Diego Tuson/AFP/Getty Images)
Leonard Cohen performing in Spain, July 20, 2008. Diego Tuson/AFP/Getty Images)
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Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen!

The grand rabbi of song turns 81

by
Liel Leibovitz
September 21, 2015
Diego Tuson/AFP/Getty Images)
Leonard Cohen performing in Spain, July 20, 2008. Diego Tuson/AFP/Getty Images)

I’ve already written a whole book about why I love Leonard Cohen, but, on the man’s 81st birthday, I’d like to take one more shot at a hallelujah.

Take a look at this picture on the right. It’s not just a candid of Cohen shopping for Cheetos at a local 7/11. It’s a small book of psalms. It is, to paraphrase one of the poet’s most transcendent lines, a manual for living with defeat.

How to live in this broken world? How to bear the certainty of knowing that there’s so much pain that will never be healed, so much injustice that will never be addressed, so much suffering that will continue to go unnoticed and untended? Lesser artists try to tell you that the answer lies in some sort of ecstasy, in turning on and tuning in and dropping out, in breaking on through to the other side. Cohen is wiser and more honest. He tells you that the future may be murder, but also that love is the only engine of survival. And he shows you that even when outrageous fortune has you late at night at a convenience store with a bad craving for junk food, you are still under the obligation to walk in with your suit and your shades, and out with your dignity intact.

So mazel tov, Rabbi, on your birthday, and thank you for your many gifts. May you continue to bless us with your sober cheerfulness and your golden voice for many years to come.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.

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