Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Multi-talented folksinger-songwriter Leonard Cohen was already a well-respected Canadian poet and novelist when he began penning tunes for folk star Judy Collins. Shortly afterwards, he started recording and performing his own lyrics and melodies successfully, though he is perhaps best known through the vocalizations of Collins and other singers, including Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. Responsible for folk classics such as “Sisters of Mercy” and “Bird on a Wire,” Cohen, with what critic David Browne labeled as his “sardonic verse and brooding demeanor,” has influenced many late 1980s singer-songwriters, including Suzanne Vega, in addition to continuing his own career with the 1988 album I’m Your Man.
Cohen was born September 21, 1934, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Music was not his first love; rather, he began writing poetry and fiction as a teenager. But he had a friend whose father played guitar and sang folk songs to the boys; this man taught Cohen to play the instrument. Also, while the young writer worked towards a degree at McGill University, he played in an amateur country band called the Buckskin Boys. After he graduated from college, his first volume of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published. Within a few years Cohen’s verses had received wide critical acclaim, both in his native land and in the United States. He traveled both countries giving poetry readings during the late 1950s, and at these readings he was often accompanied by a musician who played while Cohen read. This reawakened the poet’s interest in music, and he began playing the guitar and singing again for groups of friends.
By 1966 Cohen had published three more volumes of poetry and two novels, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. Both eventually became best-sellers, with The Favorite Game achieving something of a cult following. But 1966 was the year that Cohen would begin focusing on his music. While doing a poetry reading in New York City, he was approached by the Columbia Broadcasting System which wanted him to appear in a television program based on his readings. They also wanted musical interludes. At the same time, Cohen went to see Judy Collins in concert; her performance inspired him to begin writing his own folk songs.
Collins liked his compositions, and she included two of them—“Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag”—on her 1967 album In My Life. Other artists began to use Cohen’s songs, and his friends persuaded him to begin performing them himself. Cohen did so, and his act met with warm receptions at the Newport Folk Festival, the Rheingold Music Festival, and Montreal’s Expo ’67. He also landed a recording contract with Columbia Records, and released his debut album, Songs of Leonard
Poet and novelist during the late 1950s and early 1960s; composer of folk songs, 1966—; recording artist and concert performer, 1967—; composer of film scores, including “The Angel,” “The Ernie Game,” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.”
Awards: McGill Literary Award, 1956; Canada Council Grant, 1960–61; Quebec Literary Award, 1964; Honorary L.L.B., Dalhousie University, 1971.
Cohen, very late in 1967. Well received by most critics, it was later used as the soundtrack for the film McCabe and Mrs. Miller. In addition to his own version of “Suzanne,” the album included the Cohen trademark songs “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and “Sisters of Mercy.”
Cohen followed his debut effort with Songs from a Room in 1969; it featured what is perhaps Cohen’s best-known song, “Bird on the Wire.” A long string of critically successful albums ensued; one of the most popular was 1971 ’s Songs of Love and Hate. Throughout the 1970s Cohen composed and released several songs that have become folk standards, including “Joan of Arc,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Story of Isaac,” “Tonight Will Be Fine,” and “Please Don’t Pass Me By.”
In the later 1970s, Cohen left Columbia Records to work at Warner Brothers with famed rock producer-composer Phil Spector. Despite the two men’s widefy different styles, they produced an album which combined Cohen’s words and Spector’s music, 1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man. Critical response was mixed, and ranged from execration to exaltation; the effort was extremely popular with fans in Europe but did not sell well in the United States. Two years later, Cohen went back to Columbia to release Recent Songs. On several tracks he sang duets with singer Jennifer Warnes, who also released an album of her versions of several Cohen standards, Famous Blue Raincoat.
