You Want It Darker By Leonard Cohen On Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songs of the Century List

37. “You Want It Darker,” Leonard Cohen

Cohen spent the final year of his life battling severe pain and mobility issues while living on the top floor of a modest house he shared with his daughter Lorca in the Wilshire neighborhood of Los Angeles. His condition was so dire that he rarely left the dwelling, causing his son Adam to create a makeshift studio powered by a laptop in his living room so he could work on his last album, You Want It Darker. On the title track, Cohen did not hide the circumstances of his life. “If you are the dealer, let me out of the game,” he sang in a voice beautifully grizzled by time and wear. “If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame.” Never has impending death sounded quite so exquisite. “They say that life is a beautiful play with a terrible third act,” Adam Cohen told Rolling Stone weeks before his father died. “If that’s the case, it must not apply to Leonard Cohen. Right now, at the end of his career, perhaps at the end of his life, he’s at the summit of his powers.”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far by By Christian Hoard, Christopher R. Weingarten, et al. (Rolling Stone: June 28, 2018)

“The song is just brilliant: raw, shocking honesty, protest in the face of the dark night of evil—spoken before the face of God” Tom Neal On You Want It Darker By Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker by Dr. Tom Neal (Word On Fire Blog: April 17, 2018) is an exuberant, insightful essay on one of Leonard Cohen’s final songs. I’ve included a couple of excerpts below, but the entire piece, available at the link, is highly recommended reading.

Cohen’s music is searching, pained, edgy, gritty, socially engaged, and religiously dissident, but he relentlessly clings to a Jewish biblical landscape. It was his Judaism, eclectic as it was. Right to the end of his life, he inhabited and was inhabited by his Hebrew faith—its language, worship, narratives—as he grasped for meaning at the very edge of meaning. At the edge of the grave, his grave. This was one of the final songs written and recorded just before his death in 2016. It utterly captivated me last night: “You Want It Darker.” I dreamt of it and then woke up at 3:00 a.m. to write…

The song is just brilliant: raw, shocking honesty, protest in the face of the dark night of evil—spoken before the face of God. It does not sound to me as rebellion, but a laying before God the cursed evil without submitting it to an easy resolve. Not cushioned, romanticized, coated, softened, but prayed out of dark faith into God.

The author, Dr. Tom Neal, is Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology, Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, LA

Billions “Patrick Bateman, Bud Fox Hybrid Wannabe” Episode Features Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker

Almost all the online recaps of the “Patrick Bateman, Bud Fox Hybrid Wannabe” episode of Showtime’s Billions note the inclusion of Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker. Excerpts from three such articles follow:

Bryan from the Bronx is surely not going to let his new knowledge about Chuck framing Axe go. With Dake firmly in denial, is this where they’ll involve that new ADA brought in during the premiere episode? Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” plays out the episode with the following lyrics: “If you are the dealer, I want out of the game.” We’re thinking Bryan wants out of the game.

Billions Season 3, Episode 3 Recap: “Patrick Bateman, Bud Fox Hybrid Wannabe” vy Molly Stout (Refinery 29: April 8, 2018)

As Ira is stealing his now fiancee’s heart all over again with the gorgeous engagement ring, courtesy of Mr. Robert Axelrod, Billions steals my heart all over again with this genius episode ending with a song by a true genius. Leonard Cohen’s “swan song” You Want it Darker sums it all up and gives you chills.

Billions on Showtime, Season 3 Episode 3: A Generation Too Late (Fan Fun with Damian Lewis April 9, 2018)

Leonard Cohen croons on the soundtrack as Axe cashes in and Ira slides his ill-gotten ring onto his fiancée’s eager finger. Funny and fast-paced though it is, “Billions” likes it quite dark indeed.

New York Times

“You can’t listen to these words [from You Want It Darker] without thinking about the fact that Leonard Cohen was dying when he recorded them.” From 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going – New York Times

This was hardly the first time that Cohen had drawn on his Judaism for his music. Though he had a complicated relationship with his religious inheritance, it provided a natural vocabulary for him; it was what he knew, and its stories of human suffering and, occasionally, redemption suited his poet’s pull toward the existential. But never before have Cohen’s biblical references felt so charged, so dark, so pointed. “Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name,” he sings. “Vilified, crucified, in the human frame. A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker.” Then, echoing the words that Abraham spoke as he answered God’s command to sacrifice his only son: “Hineni, I’m ready, my Lord.”

From 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going: You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen by Jonathan Mahler (New York Times Magazine: Mar 9, 2017). The complete article is accessible at the link.

Leonard Cohen, On Being Asked Why He Used Shaar Hashomayim Choir On You Want It Darker – The Long Question & The Short Answer

In one sense, the sound of the Shaar Hashomayim choir on the record is that, a turning the corner: picking up a thread stretching back to your childhood. I wonder why human beings spend so much energy fighting the links and chains and threads, and instead constantly quest for renewal, change, answers. We live, and we die. The links and chains and threads are life, and they are not rendered any less precious or meaningful by death. Were you consciously aware of the pull of the past when you thought of using the choir? Or did it simply suggest itself?

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It was just an answer to the needs of the songquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Note: Leonard Cohen was asked why he chose the choir of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue of Montreal for the You Want It Darker recording in another interview. Read his more thorough answer here.

From the Dan Cairns – Sunday Times Culture questionnaire Leonard Cohen sent me Oct 17, 2016. While portions of that questionnaire were incorporated into Leonard Cohen: Hey, that’s some way to say goodbye by Dan Cairns (The Sunday Times: October 23 2016), this specific response was not used.

“Hineni, Hineni; I’m Ready, My Lord” Leonard Cohen On The “Willingness To Serve”


In You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen sings “Hineni, hineni; I’m ready, my lord,” which was Abraham’s response when God called on him to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is also the name of a prayer of preparation and humility, addressed to God, sung by the cantor on behalf of the congregation on Rosh Hashanah. At the Oct 13, 2016 L.A., press event, Leonard talked about using “hineni” in the lyrics of his new album’s title song to reference a “willingness to serve” that is – in the right circumstances – universal to humanity.