Hallelujah! What a Second Act Leonard Cohen Wrote!

Canadian singer and poet Leonard Cohen is pictured on January 16, 2012 in Paris. Leonard Cohen's new album "Old Ideas" will be released in France on January 30. AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ted Schwartz, CFP®

As you may know, Capstone Investment is focused on what we refer to as restylement. Essentially, this is achieving your financial goals so that you can concentrate on the personal goals that give you meaning. Traditional retirement is a cessation of work. We believe this is not meaningful for everyone and that the pursuit of your passions (whether that involves the cessation of work or not) is really the key to how we need to assist clients.

We typically find that passion comes down to time, significance or money.  Time – the ability to choose the amount and what you do with your discretionary time (work, sing, tour the world). Significance- what pursuit am I following that light’s me up, and makes me the happiest. Last, how much money do I need to accomplish the two things above.

That brings us to the incredibly unusual life and times of one of my favorite artists, Leonard Cohen. Leonard passed away recently at age 82.

Back when I was callow youth, Leonard Cohen was one of my favorite songwriters. “Suzanne”, “Bird on a Wire”, “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” were amongst the many great songs early in his career. Judy Collins would likely have been far less famous without her renditions of Leonard’s songs to propel her career. A bit older than the Nobel Prize winner, he and Bob Dylan were dueling for our collective attention in the late ‘60s. Additionally, Leonard’s career included writing books of fiction and poetry.

While Leonard wrote his tunes slowly (“Hallelujah” took around 80 drafts and two years to write) and released albums sporadically, his popularity in Europe and Canada was not mirrored in the US and he slowly faded into the background of my mind. His personal life was certainly complicated, a mix of sex, drugs, and…not so much rock and roll. If you would like to understand the beauty of the songs Leonard produced in his early and middle career, I suggest you try Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat disc. One of his many talented collaborators, this disc is one of the most beautiful ever produced and includes a good variety of his best older works.

While not a household name in the United States, Leonard maintained a successful career around the world and was well-positioned when he reached the age at which many people retire. By 2009, Leonard Cohen had not performed in concert in the United States for 15 years. He had grown and mellowed personally by combining Buddhism with his religious faith in Judaism into his personal practice.

Unfortunately for him, he paid little attention and had no interest in his financial affairs. He awoke to find that his financial adviser, a woman with whom he had been personally involved, had separated him from the millions of dollars that he had saved during his lifetime. He won a court judgement but I do not believe he ever recovered his money and faced a grim challenge as a senior.

Well over 70 years old, Cohen had never truly enjoyed being an on-stage performer that much. For one thing, he doubted whether there were crowds wanting to see him perform. It was time for him to restyle as he had little economic stability and needed some fulfillment. He decided to launch a world tour at age 74, including the United States. The tour enriched all who participated (Leonard’s pockets were filled, fans or performers were satisfied). The performances were epic! Concerts generally went from three to four and a half hours in length. At the same time, Cohen accelerated the rate at which he was writing songs and producing new releases. From age 74 until his death at 82, he released two live albums and three studio albums of new material, the last one weeks before his death.

In his restylement, Leonard Cohen led a life of significance. He learned that performing energized him and became a significant use of his time. His time on stage became a source of inspiration for him and for those who were touched by his performances.

I had the privilege of attending a live concert when he was 78 years old. It was a mystical experience- almost 4 ½ hours long with one intermission, Cohen skipping across the stage, repeatedly bouncing to his knees and back up, crooning his way through his songbook. There was an Eastern European lilt to the music that touched my soul and made me feel like he was a kindred spirit. He opened the evening by saying he did not know if he would pass this way again, so he would give the audience “everything he had”. Nobody was shortchanged that evening.

It was clear that Leonard Cohen got as much from the latter part of his life as he gave to others. How many of us would like to kick into high gear and transform the last part of your life into the most productive and personally significant part?  In one of his later songs, “Going Home”, he wrote:

“I love to speak with Leonard, He’s a sportsman and a shepherd, He’s a lazy bastard, Living in a suit”

We should all be so lazy in our restylement!! Hallelujah!!! We will miss him so.


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