For the next nine years, Cohen did not record on any major labels, though he did release an album in 1984 called Various Positions, which Browne described as centering on “Judeo-Christian imagery.” In 1988, however, I’m Your Man came out on Columbia. Cohen’s always deadpan delivery is “now so low it sounds as if it were about to fall off the record,” Browne quipped, but the Rolling Stone reviewer went on to praise several cuts on the album, including the title track, “First We Take Manhattan,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” “Tower of Song,” and “Everybody Knows.” Though he labeled I’m Your Man as “the first Cohen album that can be listened to during the daylight hours,” Browne concluded that because of the singer’s insightful social commentary, “there’s still absolutely nothing comforting about having Leonard Cohen around.”
Albums; released by Columbia except as indicated
Songs of Leonard Cohen (includes “Suzanne,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” and “Sisters of Mercy”), 1967.
Songs from a Room (includes “Bird on a Wire” and “You Know Who I Am”), 1969.
Songs of Love and Hate (includes “Joan of Arc,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag”), 1971.
Live Songs (includes “Story of Isaac,” “Nancy,” “Tonight Will Be Fine,” “Queen Victoria,” “Please Don’t Pass Me By,” and “Passin’ Thru”), 1973.
New Skin for the Old Ceremony, 1974.
Death of a Ladies’ Man, Warner Brothers, 1977.
Recent Songs, 1979.
I’m Your Man (includes “I’m Your Man,” “First We Take Manhattan,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” “Everybody Knows,” “Tower of Song,” and “I Can’t Forget”), 1988.
Also recorded Various Positions in 1984.
Chatelaine, October, 1985; September, 1988.
Rolling Stone, June 16, 1988.
Saturday Night, October, 1988.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Leonard Cohen, known primarily as a folk singer-songwriter with a modest but impassioned cult following, is perhaps better described as a poet who occasionally sets his words to music. While his lyrical subjects cover a broad range, recurring themes include love and longing, suspicion and betrayal, despair and doom. Cohen has written abundantly of his many relationships with women, and he has also repeatedly explored issues of religious faith. He earned critical praise as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and 1960s; the 1956 McGill Literary Award was the first of several honors awarded his writings. During those years Cohen also wrote songs, though he made no attempt to record or sell them. An introduction to popular folk singer Judy Collins in the mid-1960s led to unexpected success for Cohen as a songwriter. Impressed with his abilities, Collins chose to record several of Cohen's songs for upcoming albums, including "Suzanne," "Sisters of Mercy," and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye." The success of those songs led other singers to seek out Cohen's songs for their recordings. Soon Cohen decided to record an album of his own works, and in 1968 he released The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Approaching his mid-30s, Cohen entered a new phase of his career, one that would endure for decades.
Cohen became a successful coffeehouse singer during the 1960s and 1970s, never achieving major commercial success but inspiring intense devotion among his fans. At a time when interest in his music seemed to have subsided, singer Jennifer Warnes recorded Famous Blue Raincoat, a well-received and beautifully sung collection of Cohen songs released in 1987. The following year Cohen released I'm Your Man, his best-selling album in years. At the dawn of the 1990s, a middle-aged Cohen found himself in the midst of a resurgence. His blend of observant, insightful lyrics and stirring, sorrowful melodies had attracted the attention of a new generation of musicians whose reverence elevated Cohen even higher on the cult-hero totem pole. Respected artists from the alternative-rock scene as well as A-list rock stars clamored to participate in two Leonard Cohen tribute albums, I'm Your Fan in 1991 and Tower of Song in 1995. The renewed appreciation for Cohen's works led to the release of several best-of collections over the next several years, as well as two new recordings, The Future in 1992 and Ten New Songs in 2001. His 2004 album, Dear Heather, released just after his seventieth birthday, presents a reflective Cohen looking back on his life and loves.
