‘When I speak of depression, I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse.’
Some people find Leonard Cohen’s songs depressing, personally I find them full of joy. They are joy at wondering at the little things, the struggle over adversity and loss and the tragic-comedy of the human condition.
‘Leonard acknowledges that the whole act of living contains immense amounts of sorrow and hopelessness and despair and also passion, high hopes, deep love, and eternal love.’ Jennifer Warnes, describing Cohen’s lyrics
Cohen’s horoscope is a classic melancholic chart. Both his Ascendant and Sun are in the earth sign of Virgo (a melancholic sign). The Ascendant shows how we greet the world and in turn, how the world responds to us. Virgo rising expects the world to be hard work and often grueling, and will encounter delays and difficulties and expect to earn their place in the world through service and self denial. The Sun rising emphasizes this theme; seriousness, discrimination, meticulous work were a signature of his life.
Melancholics often have hard childhood because of poverty, death or restriction of some kind. They learn early on that life can be hard.
Cohen’s father died when he was 9, I don’t have the exact date but that year, 1944, Saturn was conjunct Cohen’s MC at 27’ Gemini and Uranus was conjunct Chiron at 9’ Gemini. He would have felt the weight and depression of Saturn, as well as the responsibility of being the only male child and of course, the MC represents one parent. Saturn also represents maturity, in this case perhaps, needing to grow up quickly and assume responsibility. Chiron is the wound that does not heal. A Uranus transits would be a shock and a sudden reversal of fate. All in all hard lesson for a nine year old.
So where can we find his poetry and his music? Two places, I think. Firstly, his Moon in creative, inspired and sublime Pisces in the hardworking 6th house. A similar theme is reflected in the exact Venus Neptune conjunction in Virgo in the 12th house. The combination of the aesthetics and sublimity of Venus Neptune are combined with the practical, perfectionists’ sign of Virgo. Hallelujah, one of Cohen’s most famous songs, was worked and reworked over many years to get it right. For a melancholic understands that poetic inspiration is never enough, artists need a practice, which earth provides, the every day discipline of getting down to work, which Virgo with its routine and dedication delights in.
Cohen’s first book of poetry was published in March 1954, when Neptune was transiting his creative, musical Jupiter in Libra. Jupiter is clearly indication of his creative life; he wrote poetry, prose, wrote and sang music and drew. Jupiter, in his second house of money, shows how he could make his money (music, poetry) and predicts there will be an abundance of it (Jupiter).
Cohen turned to music to make a better living. When he was trying to find a record company a music executive remarked: ‘Aren’t you a little old for this game?’ Melancholics often take a while to get going but are always in it for the long haul. Cohen was with his label Columbia for 37 years, but relations were ambivalent. Accepting an award in 1988, he thanked Columbia and said with customary melancholic dry humour: ‘I have always been touched by the modesty of their interest in my work.’
Jupiter rules Cohen’s 7th house of friends, and it was through a woman, Judy Collins that he got his big break. He sung Suzanne down the phone to her and she immediately promised to record it. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen was released in 1967. That year Uranus was transiting his Sun and Ascendant by conjunction. Uranus transits bring in the unexpected and often transform the native. I imagine Cohen was surprised at its reception. Collins later described his first concert, when he premiered Suzanne,
‘He got out on stage and started singing. Everybody was going crazy, they loved it. And he stopped about halfway through and walked off the stage. Everybody went nuts. They demanded that he come back. And I demanded; I said, “I’ll go out with you.” So, we went out, and we sang it. And of course, that was the beginning.’
In 1969 Cohen released Songs from a Room when both Jupiter and Neptune were conjunct his Ascendant and Sun. This album contains one of his most famous songs Bird on a Wire. The song was begun in Hydra, Greece when his partner, Marianne handed him his guitar trying to bring him out of a bout of depression. The song was about telephones coming to the island and ‘civilization’ arriving on the island,
‘…and I wasn’t going to be able to escape after all. I wasn’t going to be able to live this 11th-century life that I thought I had found for myself.’
In 1971, Songs of Love and Hate was released as the last of the transpersonal planets crossed his Ascendant/Sun. The album was recorded in September 1970 when Jupiter was conjunct Jupiter at 26’ Libra and released in September the following year during which time Pluto had crossed his Ascendant and was at 28’ Virgo. His transformation was complete.
In 1994, Cohen entered a Zen monastery to retreat from his career. Cohen was given the name Jikan, ‘the silent one.’ Chiron was conjunct his musical Venus, Neptune at 12’ Virgo suggesting the pain of his career, or his musical talents became impossible to bear. At the same time, Saturn was opposite Venus and Neptune at 12’ Pisces suggesting he stopped his music with ritual, retreat, study and austerity. The monks saw things otherwise. He was told to take up tennis, because he had forgotten how to play, all he did was work. Cohen later said the enlightenment was lightening up, and this was what they were trying to show him.
Interestingly, when he returned to music in 2001, Saturn had moved to conjunct his Chiron at 9’ Gemini and Jupiter moved to his MC at 27’ Gemini. This suggests there was some resolution with the wound (Chiron) and a need to be seen and expand his world (Jupiter/MC).
Of his depression Cohen said,
‘It’s a popular notion that it is exclusively suffering that produces good work or insightful work, I don’t think that’s the case. I think in a certain sense it’s a trigger or a lever, but I think that good work is produced in spite of suffering, as a victory over suffering.’
Cohen made his first public appearance in 13 years on May 13th, 2006. Neptune was conjunct his Saturn, perhaps softening and inspiring that fiercely intellectual placement. Neptune has a longing for union, transcendence, and beauty. Chiron was conjunct his North Node, suggesting he once again was on track, while Uranus opposed his Venus/Neptune at 14’ Pisces, showing a break with or a split from his past.
In the last years of his life, Cohen toured almost constantly. He was received rapturously on his several world tours. One highlight was when he played Glastonbury festival on 29th June 2008. As you would expect, there were three Saturn contacts on that day; Saturn was opposite his Moon at 4’Virgo, Neptune and Chiron were both conjunct his Saturn at 23’ Aquarius. Cohen eventually came to terms with Saturn the melancholic planet in his old age, the time of Saturn, and made some peace with himself. A rapprochement was reached with melancholy. In a Guardian article in 1976 Cohen observed,
‘I’m happy to report that, by imperceptible degrees and by the grace of good teachers and good luck, that depression slowly dissolved and has never returned with the same ferocity that prevailed for most of my life.’
Lastly, as a true melancholic, he danced till the end. His last album, You Want it Darker was released three weeks before he died when Chiron was conjunct his Ascendant/Sun at 27’ Virgo. His final goodbye was the album Thanks for the Dance complied posthumously around the time of his Uranus return in March 2019.