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Literature Music Religion

Lonely Wooden Tower

The CBC discovers that Leonard Cohen used religious imagery in his songs.

Interesting.

I did a presentation on Leonard Cohen in grade 12 at Beacon Christian High School.  I played several songs, including “Suzanne” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” and even “Diamonds in the Mine” and read some of his poems and some passages from “Beautiful Losers”, his novel.  And one of my key points was this:  we have been taught since we were little that to be “good” means denying the flesh and living a spiritual life of self-denial, and to shun sins of the flesh because it blinds us to the gospel truth.    But “Suzanne” brings the two together, Jesus the sailor in his lonely wooden tower, and Suzanne with her tea and oranges, and the two belong together because they both address the same essential spiritual longing in the individual. They are not at war, but in harmony, because the longing for Suzanne is a response to the fact that we are all sailors, all “drowning”, and that’s how we see Christ on “his lonely wooden tower”.  And we are made perfect not in self-denial but in desire.

Not sure I phrased it quite that elegantly in Grade 12 but I remember that I expected the teacher, John Vriend, to object to that part of my presentation and was surprised when he did not.  He kind of nodded and thanked me (it wasn’t an assignment– I had offered to do it and Vriend, tacitly acknowledging that he knew very little about Cohen, except that he was a respected poet, accepted my offer).

I have never forgotten the strangeness of the ending of my presentation.  At that time, nobody was listening to Cohen– nobody.  I’m not sure what I expected– a round of applause?  Disapproval?  Argument?  But it was very quiet.  I had thought I might get some ridicule from my class-mates who were more into top-40 music, and some disapproval from the puritans, but it was just quiet, as if I was in a large cave and there was no echo.  I wondered where the “hello” went.

Note: I’m more than happy to admit that my memories are never 100% accurate.  That’s the best I can do about this particular moment.  I am most certain about the quiet at the end because that is something have never not remembered about it.