A Short Hop from Poet to Singer-Songwriter
Cohen was born September 21, 1934, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He explored his artistic leanings from an early age, writing poetry and fiction as a teenager. Cohen learned to play the guitar from the father of a friend, and during his years studying at McGill University, he played in an amateur country band called the Buckskin Boys. After he graduated from college, his first volume of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published. Within a few years Cohen's verses had received wide critical acclaim, both in his native land and in the United States. He traveled throughout North America giving poetry readings during the late 1950s, and at these readings he was often accompanied by a musician who played while Cohen read. This practice reawakened the poet's interest in music, and he began playing the guitar again and singing for groups of friends.
By 1966 Cohen had published three more volumes of poetry and two novels, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. Both novels eventually became bestsellers, with The Favorite Game achieving something of a cult following. In spite of the favorable reception of his writings, Cohen struggled to make a living as a writer. During a trip to New York in 1966, Cohen encountered an opportunity that altered the course of his life. After he showed some of his folk songs to Judy Collins, the established singer chose to include "Suzanne" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag" on her 1966 album In My Life; the former track became a successful number for Collins. She featured several Cohen songs on her subsequent album as well. Other singers began to record Cohen's songs, and his friends persuaded him to begin performing them himself. Cohen did so, and his act met with warm receptions at the Newport Folk Festival, the Rheingold Music Festival, and Montreal's Expo '67.
For the Record . . .
Born Leonard Norman Cohen on September 21, 1934, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; son of Nathan B. (a clothing business owner) and Marsha (a nurse; maiden name, Klinitsky) Cohen; companion of Suzanne Elrod; companion of Rebecca De Mornay (an actress); children: (with Elrod) Adam, Lorca. Education: Bachelor's degree, McGill University, 1955; graduate study at Columbia University.
Poet and novelist, late 1950s–; released debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1968; composed film scores, including The Angel, The Ernie Game, McCabe and Mrs. Miller; songs covered on two tribute albums, I'm Your Fan, 1991, and Tower of Song, 1995; collaborated with singer-musician Sharon Robinson on Ten New Songs, 2001; released Dear Heather, 2004.
Awards: McGill Literary Award, 1956; Canada Council Grant, 1960-61; Quebec Literary Award, 1964; Honorary L.L.B., Dalhousie University, 1971.
Addresses: Record company—Columbia Records, P.O. Box 4450, New York, NY 10101-4450, website: http://www.columbiarecords.com/. Website—Leonard Cohen Official Website: http://www.leonardcohen.com.
Cohen soon landed a recording contract with Columbia Records and released his debut album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1968. While not a blockbuster, the album was embraced by a significant audience and achieved gold-record status. Critics at the time and in years since have approved as well, with some expressing ecstatic support; Jason Ankeny of All Music Guide described the album as "a breathtaking and perfect debut." The album was later used as the soundtrack for the 1971 Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller. In addition to his own version of "Suzanne," The Songs of Leonard Cohen includes his classics "So Long, Marianne" and "Sisters of Mercy."
Cohen followed his debut effort with 1969's Songs from a Room, which features what is perhaps Cohen's best-known song, "Bird on the Wire." A long string of critically successful albums ensued; one of the most popular was 1971's Songs of Love and Hate. Throughout the 1970s Cohen composed and released several songs that have become folk standards, including "Joan of Arc," "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Story of Isaac," "Tonight Will Be Fine," and "Please Don't Pass Me By."
Tributes Lead to Renewed Appreciation
In the later 1970s, Cohen briefly left Columbia Records to work at Warner Bros. with famed rock producer-composer Phil Spector. Blending their widely divergent styles, they produced an album that combined Cohen's words and Spector's music, 1977's Death of a Ladies' Man. Critical response was mixed, ranging from execration to exaltation. The album was extremely popular with fans in Europe but did not sell well in the United States. Two years later, Cohen went back to Columbia to release Recent Songs. On several tracks he sang duets with Jennifer Warnes, one of several women throughout Cohen's career who played a significant collaborative role in his music.
