I wrote this for the Guardian family section many moons ago. I’m not such a big fan of mining my history for material like this – but here we are. And now both Leonard Cohens are together, in that eternal night.
“I heard there was a secret chord/That David played, and it pleased the Lord/But you don’t really care for music, do you?”
I don’t remember my grandpa Lenny much. He died when I was three, and the single memory I do have – running hand-in-hand with him the wrong way up the escalators at Manchester airport – has the air of fiction about it, a moment so early that it’s more a remembering of a remembering than the memory itself.
I wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for my grandfather. Not in the glib sense of genetic inheritance, but because of his name. My dad and mum met in a pub in Manchester – my dad got the thunderbolt, love at first sight. She was intrigued by the mad Welsh-Greek with the colonial accent, so she gave him her number. Which he, typically, lost.
He also forgot her name. Nice one, Dad. But he did remember her father’s name – Leonard Cohen. Obviously, not the Leonard Cohen, one-time rabbi, poet and singer. No, Lenny Cohen, a market trader done good, who invented the Pakamac and made a fortune selling it to the USSR, a man who skipped enlistment in the second world war by fleeing to Argentina (he finally enlisted at the end of the war to get a free flight back to Blighty), and who had a joke for every occasion (bought from a central Manchester joke shop). My dad found Leonard’s number in the Manchester phone book and managed to get back in touch with my mum. The rest is biology.
Lenny Cohen died in 1982. I didn’t listen to much music as a kid – Holst’s Planets, Monty Python Sings and West Side Story were the only LPs we had – so I didn’t experience any of his doppelganger Leonard’s songs until university, where I got far too into Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Hallelujah. And where I saw my grandad’s name as the composer.