A LAST-minute change of topic: could we profile the dear departed Leonard Cohen? Thank heavens (or words to that effect), I reply. The prospect of grappling with “the cultural dimensions of Donald Trump” was already curling me into a foetal ball.

A blessed release from the orange horror, for one day! Let me sink into the Canadian troubador’s basso profundo; let me nestle on Dutch barges, or in rooms in the Chelsea Hotel, with mystically beautiful women. Let me dissolve smokily into the air, like this holy bohemian.

No chance of that, pal. From the I’m Your Man album, 1988:

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“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That’s how it goes, everybody knows.”

Or take this, which is very like a transcript of a secret recording recently made at the residential floor at Trump Tower.

“Give me back my broken night, my mirrored room, my secret life

It’s lonely here, there’s no-one left to torture

Give me absolute control over every living soul

Lie beside me baby, that’s an order.”

You also may not know of Leonard Cohen’s talents in political scenario planning.

“There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code, your private life will suddenly explode

There’ll be phantoms, there’ll be fires on the road...

"Things are going to slide in all directions

Won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it’s overturned the order of the soul...

"Get ready for the future, it is murder.”

(All these lines are from 1992’s The Future).

OK, point made. This has been a ridiculously melodramatic year so far. But the expiration of the songwriter who the Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan recently described as “number one”

(incidentally, Dylan said: “I’m number zero”), the very day after the ascension of one of the most sulphurous, know-nothing politicians ever … Well, that seems more like commentary than mortality. It would be wrong to describe Leonard Cohen as a political songwriter – he is both the most metaphysical, and the most sensual, of songwriters. Indeed, it’s hard to see any pained pale fellow with a guitar or piano, putting heaven and Earth on the line for the keys to her heart, without the template of Leonard Cohen supporting him.

Cohen’s Halleluiah has become a classic number for cheap-ass talent TV shows because it is utterly robust – everything a ballad should be. The melody is simple and hummable, the lyrics are divided between the bedroom and holy ground (Cohen would ask, “what’s the difference?”). Even the most histrionic singers know best – or should know best – to stay close to the song’s meticulously crafted contours.

MANY song-writers see the world as a struggle between the divine and the bodily – and that’s often enough to be getting on with. But “number one” musicians (like Dylan and Cohen, and to my mind also Marvin Gaye and Prince) turn their attention to the fallen human society that toils away between these polarities. At the very least, if you descend to the sordid realm of power and money … it can make for some good couplets.

Cohen once called his songs

“investigations … I have a very poor imagination, so I’ve always thought of myself as a kind of journalist just reporting from the field as accurately as I can”. This reportage “tries to make a completely accurate description of the interior predicament”. And for Cohen, that predicament was about the joys and terrors of being a citizen, as much as a lover or votary. Perhaps it came from his particular religious formation (deeply Judaic in his upbringing, and a recent devotee of Zen Buddhism) – but he is especially sensitive to the totalitarian mindset – both in our everyday lives, and in the dictator him- self (one of his early books of poems was called “Flowers For Hitler”).

So yes, in his passing, he’s the songwriter for this exact moment. Find either Democracy, or First We Take Manhattan online: in a second, you’ll be standing in front of the mirror, awaiting apocalypse.

“I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean

I love the country but I can’t stand the scene

And I’m neither left or right, I’m just staying home tonight

Getting lost in that hopeless little screen.”

Brutally accurate. But there’s more to get out of Leonard Cohen today than dark prophecy. The other salvation that dwelling on the old moaner provides – in this moment of bullishly-asserted norms and conventions – is the pleasures of a rambling but satisfying bohemian life. In an 1995 interview, he quipped:

“I have been able to satisfy a certain principle, which was that I didn’t want to work for pay, but I wanted to be paid for my work.”

As the robots advance on our mental and manual labour, we may have to elaborate Cohen’s principle into an entire system – where some element of our “pay” is disconnected from our “work”, given that many jobs are about to evaporate into algorithms and other automations.

In that coming world, where figuring out what to do with our unenslaved time (“slavery” is a big word in the Cohen corpus) will be a major task, we could do worse than attend to the kind of lives that artists like Leonard led.

There is a brilliant and recent Cohen profile in the New Yorker, written by its editor David Remnick, freely available on the web. It shows the outlines of a life which is heavy on meaning, reflection, romance, adventure, and light on material acquisition, even conventional success.

“The minimum environment that would enable you to do your work with the least distraction and the most aesthetic deliverance came from a modest surrounding”, Cohen says to Remnick. As laughing Lenny would have doubtless acknowledged, there’s supreme irony here.

His comeback in the 2000s – touring the world and recording acclaimed albums – was driven by bankruptcy (an old manager and former lover criminally depleted his fortune). This dragged him out of several years living as a Zen Buddhist monk, brooding on the universe while cleaning the monastery toilets.

But after 300-odd performances, he played out of his financial hole. A few months ago, Remnick found him in a state of fragile but elegant sufficiency, attended to in a modest Los Angeles flat, happy to talk about his new album – which, surprise, surprise, crackles with prophetic energy.

“They’re lining up the prisoners, and the guards are taking aim

I struggled with some demons, they were middle class and tame

I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim”

(from You Want It Darker).

As our public realm churns underneath with emotional energies we can barely articulate or acknowledge, I have enjoyed sitting with such a mindful and self-aware consciousness today. Nothing gets past

Leonard Cohen, least of all his own failing and appetites.

“Nobody has a life that worked out the way they wanted it to work out”, he said in 2007. A great song makes us “feel less isolated … part of the great human chain which is really involved with the recognition of defeat.”

Of course, Cohen’s stories of defeat couldn’t be more attractively told.

“Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey/I ache in the places where I used to play”, he rumbles in Tower of Song. Tell us about it, Lenny.

BUT what I have taken succour from in this piece is how wrong we get Leonard Cohen, if we just render him as the great and gloomy bard of introspection.

As the world distorts and buckles around you, it would be easy to flee into the interior and private life. But Cohen never wanted to flee the difficult world. Like his greatest peers, his body of work flickers with warning signs – a true “unacknowledged legislator”, in the Shelleyian sense.

And to close:

“Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure

The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor

And there’s a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong

You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song.”

For the wise and colossal Leonard Cohen: RIP. And for the rest of us: stay awake. And listen for the voices.