Sunday evening marked the beginning of Shemini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday celebrating the end of the harvest festival, Sukkot. While Sukkot signifies the end of the harvesting year, Shemini Atzeret and its celebration of Simchat Torah mark the completion of the year’s Torah readings, the original five books of Moses that make up the Old Testament.
How fitting that Leonard Cohen would bless us with his 14th album of music, You Want It Darker, just before the harvest was over and the scrolls were rewound. That it arrived on a Friday, ushering in Shabbat with a dim but holy glow, is fitting too.
Cohen’s latest collection of songs proves a summation of the poet’s most enduring images, his most illuminated words, shaped into investigations of the soul and the body, the sacred and the profane. He goes back to sitting at someone’s table, a common image in his songs, only to leave the table a few songs later. He slow-dances through another waltz from the era when rock ‘n roll was young, subverting the message of young devotion with his grim, late-in-life reflections.
And by the album’s close he’s thrown away any infatuation with artifacts, from the ruins and altars that have populated his most classic explorations of biblical righteousness, to the unholy shopping mall that has come to define such righteousness today.