongue
All the useless things my hands have done
Let me see your beauty broken down
Like you would do for one you love
Like you would do for one you love”

2. Bird on a Wire

“For like a baby, stillborn
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, “you must not ask for so much”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, “hey, why not ask for more?”
Oh, like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free”

3. So Long, Marianne

“Well, you know that I love to live with you
But you make me forget so very much
I forget to pray for the angels
And then the angels forget to pray for us”

4. Who By Fire

“And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?”

5. Anthem

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in”

6. Love Itself

“In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the nameless makes
A name for one like me”

7. Night Comes On

“Now I look for her always, I’m lost in this calling
I’m tied to the threads of some prayer
Saying when will she summon me, when will she come to me
What must I do to prepare?
When she bends to my longing like a willow, like a fountain
She stands in the luminous air
And the night comes on, it’s very calm
I lie in her arms and says when I’m gone
I’ll be yours, yours for a song”

8. Teachers

“One morning I woke up alone,
The hospital and the nurses gone.
Have I carved enough my Lord?
Child, you are a bone.”

9. You Know Who I Am

“You know who I am,
You’ve stared at the sun,
Well I am the one who loves
Changing from nothing to one.”

10. Love Calls You By Your Name

“Shouldering your loneliness
Like a gun that you will not learn to aim,
You stumble into this movie house,
Then you climb, you climb into the frame.
Yes, and here, right here
Between the moonlight and the lane,
Between the tunnel and the train,
Between the victim and his stain,
Once again, once again,
Love calls you by your name.”

11. Our Lady of Solitude

“And the light came from her body
And the night went through her grace
All summer long she touched me
And I knew her, I knew her
Face to face”

12. Hallelujah

“Maybe there’s a God above
All I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

13. Light as the Breeze

“And you’re weak and you’re harmless
And you’re sleeping in your harness
And the wind going wild
In the trees,
And it ain’t exactly prison
But you’ll never be forgiven
For whatever you’ve done
With the keys.”

14. There for You

“Dressed as Arab
Dressed as Jew
O mask of iron
I was there for you”

15. Villanelle for Our Time

“We rise to play a greater part.
Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.”

16. Traveling Light

“But if the road
Leads back to you
Must I forget
The things I knew
When I was friends
With one or two
Traveling light like
We used to do
I’m traveling light”

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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