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Leonard Cohen: Champion of Our Cracked Imperfections

Last week — on Monday, November 7 — Leonard Cohen died at age 82. I never met the man, but I’ve loved him and his music since my grad school days in Berkeley in the 1960s. The first LC song I heard was “Suzanne,” and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Many regard Cohen as one of our greatest poets — his lyrics often feel timeless. Here’s a song that speaks to my condition today as much as it did when he performed it in London in 2008.

In LC’s spoken intro to “Anthem,” he talks about a world “plunged in darkness and chaos,” referring to the global economic meltdown of 2007-2008. Those words apply to our moment in history as much as they did back then, as does the now-famous chorus of “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

I think LC is saying, “Whatever you’re concerned about right now, don’t go looking for the very best thing to do, then give up when you can’t find it. Offer the world whatever gifts you possess — no matter how imperfect — gifts that might move us a little bit closer to love, truth, and justice. That’s how the light gets in, through our cracked imperfections.”

I’d add only this: it’s in our brokenness, not our illusions of “perfection,” that we connect most deeply with one another. So at this historical moment, when so many are feeling broken, we have a chance to renew our civic community — if we’re willing to forget our “perfect offering” and “ring the bells that still can ring.”

Ring them, listen for them, gather around them, and summon up an America where everyone belongs.

Thank you, LC, for your amazing music and all the hard-won insights that animate it. Many of us grieve your death and treasure more than ever your legacy of song. Long may your legacy live!

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