How Leonard Cohen Saved My Life

I can tell you, vividly, about the last time I cried. It was one of those moments I’ll be able to recollect on my death bed. It was when I found out that Leonard Cohen had died. You may be thinking that’s a weird thing to break down in tears over – he was an old man, after all, and it’s not like I knew him personally. But the thing is, he knew me. At least it always felt that way. And as I sat there, early one morning, trying not to think about the politics of late 2016, and I saw that Cohen had left us, I just started to bawl like a baby. And I’d like to tell you about the reasons for that, and the reason why it really matters to me that you’re here.

I want to level with you. I have issues. If you’ve listened to my music this might not surprise you. But it’s true, I’ve struggled with some mental stuff for most of my life. I don’t mean to suggest I’m crazy, or anything (don’t worry, I’m perfectly harmless). But I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a large part of my adult life.

But I don’t want this to be a sad story of a depressed little singer songwriter. Because really, that guy I used to be rather bums me out. Rather, I want to tell you how I stopped being that way.

So, let’s get the sad stuff out of the way first. I grew up with some insecurities that I won’t bore you with, but the reason I really started to fall into deep depression was a terrible relationship I was in with a girl I met when I was 17. We were together for 7 years, and it was a pretty abusive relationship, in that she really treated me pretty horribly, broke a lot of my spirit, isolated me from my friends and family and generally made me feel worthless. I didn’t even realize that this was happening until years after we broke up and I started to analyze some stuff in my life. To add to my troubles, a good friend of mine took his own life when we were 19 or 20, and let’s just say that my girlfriend was not very supportive.

To make a long story short my early 20s were not a pleasant time for me. I remember a time when I was about 22 where I seriously considered ending it all. I remember sitting in my bathroom, dismantling a razor to get one of the tiny razor blades out. I still don’t know whether I wanted to hurt myself or even kill myself, or if I was just being dramatic (I do that). But thankfully I didn’t do anything drastic. I got out of the bathroom, walked into my bedroom and picked up my guitar. And this was not the only time I did that.

That’s how I deal with stuff. To this day, though my troubles are more pedestrian and much easier to deal with today, thankfully. I pick up my guitar and play a song or two. Or I write songs about my troubles. Most of those are awful, and nobody gets to hear them (singing about my depression is too whiny for me to be anything more than therapy).

When I was at my lowest point I was desperate. I wanted to change everything, but I was too afraid. So again, I started to think of death. And while my guitar was certainly an escape, I didn’t have that at work or on the bus or when I was trying to fall asleep at night. And it was on those occasions that I would turn to the guy I mentioned at the top of this post. Leonard Cohen really did know me. He knew what I was struggling with, and he told me it would be alright. His songs were like a roadmap to hell and back – this particular hell that I was living through. I especially remember listening to the song Take This Longing again and again and again, savouring the pain in the words while dealing with my own. (I was sort of in love with this girl I knew, while feeling stuck in my horrible relationship, so the lyrics had a special poignancy for me.)

In my very darkest moments, Leonard was always there. As well as my other confidants, of course: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eels and all those wonderful souls. But it really was Leonard Cohen who saved my life. I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling that if it hadn’t been for him I may not have made it back in one piece – at least not as quickly as I did. After a couple of months of severe darkness I took a long hard look at my life. I was writing a good deal of music at this time, and really for the first time I felt that I was writing quality stuff. A lot of it inspired by Leonard Cohen. And I started playing more, writing more, recording and posting online. And I started getting feedback. Good feedback. As I’ve written about before, I got an email from a guy asking for the guitar chords to one of my songs, and it was one of the most flattering things that had ever happened to me. I started to realize that no matter how my girlfriend treated me, I was not worthless. In fact, I had people wanting to learn my songs. I had people hanging on to my every word when I sang. I was definitely worth something, and life was worth living.

So I went to the hospital and asked for psychiatric help, which I received. And I got much better. Now, that said, I still have some anxiety (a big part of the reason that it’s taken me 10 years to make my album come to life), but I’m really quite happy.

So I like to think that Leonard Cohen really did save my life, if only indirectly. But more than that – it was YOU! The people who actually care enough about my music to listen, enjoy, comment and reach out. The guy that sent me that email years ago was one of them. And each one of you that takes the time to listen to my music really makes me appreciate life more. So thank you.

Before I end this, I have a little addendum to this story.

One of the best indications that I got that my life was headed in a much healthier direction was after I’d broken up with my girlfriend and gone through another relationship that really broke my heart, and I then met a beautiful girl at a bar. I got up the nerve to buy her a drink, and I sang to her. My former self would never have had the nerve to do anything of the sort. The night then ended up being really messed up, and my longing was definitely not quenched. But instead of getting depressed and wallowing in it, I wrote a song about it.

This is one of my favorite songs of mine. In fact, I’m getting ready to release it on an album for the second time. It was featured on the Misery Loves Company album, and there will be an updated version of it on my new record.

Here’s the song, if you want to hear the story of that bizarre night, when my recovery from depression was tested. It’s called Good Girls Go to Heaven. I hope you enjoy it.

ATH HÉR VANTAR LAG!!!

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