Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen Passes At 82
November 10, 2016 at 6:14 PM (PT)
LEONARD COHEN, a 2008 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME inductee who was an acclaimed novelist and poet before launching a career as a folk singer-songwriter, passed away today at the age of 82.
COHEN, best-known for his anthem “Hallelujah,” which was covered by numerous artists, most notably JEFF BUCKLEY, was one of a handful whose lyrics doubled as poetry, among them BOB DYLAN, LOU REED, JONI MITCHELL and PHIL OCHS. As his ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME biography states: “His academic training in poetry and literature, and his pursuit of them as livelihood for much of the ‘50s and ‘60s, gave him an extraordinary advantage over his pop peers when it came to setting language to music. Along with other folk-steeped musical literati, COHEN raised the songwriting bar.” Critic BRUCE EDER called him “second only to BOB DYLAN (and perhaps PAUL SIMON) in terms of influence.”
Born SEPTEMBER 21st, 1934, in MONTREAL to an observant middle-class JEWISH family, COHEN’s father, who owned a clothing store, died when LEONARD was nine. He studied music and poetry in high school, and became particular interested in the work of SPANISH poet FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA. As a teenager, he learned to play flamenco guitar and formed a country-rock group, THE BUCKSKIN BOYS.
Enrolling at McGILL UNIVERSITY in 1951, COHEN published his first book of poetry, “Let Us Compare Mythologies,” in 1956, published by his college professor LOUIS DUDEK. After spending a semester at McGILL LAW SCHOOL and then a year at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY in NEW YORK, he returned to MONTREAL and published his second volume of poetry, “The Spice-Box Of Earth,” in 1961, which gained critical recognition for him as an important new literary voice.
After purchasing a house on HYDRA, a remote GREEK island, where he went to live, COHEN published his third poetry collection, “Flowers For Hitler,” in 1964, along with a pair of novels, “The Favourite Game” in 1963 and “Beautiful Losers” in 1966, neither of which found much of an audience. He was the subject of a 1965 documentary, “Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr. LEONARD COHEN,” produced by the NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, which spotlighted his career as a poet and helped popularize him in that country, but didn’t improve his financial situation.
“I found it difficult to pay my grocery bill,” COHEN said in 1971. “I’ve got beautiful reviews for all my books, and I’m very well thought of in the tiny circles that know me, but… I’m really starving.”
In 1967, COHEN moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in music. A song he wrote, “Suzanne,” became a hit for JUDY COLLINS, who also recorded “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and several others, which led fabled COLUMBIA RECORDS A&R executive JOHN HAMMOND to sign him to a record deal. “Songs Of Leonard Cohen,” released in 1967, produced by JOHN SIMON, who went against the artist’s wishes for a more stark album and embellished the songs with strings and horns, attracted a cult audience in the U.S. and U.K. The album included “Suzanne” as well as classics like “Sisters Of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne,” “Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” and “One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong.”
“The hallmarks of his style were his plainspoken vocals, spare arrangements, deep but accessible lyrics, and an abiding preoccupation with the feminine mystique,” reads his ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME entry.
1969’s “Songs From A Room” (including “Bird On The Wire”) and 1971’s “Songs Of Love And Hate” were both recorded in NASHVILLE with producer BOB JOHNSTON – who joined COHEN on tour playing organ and piano. COHEN’s early-morning appearance at the ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL that summer featured him in his pajamas calming the drug-ravaged audience, and has become the stuff of legend.
COHEN recorded four albums in the ‘70s, including “Songs Of Love And Hate” (1971), New Skin For The Old Ceremony” (1974), the PHIL SPECTOR-produced, tongue-in-cheek “Death Of A Ladies Man” (1977) and “Recent Songs” (1979). In 1971, ROBERT ALTMAN used three of the songs from his debut album on his movie “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.”
