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For sincerely L Cohen

by Gaurav Sethi

If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I’ll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver
Climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I’m your man

– L Cohen

When you hum a song, often it doesn’t start at the beginning. It starts sometimes from the chorus, sometimes, it starts at the end. ‘I’m your man’ was the first Leonard Cohen album I heard. It was his eighth studio album, released in 1988. I had not heard Suzanne yet, I hadn’t heard anything of Cohen yet. And then I heard and saw the ‘I’m your man’ cassette. Cohen on the cover, eating a banana, he was in B&W, and in spite of his friendship with Andy Warhol, the banana too was in B&W.

For me, the song starts with, “If you want a boxer” (even though it doesn’t), and Cohen starts with ‘I’m your man’. An old man with a banana then. And now when I look back, a cool guy who could pull off a banana in his hand on the cover, peeling away at life, at himself, at sounds, keyboards, full on, none of the light strum here – Jazz Police, First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin, Tower of song.  A man’s musical life right there, spelt out to a new sound.

Those years I used to scrounge for sounds like a starving man for a half-eaten rotten banana in a bin. I was still in school but the sounds of the 60s and 70s were knocking at my door. My source: older acquaintances and friends with older siblings, schooled in sound, and more importantly, in possession of sound. An empty TDK tape got me Led Zeppellin IV via Kaushal, a visit to next-door Kartik got me to meet Cohen, via his big sis. I learnt then that next-door Roop learnt to play the guitar listening to Cohen.

Here’s a little something for Sincerely L Cohen (as a few of us refer to him)

Thank you for your words
Thank you for your words
I would’ve liked to see you kneel down
In your blacker than black suit
See you serenade me with your darker than dark words
So I could thank you
Thank you for your words
In person, underneath the glint of your eye
In person, underneath the glitter of your gold tooth,
even if there wasn’t one

Just the other night I drew my small silver chair
And sat alongside you
I plugged you in
I gave me life
I plugged you in
I gave me death
I plugged you in
I gave you goodbye
You gave me something darker

There you were
In Black & White
There you were
In darker than dark
There you were
In your blacker than black suit
And the girls from Greece
And their voices all sprinkled
All over you
And the girls from Greece
Their voices all sprinkled
All over me
Oh, you sure knew how to keep
Your Zorba happy
You sure knew

You said you was ready to die
You said with a hint of sly
You intend to live forever
You just did
In the blink of an eye
You just did

There’s some cricket playing
And Pujara’s batting too
But what the hell
I just can’t get my mind off you

I don’t think I’m sad
I’m feeling foggy
To be writing about you
Like I did, every time I snuck in a bit of you
Into the cricket I wrote.

Back in 1988, not yet 54, Cohen wrote, ‘Tower of song’. He sure sounded like he’d lived his life then.

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is gray
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

-       L Cohen

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