In 1985 Cohen released Various Positions, an album that features synthesizers and lush backing vocals provided by a chorus. It includes such stirring songs as "Coming Back to You" and "Hallelujah" and again showcases the vocals of Warnes. Sales figures for the album were disappointing, contributing to a downward trend that had begun in the 1970s. The release of Jennifer Warnes's Famous Blue Raincoat in 1987 helped give Cohen's career a lift. Her interpretations of Cohen's songs, warmly and richly sung, triggered a reevaluation of his career that paved the way for the unparalleled success of his 1988 album I'm Your Man. In a 1998 interview with Susan Nunziata of Billboard, Cohen acknowledged his debt to Warnes: "Jennifer Warnes practically revived me from the dead in America by putting out Famous Blue Raincoat.… She's been an invaluable help in my life." I'm Your Man sold close to two million copies worldwide and marked a comeback of sorts for Cohen.
Evidence that a new generation of musicians looked to Cohen as a master songwriter came in the form of the 1991 tribute album, I'm Your Fan, which includes performances from such alt-rock artists as R.E.M., the Pixies, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The next tribute album, 1995's Tower of Song, features a much higher wattage of star power—artists such as Bono, Sting, Elton John, and Billy Joel all contributed—indicating that Leonard Cohen, the perpetual outsider, had actually become trendy.
Meditation and Collaboration
Cohen's breaks between albums grew longer during the 1990s, a decade that began with his 1992 release of The Future, a brooding, pessimistic take on the late-twentieth-century geopolitical landscape. For nearly ten years after that album, fans had to content themselves with the release of a live album and a couple of greatest hits collections. For several years during the mid-1990s, Cohen lived at a Zen monastery atop Mount Baldy, near Los Angeles. He had struggled with clinical depression for many years and, seeking a dramatic change in his life, had chosen to spend time at the monastery. While living there, he adhered to a rigorous eighteen-hours-a-day schedule of meditation, chores, and intense conversation with the Zen master, his friend Kyozan Joshu, known as Roshi.
While writing songs was not the goal of living at the monastery, Cohen found that ideas flowed freely there, and by the end of the 1990s, he had amassed abundant new material. To a greater extent than ever before, he developed his new songs in collaboration with another person—Sharon Robinson, an old friend and former backup singer. Robinson set Cohen's words to music and is credited with cowriting every track on the 2001 release Ten New Songs. Robinson also sang harmonies for the recording and appears beside Cohen on the cover. Writing in Maclean's, Brian D. Johnson asserted that while the album—released in the month following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States—has a tone of "luxurious solitude," it also has the capacity to comfort and console listeners in the wake of the attacks. Describing the album as "spare, hypnotic, and wise," Johnson wrote that "it plays as a psalm of reconciliation. It's an aftermath album, finding beauty in the ruins of a life." As Cohen ages, his fans and reviewers half-suspect that each new album will be his last. Some critics wrote that Ten New Songs would be a fitting swan song, and the same was said of his next album, 2004's Dear Heather. Thom Jurek of All Music Guide ascribed an "air of finality" to the album. He described the recording as "mellow, hushed, nocturnal"—familiar features of Cohen's work—while at the same time declaring it "Cohen's most upbeat offering."
For most of his career, Cohen has released his albums on one label, Columbia. Each new effort is launched with minimal fanfare and eagerly grabbed up by Cohen's fans, who constitute a modest following in the United States and a considerably larger one in Canada and Europe. While Cohen has acknowledged that he occasionally experiences disappointment that he has never broken through to a wider audience, he also described his career to Nunziato in Billboard as one of "incredible privilege." He explained to Nunziato that what his fans lack in number, they make up for in the intensity of their devotion and understanding: "the audience is of a quality that just stuns me…. I write one word at a time. I sweat it. And there are people who get it word for word…. I have people who listen to my work who hear it with my own ears. That's an incredible affirmation for a writer. And that's something that nourishes me very much."
Songs of Leonard Cohen, Columbia, 1967.
