Looking back at the life of the legendary influential poet and singer
Leonard Cohen was born on this day in 1934
Leonard Cohen was born Leonard Norman Cohen on September 21st, 1934 in Westmount, Quebec, Canada. During his younger years Cohen pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Disappointed with his lack of financial success as a writer, Cohen moved to the United States to pursue a career as a folk music singer–songwriter. It wasn’t until 1967, at the age of 33 with his first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” that he begun his musical career. During the 1960’s, he was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd. Warhol speculated that Cohen had spent time listening to Nico in clubs and that this had influenced his musical style. His song “Suzanne” became a hit for Judy Collins (who subsequently covered a number of Cohen’s other songs, as well), and was for many years his most covered song. His first album became a cult favorite in the U.S., as well as in the UK, where it spent over a year on the album charts. Several of the songs on that first album were covered by other popular folk artists and are regarded as classics of folk music and one of the finest lyrical examples of poetry and music.Cohen followed up that first album with 1969 “Songs from a Room” (featuring the often-recorded “Bird on the Wire”) and “Songs of Love and Hate” in 1971. These first 3 albums are essential to the Leonard Cohen’s musical legacy, they are perfect albums that feature some of the best songs ever written. In a time where the blend of poetry and pop/rock/folk music was giving it’s first steps, Cohen was essential to it. In 1970 Cohen toured for the first time, in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival, on a bill featuring among others Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors. In 1972 he toured again in Europe and Israel. When his performance in Israel didn’t seem to be going well, he walked off the stage, went to his dressing room, and took some LSD. He then heard the audience clamoring for his reappearance by singing to him in Hebrew, and under the influence of the psychedelic, he returned to finish the show.
In 1976 Cohen embarked on a new major European tour with a new band and changes in his sound and arrangements, in support of his “The Best of Leonard Cohen” release. 1980’s pop sensation Laura Branigan was one of his backup singers during the tour.After the European tour of 1976, Cohen again attempted a new change in his style and arrangements; his new 1977 record, “Death of a Ladies’ Man”, was co-written and produced by Phil Spector. In 1978 he also releases his poetry book with the same name “Death Of A Ladies’ Man”. During the 1980’s Cohen’s music begun to enter the Pop mainstream, he switched musical directions from simpler folk-guitar songs and embraced new trendy sounds at the time, such as the use of synthesizers. In 1984 one of his most memorable songs is released, “Hallelujah”. It was first released on studio album “Various Positions” and he sang it during his Europe tour in 1985. The song had limited initial success but found greater popularity through a 1991 cover by John Cale, which formed the basis for a later cover by Jeff Buckley. “Hallelujah” has been performed by almost 200 artists in various languages since then. Despite it’s religious title, the song was actually intended to have a double meaning, as it describes a sexual act, Cohen often dabbed into the double meaning poetry and lyrics. Aside of religion, themes of political and social justice also recur in Cohen’s work, especially in later albums. In “Democracy”, he both acknowledges political problems and celebrates the hopes of reformers: “from the wars against disorder/ from the sirens night and day/ from the fires of the homeless/ from the ashes of the gay/ Democracy is coming to the USA.” During the 80’s, he had a string of hit songs with “Dance Me To The End Of Time”, “Take This Waltz” and 1988 “First We Take Manhattan” that proved to be one of his biggest hits. Leonard Cohen remained a relevant artist and composer throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, he gained a cult following which keep growing to this day. His last album was released shortly before his death in 2016, titled “You Want It Darker” Leonard Cohen died on November 7th, 2016, at the age of 82 at his home in Los Angeles, although cancer was a contributing cause, according to his manager, Cohen’s death was the result of a fall at his home on the night of November 7th, and he subsequently died in his sleep. His death was announced on November 10th His funeral was held on November 10th, 2016, in Montreal, at a cemetery on Mount Royal. As was his wish, Cohen was laid to rest with a Jewish rite, in a simple pine casket, in a family plot. On the “cursed” year of 2016 where so many of our favorite artists left, Leonard Cohen is one of the artists that leaves a void impossible to replace in music and poetry, his strong legacy though will stay with us reminding us the beauty of his songs and poems.
Watch Leonard Cohen performing live in London one of his signature songs “Famous Blue Raincoat” in 2008
Listen to a selection of some of Leonard Cohen’s best songs compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify
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