Balkan’s Leonard Cohen is No More

Djordje Balašević (1963-2021)

“Life?” Balašević once said, “You know on the grave, where it’s written the year of birth and the year of death? Well, that dash in between, that’s life.”

If that dash was short-lived for Balašević, who left us at 67 years of age, it made a grand impact on the Balkans over the last few decades.  

Balašević was a singer, songwriter, and storyteller. But above all else, he was a poet. 

An extremely popular poet who performed at sold out concerts, and even travelled to Toronto a couple of times to reconnect with dispersed fans. 

“I’m a damn poet

Who stands in the rain, who lies and loves”

– From “Ostaje mi to što se volimo” (All I have left is that we love each other) 

He was someone whom nostalgic ex-Yugoslavians listened to in their Canadian kitchens when they needed a bit of “home.” A bit of “back then.”

Back then, we worshiped his words. 

“Everyone carries within them some little God of their own

To whom they secretly pray”

– From “Ostaje mi to sto se volimo” (All I have left is that we love each other) 

Melancholy often ignited from his voice. 

“Hey, be strong,

It’s easiest to cry.

Only God plays  

That autumn sonata for us.

I dreamed of a door in that dry gold, 

I’m afraid to walk through it, but I will.”

– From “Kad Odem” (When I leave) 

He would make you cry at some songs, and laugh-yourself-to-cry in between songs. 

He would he speak about anything and everything that crossed his mind. His humour would infect the room.

His speech would leak into the next song, and the musicians would start again in sink with the applause of the crowd. 

My grandfather for a long time

Plowed the fields of heaven

– From “Neki novi klinci” (Some New Kids)

February 19, 2021

My uncle, Djordje Petrović, was his keyboardist and producer for as long as I can remember. On February 19, 2021, he was in Novi Sad (Balašević’s hometown) with the rest of the band, reunited after a long time, recording.

That’s when they received the shocking phone call.

If I die young, plant only rosemary on my grave.

Don’t let them make it a sad third act then.

Let them not speak to me;

if I die young, stopped in step and sleep.

– From “Slovenska”

My cousin, Tina Petrović, called her father when she found out. And burst into tears.

“It’s the end of that era,” she told me over the phone when we spoke the next day.

My father teared up over What’sApp when he spoke of his brother’s longstanding relationship with Balašević.

The tears on ex-Yugoslavian’s faces–how many?

I remember

I remember Balašević’s words blasting from the YouTube videos we looped at home, growing up; my brother playing his songs by heart on piano; someone else intercepting with a lyric; meeting him at his concert in Toronto, after we drove for six hours from Montreal to see him; his concert starting very late into the night; my eyes closing from tired; Josip Kovač’s gutsy saxophone raiding the room; that word, exploding next to that other one, in my familiar mother-tongue—out of Balašević’s talented lips; his infectious smile, generous dog’s eyes; backstage after the gig. 

I listen to his ballads on YouTube tonight, with tears surfing my eyes.

Good night ladies and gentlemen.

Here, the show is over.

I hope you enjoyed it.

It has been a pleasure fooling around for you all those years.

I hope to see you again in another city, at another show,

in some other circus.

– From “Odlazi cirkus” (The Circus is Leaving)

A bit of Yugoslavia has died a second time, that day, on February 19, 2021. 

Rest in peace, dear poet. Dear Djole. 

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