Songs from a Room, Columbia, 1969.
Songs of Love and Hate, Columbia, 1971.
Live Songs, Columbia, 1973.
New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Columbia, 1974.
Death of a Ladies' Man, Columbia, 1977.
Recent Songs, Columbia, 1979.
Various Positions, Columbia, 1985.
I'm Your Man, Columbia, 1988.
The Future, Columbia, 1992.
Ten New Songs, Columbia, 2001.
Dear Heather, Columbia, 2004.
Billboard, November 28, 1998, pp. LC-2, LC-3. Chatelaine, October 1985; September 1988.
Entertainment Weekly, January 8, 1993, p. 26.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 15, 2001, p. K7253.
Maclean's, October 15, 2001, p. 52.
People, March 25, 1996, p. 118.
Rolling Stone, June 16, 1988.
Saturday Night, October 1988.
"Leonard Cohen," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (November 8, 2004).
"Take This Longing from My Tongue," Salon,http://www.salon.com/people/bc/1999/06/15/cohen/ (November 10, 2004).
"Who Held a Gun to Leonard Cohen's Head?," GuardianUnlimited,http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/fridayreview/story/0,12102,1305765,00.html (November 10, 2004).
—Elizabeth Thomas and Judy Galens
Best-selling album since 1990: Ten New Songs (2001)
Leonard Cohen was in his mid-thirties and had already established himself as a poet and best-selling author before he released an album of his own musical compositions in 1968. Over the next three decades, he made nine more studio albums of strikingly original and sometimes masterly blendings of word and song, delivered in an unsentimental, vibratoless, mournful baritone that has grown raspier and grittier with age and untold numbers of cigarettes.
Cohen was born and raised in Montreal, by his mother; his father died when he was only nine. Encouraged by his mother to pursue his artistic interests, Cohen attended McGill University in Montreal, where his poetry and fiction writing garnered award-winning notice. Cohen listened to country music in his youth and, while attending McGill, played rhythm guitar in a traditional square-dance band called the Buckskin Boys. He published his first poetry collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956, when he was twenty-one years old. In addition to several more published volume of poetry, Cohen became famous for his two novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). Each book has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.
In 1966 Cohen met folksinger Judy Collins. Collins showed great interest in his songs and recorded some of them, including his most famous composition, "Suzanne." He ends the first verse with the lyric, "And you know that she will trust you, for you've touched her perfect body with your mind." Other artists also began recording Cohen's music before he decided to release his own album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968), which became a college campus musical staple as well as a critical and commercial success. The album contains his version of "Suzanne" and other famous Cohen songs such as "Sisters of Mercy" and "So Long, Marianne," whose chorus repeats, "Now so long Marianne, it's time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again."
Cohen continued releasing albums and remained popular into the early 1980s. His music—melancholy odes to lost love, flatly delivered ironic social commentaries, and chronicles of his diverse travels—fell out of favor in the 1980s. However, Cohen made a comeback of sorts with I'm Your Man (1988), an album that sold well around the world, especially in the Scandinavian countries.
Cohen's songs have been recorded by musical artists as stylistically diverse as Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge, and Neil Diamond. In 1991, as a tribute to Cohen, eighteen young rock groups including REM, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the Pixies combined on an album of his songs titled I'm Your Fan (1991). In 1995 another tribute album, Tower of Song (1995), was released. It features established stars such as Elton John, Billy Joel, Bono, Don Henley, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and many others performing renditions of Cohen's songs.
In his customary trait of creating albums methodically, Cohen's follow-up release to I'm Your Man was more than four years in the making. The Future (1992) is a collection of astringent social and political songs, some of them starkly bleak in a prophetic vein, a melding of the indignation of 1960s protest music with a dark, foreboding existentialism. In the album's title song Cohen offers a harbinger of things to come with the lyric, "Get ready for the future: It is murder."
