Passings

2016 has been a tremendously bad year for the arts, and without any plague or global war to account for the losses. I haven’t blogged about many of them, but here are a couple of brief tributes to two recently departed greats.

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Rosamond Bernier. Photo by Michele Mattel

I frequently link to Wikipedia for artists biographies and such, despite its rather wavering accuracy – caveat lector, folks. How is it that Rosamond Bernier, who died this month at 100 years old, has no entry? As a lecturer, editor, writer, and connoisseur, she knew Picasso, Matisse, Aaron Copland, Frieda Kahlo, Gertrude Stein, and many others. She was more than just an expert, having first-hand encounters with so many notable figures in 20th Century art. She combined intelligent insight into art with a gift for storytelling. Though not a visual artist herself, she was liked and respected by artists and non-artists alike. Lecturing came comparatively late in her life, but her life was long enough to provide years of enlightenment and entertainment. A life of privilege – which she surely enjoyed, from her childhood in mainline Philadelphia on – is often a source of resentment nowadays, but it seems impossible to resent Mme. Bernier, as she shared so much of what she learned with others.

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Cohen in 2008. By Rama – Wikipedia Commons

I didn’t take to Leonard Cohen until just recently, and I am on the cusp of what is euphemistically termed “middle age.” Perhaps, as David Remnick noted in his final interview with Cohen, I found his songs arranged in a “rinky-dink” fashion that put me off. I was in the Bob Dylan camp, if those two can be seen as rivals. But recent years, and Cohen’s return to writing and performing after his accountant stole all his money, brought his music to my ears as if it were new. I welcomed the dark growl of his voice on the title song to his final album, You Want It Darker, and I grieved when he died shortly after its release. Like David Bowie, who also died hard on the heels of a new recording, I marveled at the undiminished creativity in Cohen’s lyrics. The music had risen in my tastes to something free from restrictions: it was what he wanted to be. Perhaps that was always the case, and my tastes had merely come to coincide with his; it doesn’t matter what the reason. Although he was 82 years old, and had plenty of reason to coast to the end of his days, he wrote and recorded until the end with the same inspiration he had in younger, happier days. “Happier” might seem an odd term, since so much of Cohen’s music is sardonic and quietly or not-to-quietly grim, but there is humor that leavens his words.

No one is going to miss 2016, that’s for sure.

For my post on David Bowie, click here.)

 

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