COHEN’s 1984 album, “Various Positions,” included two of his most iconic songs, “Hallelujah” and “Dance Me To The End Of Love,” embarking on his biggest tour to date, but his label COLUMBIA refused to release the disc, which was picked up by indie PASSPORT RECORDS. “Hallelujah,” a song that conflated sexual desire and spirituality was recorded by JEFF BUCKLEY, RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, JOHN CALE and ALLISON KRAUSS, among others, became a regular for “AMERICAN Idol” contestants and even spawned ALAN LIGHT’s 2012 study, “The Holy Or The Broken: LEONARD COHEN, JEFF BUCKLEY & the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah.’”
COHEN appeared on an episode of the TV series, “Miami Vice,” in 1986, and the following year, his back-up vocalist JENNIFER WARNES released the tribute album, “Famous Blue Raincoat,” which jump-started COHEN’s career in the U.S. In 1988, COHEN’s “I’m Your Man” represented a sea change in his music, relying on synthesizers with lyrics that featured social commentary and mordant humor, with such live standards as “Tower Of Song,” “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan.” The album was supported by an extensive tour of his three-hour, two-act show, including an appearance on PBS’ “AUSTIN City Limits.” Parts of one of his three ROYAL ALBERT HALL concerts were used in the BBC documentary, “The Songs From The Life Of LEONARD COHEN.”
In 1992, artists including R.E.M., THE PIXIES and NICK CAVE contributed to the LEONARD COHEN tribute album, “I’m Your Fan,” while in 1995, “Tower Of Song: The Songs Of LEONARD COHEN,” featured DON HENLEY, BILLY JOEL and ELTON JOHN performing his songs. COHEN’s most dystopian work, “The Future,” came out in 1992 (co-produced by then-girlfriend, actress REBECCA DE MORNAY), with the artist retreating to the MT. BALDY ZEN CENTER monastery outside L.A., where he served his master JOSHU SASALI-ROSHI for five years. “It was one of the many attempts I’ve made in the past 30 or 40 years to address acute clinical depression,” he said in a 2001 interview, the year he released “Ten New Songs,” his first studio album in nearly a decade, followed by “Dear Heather,” a collaboration with jazz chanteuse (and romantic partner) ANJANI THOMAS. “Blue Alert,” another album of songs co-written by COHEN and ANJANI, was released in 2006, the same year as the documentary tribute, “LEONARD COHEN: I’m Your Man” came out, featuring he, THOMAS and U2 performing “Tower Of Song.”
During this time, it was revealed COHEN’s longtime manager KELLEY LYNCH, had been embezzling more than $5 million from his retirement fund since 1996. And while he was awarded $9 million by an L.A. superior court, he was never able to collect the amount.
His financial situation prompted him to launch a series of concert tours that began in 2008, and in 2009, he released the “Live In LONDON” CD recorded at the O2 ARENA. SYLVIE SIMMONS’ biography, “I’m Your Man: The Life Of LEONARD COHEN,” was published in 2012, following IRA NADEL’s 1997 biography, “Various Positions.”
COHEN’s 12th studio album, “Old Ideas,” came out in JANUARY 12th, and became the highest charting album of his career, debuting in the Top 10 in the U.S. and #1 around the world., followed by yet another international tour. He followed that up with “Popular Problems” in 2014. One of the songs from that album, “Nevermind,” was the opening theme for the second season of HBO’s “True Detective.”
COHEN was inducted into the JUNO/CANADIAN MUSIC HALL OF FAME in 1991, received a JUNO AWARD for Male Vocalist Of The Year in 1993 and Songwriter Of The Year in 1994. He was inducted into the CANADIAN SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME in 2006, and received a GRAMMY in 2007 as a featured artist on HERBIE HANCOCK’s Album Of The Year, “River: The JONI Letters.” He was inducted into the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME by LOU REED in 2008, received a GRAMMY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in 2010, two JUNO AWARDS in 2013 for Artist Of The Year and Songwriter Of The Year and another in 2015 for Album Of The Year, “Popular Problems.”
COHEN is survived by son ADAM, a singer-songwriter, and daughter, LORCA, a photographer, videographer and director, both from his relationship with LOS ANGELES-based artist SUZANNE ELROD.