Although the album sold reasonably well, Cohen was in no hurry to release another. He chose instead to spend most of the remaining decade at Mount Baldy, a Zen retreat in southern California. He became an ordained Zen Monk and earned the name Jikan, which means "silent one." Cohen eventually began assembling songs for his next album, Ten New Songs (2001). He collaborated with the singer/songwriter Sharon Robinson on the album, on which she sings background to Cohen, his voice seldom rising above a faint, croaky whisper in characteristically brooding explorations of love and regret. His lyric, "The ponies run, the girls are young, the odds are there to beat," pushes the point forward in Cohen's "A Thousand Kisses Deep," a cynical lament to love from the perspective of a man growing older and one of the album's highlights.
In 2002 The Essential Leonard Cohen was released. It contains thirty-one songs and chronicles his recording career from 1968 through 2001. The album displays Cohen's gift for writing songs that are at once topically relevant, emotionally gripping, and intellectually challenging.
When Cohen first began playing guitar and singing his poetry in various folk gatherings, most of the performers were dressed in the hippie garb of that time. Cohen set himself apart by wearing tailored suits. This is merely one characteristic of many that separates Cohen from the typical folksinger. Immune to the passing dictates of fashion, unswervingly true to his quirky creative impulses, Cohen has recorded in song a visionary quest that is among the most enduring and important to have emerged from the realm of popular music in the late twentieth century.
Songs of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1968); Songs from a Room (Columbia, 1969); Song of Love and Hate (Columbia, 1971); Live Songs (Columbia, 1973); New Skin for the Old Ceremony (Columbia, 1974); Death of a Ladies Man (Warner Bros., 1977); Various Positions (Columbia, 1984); I'm Your Man (Columbia, 1988); The Future (Columbia, 1992); Ten New Songs (Sony, 2001); The Essential Leonard Cohen (Sony, 2002) .
D. Sheppard, Leonard Cohen (New York, 2000).
Cohen, Leonard, Canadian poet/singer/songwriter of dark-themed songs; b. Montreal, Canada, Sept. 21, 1934. Cohen studied English literature at McGill and Columbia Univs. and published his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. During the 1960s, he published a number of books of poetry as well as two novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). The latter became standard college literary fare and sold more than 300, 000 copies.
Taught the classics of music as a child, Leonard Cohen began playing guitar at age 13 and singing at 15, performing with a barn-dance group called the Buckskin Boys during his late teens. His first popular acclaim came when Judy Collins recorded one of his most romantic compositions, “Suzanne,” for her 1966 In My Life album. Cohen launched his performing career through appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and N.Y/s Central Park (with Collins) in 1967.
Signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond, Leonard Cohen’s debut album included “Suzanne the alienated “Stranger Song” the sorrowful “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye/’ and the compassionate “Sisters of Mercy.” The latter three songs had appeared on Collins’s Wildflower album. In 1969 Cohen successfully toured North America and Europe and issued Songs from a Room, recorded in Nashville. It contained “The Story of Isaac,” “Tonight Will Be Fine,” and the oft-recorded classic “Bird on a Wire.” Retiring from public performance at the end of 1970, he released Songs of Love and Hate the following year. It contained “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Joan of Arc,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” “Diamonds in the Mine,” and “Love Calls You by Your Name.” He also provided the songs for the soundtrack to the 1971 Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
In 1972 Leonard Cohen published another volume of poetry, The Energy of Slaves, and toured the U.S. and Europe with Jennifer Warnes as one of his backup singers. New Skin for the Old Ceremony, with “There is a War” and “Chelsea Hotel,” was issued in 1974 and Cohen toured again in 1975. He collaborated with songwriter-producer Phil Spector for the controversial Death of a Ladies’ Man in 1977 and recorded Recent Songs for Columbia in 1979. In 1985 he toured again in support of Various Positions, but Columbia did not issue the album, instead leasing it to the small Passport label. The album was quickly deleted, despite the inclusion of “The Broken Hallelujah,” “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and “Heart with No Companion.”
