I stumbled out of bed/
I got ready for the struggle/
I smoked a cigarette/
And I tightened up my gut.
(Leonard Cohen, I can’t forget)
There are better opening lines.
There are more philosophical opening lines.
There are more poetic opening lines.
There are more beautiful opening lines.
There are definitely more cryptic opening lines.
But I dare you.
Are there more powerful opening lines?
When Leonard Cohen started writing ‘I can’t forget’ he pulled himself out of a swamp of depression and self-loathing by being as true to himself as he could possible be. No more beautiful descriptions, no more cryptic imagery, just a plain, open and honest description of the state he was in; a man who could barely find enough energy to drag himself out of bed, a man who is prone to many vices, not someone to be admired. In short, a man who is pretty much the same as all of us. The used language reflects this new position; deceptively linear and straightforward, like Hemingway at his best
Cohen was just over 50 when he recorded and released ‘I’m your Man’, the 1988 album that contains ‘I can’t forget’. Probably suffering from midlife crisis, although I think that is too much of a mortal condition for such a statue of a man. Lyrically and stylistically it brought him down to a level simple human beings like me could understand and grasp. I’m your Man is full of flat, clear, staccato prose. No elaborate comparisons or overwrought descriptions. Its beauty lies in its simplicity.
Greatness is usually built over the span of a lifetime. Sometimes it is just demonstrated in 21 words.