One afternoon in 1966, Leonard Cohen came to my home in New York City to play me his songs. A mutual friend, Mary Martin, had been telling me for years about this obscure poet from Montreal, and how she loved his obscure poetry. When she said he had written some songs, I asked if they were also obscure. “Oh, yes,” was her reply. Leonard arrived and talked with me and my friends, and then we went to dinner, where I learned an awful lot about Leonard and his poetry and how he was living with his girlfriend Marianne on the Greek island of Hydra and barely scraping by. As we parted, I said, “You never sang for me!” He came back the next day and played “Suzanne,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “The Stranger Song.” I fell off my chair and I said, “Oh my God!” It was momentous to hear Leonard singing those songs. He went right to the core with an expression that was so unusual and deep.
In the last interview I saw, Leonard was sitting with his son Adam and said, “I intend to live forever.” Earlier he had said, “I’m dying.” Both are true. They’re both essential ingredients of what’s happening to all of us. As he put it, “We must be ready for the moment–the disasters, the joys and the sorrows.”
Collins was the first person to record Cohen’s songs, on her 1966 album In My Life
This appears in the November 28, 2016 issue of TIME.