In 1986 longtime associate Jennifer Warnes recorded an entire album of Leonard Cohen songs, Famous Blue Raincoat, which became a commercial success and revived interest in his career. Already a well-respected figure in Europe, Cohen’s 1988 I’m Your Man sold spectacularly there and further reawakened interest in his songs in North America. Hailed as a masterpiece, the album contained a number of haunting, compelling songs such as “First We Take Manhattan,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” and “Take This Waltz.” The less impressive follow-up, The Future, included “Democracy,” “Light as a Breeze,” and “Waiting for a Miracle.” The 1993 book Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs assembled Cohen’s poems, prose, and lyrics.
Contemporary alternative artists such as R.E.M., Nick Cave, and the Pixies paid tribute to Leonard Cohen with 1991’s I’m Your Fan, while 1995’s Tower of Song tribute featured mainstream artists such as Elton John, Willie Nelson, and Billy Joel. Cohen’s son Adam moved to the U.S. from Europe in 1992 and began concentrating on his music in N.Y. the following year. In 1998, he made his recording debut on Columbia Records and conducted his first national tour.
Cohen was one of the most powerful song poets to emerge in the 1960s. Despite the limited musical effectiveness of his gruff monotonie voice and sparse musical settings, his poetics more than compensate for any musical shortcomings. His lyrics, legitimately described as brooding and gloomy, even depressing, ultimately succeed through the underlying intensity of their humanity. One of the first artists to bring a spiritual and poetic sensibility to rock music, Cohen became an acclaimed musical figure in Europe, where he was sometimes compared to Jacques Brel. In the U.S., he endured years as a cult figure.
tHE Spice Box of Earth (N.Y., 1961); The Favorite Game, A Novel (N.Y., 1963); Flowers for Hitler (Toronto, 1964); Beautiful Losers (N.Y., 1966); Let Us Compare Mythologies (Toronto, 1966); Parasites of Heaven (Toronto, 1966); Selected Poems, 1956-68 (N.Y., 1968); The Energy of Slaves (N.Y., 1973); Death of a Lady’s Man (Toronto, 1978); Book of Mercy (Toronto, 1984); Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs (N.Y., 1993).
Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968); Songs from a Room (1969); Songs of Love and Hate (1971); Live Songs (1973); New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974); Best (1976); Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977); Recent Songs (1979); Various Positions (1985); I’m Your Man (1988); The Future (1992); Cohen Live—Leonard Cohen in Concert (1994). Jennifer Warnes: Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1986); Private Music (1991). Tribute albums (various artists): I’m Your Fan—The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1991); Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1995).
Patricia A. Morley, The Immoral Moralists (Toronto, 1972); Michael Gnarowski, ed., Leonard Cohen: The Artist and His Critics (Toronto, 1976); Stephen Scobie, Leonard Cohen (Vancouver, 1978); L. S. Dormán and C. L. Rawlins, Leonard Cohen: Prophet of the Heart (London, 1990); Ken Norris and Michael Fournier, eds., Take This Waltz: A Celebration of Leonard Cohen (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, 1994); Ira Bruce Nadel, Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen (N.Y., 1996).
COHEN, LEONARD (1934– ), Montreal-born poet, novelist, and songwriter whose work was uniquely influential through the late 1960s and early 1970s. Cohen's background differentiated him from the Jewish writers of Montreal, who had grown up before him on the hardscrabble streets of the downtown. His family were pillars of the community, ensconced in a grand Westmount home near the hilly Murray Hill Park, which he turns into an iconic landscape in his fiction.
Although Cohen's poetic career was nurtured by the rich literary life of Jewish Montreal, and the burgeoning modernist movement centered around a few older poets and teachers, his broader impact as a writer came with his ability to enter the international scene through his songwriting. There are thus two Cohens – one a contributor to an established line of poetic inheritance, intimately linked to his birthplace; the other a pop troubadour whose songs speak to audiences in Poland, Finland, and New York as directly as they do to Canadians.
