Leonard Cohen has been part of the song-track of my life. He introduced me to my future husband.
Well, not literally. I met my future husband at a party. No, and that’s not true either. I met him in the back of a college friend’s too-small car on the forecourt of Dover Priory station. I was late, having gone past the station and waited for the next train back up the line, and clutching a cheap guitar. (My sister had dropped a clock through that guitar and my grandfather, a carpenter, had glued a bit of wood over the hole.) The man in the back of the car had very long hair – sort of wild and curly – and an equally wild beard and long, slanty grey eyes, like a gypsy. Really, you couldn’t see much of him under the hair, but then I didn’t look at him very much and he didn’t look at me.
I couldn’t play my cheap guitar but I thought it looked cool. Later that weekend I discovered that not only could my future husband play, but could play really, really (embarrassingly really) well, even on a cheap and broken guitar.
So, we got driven around – endlessly and too fast – in the back seat of a too-small car with the mended guitar crammed between us. At several points the friends, none too subtly matchmaking, parked in strange towns and just left us there, for ages. Neither of us had any conversational skills so we sat there in awkward silence, watching the traffic go by.
And then there was the party, in the friends’ tiny cottage, to which I wore a long, stupid, tangerine-coloured floaty frock like nobody else was wearing. I didn’t drink in those days so stood in a corner and consumed an awful lot of orange juice. I remember standing in that corner furtively watching future husband dance and thinking he definitively couldn’t: elbows everywhere. Oddly enough this didn’t put me off. I couldn’t dance either.
That night, matchmaking friends went upstairs to bed in the one bedroom, having dragged two folding camp beds down off the top of the wardrobe for us so that we could ‘sleep’ in the living room. Other people were sleeping in the kitchen, so we were lucky. The kitchen floor was pretty filthy. So, shocking as it sounds, the day I met my future husband I also spent the night with him.
It wasn’t all free-love and gay abandon even then. I got the higher of the two camp beds and he got the lower. We lay side by side, still awkward, fully clothed like those effigies of kings and queens on medieval tombs, playing our hosts’ Leonard Cohen records on low volume all night and – at last – talking.
I don’t remember what we talked about but I do remember those Leonard Cohen songs. Leonard Cohen CDs have followed me around, from house to house, from a long marriage, to a short divorce to a long, long, long solitude. He’s been one of the few constant things.
Next morning for some reason I decided to wash my hair, and we all set off for a walk to blow away the cobwebs. As we crossed the threshold he touched my hair in that vague, bewildered way he had and muttered “Lindy-lou’s washed her hair”. That was when I fell in love.
Leonard Cohen didn’t have the best voice in the world but he was one of the best songwriters and song performers in the world and one of the greatest poets of our generation. This morning, when I heard that he had died, it felt like the last thread had broken.
Leonard Cohen, 1934 – 2016