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The Secret Chord of Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen and David, two men with a secret chord.

There is only one single mention of God smiling.
And it’s on David.

Some guys have all the luck.

We all know someone like that. Someone who just has to walk by, to trigger a smile. They have that secret chord.

Sometimes that’s some, some chord. For regardless of us not knowing if David actually existed, regardless of the possibility that he is only an ancient account of an ancient account, …

There’s nothing ‘only‘ about that. The story or its writer is as baffling as the man. Here he is, 3000 years down the line, and still in everyone’s deck of cards, as the King of Spades. In the flag of a country. In thousands of songs based on his psalms. In the only song to ever  have topped the British charts at both Nr 1 and Nr 2.

I don’t know about you, but me I’m not going strike a chord in 3000 years from now. Not even this moment.

At times Leonard Cohen called it a secular song. For a few years he turned to Buddhism. And then appears he had requested an orthodox Jewish funeral. Always, always struggling with religion. That’s what a religious person does. It’s what the name ‘Israel’ means: he who wrestles with God. (Not an appropriate name for today’s state of Israel, unless it turns out that the Palestinians are the people of God).

Nobody can prove that God exists, nobody can prove that he doesn’t.
We don’t know zip.
So that’s what we do. We struggle. With an idea. A hope. A feeling. A root. A sense.

We already struggle with a colleague and we already struggle with our partner. Hey, we can already struggle with opening the toothpaste. Day, your name is Struggle. Forget about the dimensions of anyone’s wrestle with God.

We love the struggle by the way. For what is a human, if not a species who always struggled? Take away the struggle, and we’re coach potatoes. If a secret is solved, the movie is over.

« It’s a secular hallelujah », Cohen said. While as a Jew also knowing that in Hebrew, hallelujah is a command: « Give praise to the Lord! » In that, Cohen can’t help that he is like Israel. Thousands of years down the line, empires and ideas and belief systems have come and gone, and Cohen is still like Jacob/Israel, who struggled with God.

It’s 1984. You sit at a formica table at the window – for regardless of your success and fame, you are a humble person. And you pen lines thinking about David.

It’s 2004. Your manager runs off with all your money and everything you ever worked for. You remain calm. “God gave me a strong inner core, so I wasn’t shattered”.

It’s 2008. Your song spreads like wild fire, in every movie and tour and talent show, and it rains more money and fame than you ever had.

Be you a believer or not, someone or something definitely smiled on Leonard Cohen.
He had that secret chord.
And no million articles on Google has an answer of what that “secret chord” could be.

In a few decades from now a robot like Sophia will have an IQ of 10,000.
In some domains AI is already a billion times more intelligent than us.
« We humans will be nothing like ants »!
Cohen would have smiled. As though we not always were.
And as though multiplying our intelligence by 1 billion will change that.
As an ant, we jump from one molecule to the nearest one, and we jubilate and drum our chests: “We’ve been to the moon”! Vanity of vanities.

Can I make a prediction? Robot Sophia will not know what the secret chord is. AI will not be able to give a right answer.

Oh, it’s human owners will be able to inject themselves with charisma. They will have the knowledge of the full mind of the full 8 billion people. They will be “like God”. They will just not have the secret chord. That’s why it’s secret. You can copy and paste molecules, as over-excited toddlers, but you will not find the secret chord.

Peers hang out with peers. Some base a song on Barbara Streisand, some on Genghis Khan, some on Rasputin. Leonard Cohen spent time envisioning David. Two baffled kings composing hallelujah. For you’ve got to know the chord in order to recognize it.

In the song ‘In my secret life‘ our favorite Canadian voice made of cigar smoke and otherworldly mildness sing-says:

“I know what is right/And I’d die for the truth”.

I think he did know. In a struggling way. Never being able to truly put the finger on it.
But somewhere in the distance hearing a vague hint of that chord.
Rare are the people who get this close.


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