In the early 1960s this division was not so easily felt, as poems that appeared in his early books were reworked into successful songs. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, appeared in the same year that his Selected Poems was published. The particular style and tone of his poetry were well suited to the blend of folk, country, and blues that informed such records as Songs from a Room (1969). In the early 1970s Cohen began to express a diffidence with his poetic gifts and distanced himself from his audience in the darkly ironic poems collected in The Energy of Slaves (1972). This persona of the divided poet returns in his collection Death of a Lady's Man (1978). In it, the left-hand page presents a poem, which is then critiqued on the facing page. Around the same time, Cohen released Death of a Ladies' Man. This project distanced Cohen from the constituency of listeners who had fallen for songs like "Suzanne" and "Bird on the Wire." Cohen's movement through poetry, novels, and on to popular songwriting suggested a restless and multitalented artist who is both drawn to and repelled by fame.
Much of Cohen's work is informed by his Jewishness, although often in shadowy and ambiguous ways. Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), The Spice-Box of Earth (1961), and Flowers for Hitler (1964) revealed a voice informed by subtle humor, Judaic imagery, and pop cultural savvy. His first novel, The Favourite Game, is a lyrical portrait of a charmed West-mount adolescence, not unlike Cohen's own. Among his best albums is New Skin for the Old Ceremony, which reworks Jewish liturgical imagery (especially that of Yom Kippur) in powerfully strange and simple folk-blues anthems. Even Beautiful Losers (1966), Cohen's final novel, is underwritten by the predicament of what his narrator provocatively calls the "New Jew," inheritor of a tradition transformed into some grotesque yet compelling version of its once more coherent self. But the novel reaches beyond Cohen's established themes and lyrical tones for a more all-encompassing portrait of Canadian identity in a nascent multicultural era. The combination of cultural influence in the novel is representative of Montreal's mixed heritage, as French, English, Mohawk, and Jewish settlements on the banks of the St. Lawrence are explored. The book in which Cohen places the greatest emphasis on Jewish language and imagery is his last published collection of new poetry, Book of Mercy (1984). In short psalm-like sections, the poet returns to the familiar subject matter of private and poetic pain, yet he does so in language that repeatedly echoes traditional Jewish prayer: "Blessed are you who has given each man a shield of loneliness so that he cannot forget you."
Leonard Cohen's oeuvre stands at the end of a line of inheritance beginning with the earliest Yiddish writers who settled in Montreal, followed by A.M. Klein and Irving Layton, both of whom influenced Cohen in his youthful work. Readers have had to accept a relative silence from Cohen since the mid-1980s, when song and his growing position as a cultural icon took precedence over literary output.
[Norman Ravvin (2nd ed.)]
COHEN, Leonard. Canadian, b. 1934. Genres: Novels, Plays/Screenplays, Poetry, Songs/Lyrics and libretti. Career: Professional composer and singer. Publications: Let Us Compare Mythologies, 1956; The Spice-Box of Earth, 1961; The Favorite Game (novel), 1963; Flowers for Hitler, 1964; Parasites of Heaven, 1966; Beautiful Losers (novel), 1966; Selected Poems, 1956-68, 1968; Leonard Cohen's Song Book, 1969; The Energy of Slaves, 1972; The Next Step (play), 1972; Death of a Lady's Man, 1979; Two Views (poetry), 1980; Book of Mercy (poetry), 1984; Leonard Cohen Anthology (songs), 1991; Stranger Music: Selected Poems & Songs, 1993; Dance Me to the End of Love, 1995; You Do Not Have to Love Me, 1996; God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot, 2000. Address: c/o Stranger Mgmt., 419 N Larchmont Blvd Ste 91, Los Angeles, CA 90004-3000, U.S.A.