A couple of nights ago, a friend e-mailed me with the news that singer Lhasa de Sela had died of breast cancer at her home in Montreal on January 1st, at the young age of thirty-seven. I had had a hard day and my head was full of black miseries, and this news, which I would under any circumstance find dreadfully sad, just undid me, and I cried a long, long time. Which in a strange way is fitting, not just in a crying-is-an-appropriate-response-to-death way, but in a to-hear-Lhasa-was-to-be-moved-by-her way. I’ve had her on my mind since then.
I have always been wildly attracted to a certain kind of female singer — not chick singers, never ever those — but strange, fey creatures with odd voices and skewed outlooks that mean they could never be mistaken for anyone else. Mary Margaret O’Hara is a charter member of this group, and she’s joined by, amongst others, Hanne Hukkelberg and Lau Nau and Joanna Newsom. And Lhasa, always Lhasa.
We all have to go sometime; we start our long march towards the grave at the moment of conception; no one gets out alive — I ain’t stupid; I know the truth of sic transit gloria mundi and that it is a truth equally applied to each and every one of us. But I am nevertheless so very sad for Lhasa’s singular incandescence to have been dimmed so prematurely.
Lhasa is dead; long live Lhasa.
“Love Came Here”:
Lhasa sings Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire” at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2008: