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One of the most fascinating and enigmatic -- if not the most successful -- singer/songwriters of the late '60s, Leonard Cohen has retained an audience across five decades of music-making interrupted by various digressions into personal and creative exploration, all of which have only added to the mystique surrounding him. Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the '60s who is still working in the 21st century, which is all the more remarkable an achievement for someone who didn't even aspire to a musical career until he was in his thirties.
Cohen was born in 1934, a year before Elvis Presley or Ronnie Hawkins, and his background -- personal, social, and intellectual -- couldn't have been more different from those of any rock stars of any generation; nor can he be easily compared even with any members of the generation of folksingers who came of age in the '60s. Though he knew some country music and played it a bit as a boy, he didn't start performing on even a semi-regular basis, much less recording, until after he had already written several books -- and as an established novelist and poet, his literary accomplishments far exceed those of Bob Dylan or most anyone else who one cares to mention in music, at least this side of operatic librettists such as Hugo Von Hofmannsthal and Stefan Zweig, figures from another musical and cultural world.
He was born Leonard Norman Cohen into a middle-class Jewish family in the Montreal suburb of Westmount. His father, a clothing merchant (who also held a degree in engineering), died in 1943, when Cohen was nine years old. It was his mother who encouraged Cohen as a writer, especially of poetry, during his childhood. This fit in with the progressive intellectual environment in which he was raised, which allowed him free inquiry into a vast range of pursuits. His relationship to music was more tentative -- he took up the guitar at age 13, initially as a way to impress a girl, but was good enough to play country & western songs at local cafes, and he subsequently formed a group called the Buckskin Boys. At 17, he enrolled in McGill University as an English major -- by this time, he was writing poetry in earnest and became part of the university's tiny underground "bohemian" community. Cohen only earned average grades, but was a good enough writer to earn the McNaughton Prize in creative writing by the time he graduated in 1955 -- a year later, the ink barely dry on his degree, he published his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), which got great reviews but didn't sell especially well.
He was already beyond the age that rock & roll was aimed at -- Bob Dylan, by contrast, was still Robert Zimmerman, still in his teens, and young enough to become a devotee of Buddy Holly when the latter emerged. In 1961, Cohen published his second book of poetry, The Spice Box of Earth, which became an international success critically and commercially, and established Cohen as a major new literary figure. Meanwhile, he tried to join the family business and spent some time at Columbia University in New York, writing all the time. Between the modest royalties from sales of his second book, literary grants from the Canadian government, and a family legacy, he was able to live comfortably and travel around the world, partake of much of what it had to offer -- including some use of LSD when it was still legal -- and ultimately settling for an extended period in Greece, on the isle of Hydra in the Aegean Sea. He continued to publish, issuing a pair of novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), with a pair of poetry collections, Flowers for Hitler (1964) and Parasites of Heaven (1966). The Favorite Game was a very personal work about his early life in Montreal, but it was Beautiful Losers that proved another breakthrough, earning the kind of reviews that authors dare not even hope for -- Cohen found himself compared to James Joyce in the pages of The Boston Globe, and across five decades the book has enjoyed sales totaling well into six figures.
It was around this time that he also started writing music again, songs being a natural extension of his poetry. His relative isolation on Hydra, coupled with his highly mobile lifestyle when he left the island, his own natural iconoclastic nature, and the fact that he'd avoided being overwhelmed (or even touched too seriously) by the currents running through popular music since the '40s, combined to give Cohen a unique voice as a composer. Though he did settle in Nashville for a short time in the mid-'60s, he didn't write quite like anyone else in music, in the country music mecca or anywhere else. This might have been an impediment but for the intervention of Judy Collins, a folksinger who had just moved to the front rank of that field, and who had a voice just special enough to move her beyond the relatively emaciated ranks of remaining popular folk performers after Dylan shifted to electric music -- she was still getting heard, and not just by the purists left behind in Dylan's wake. She added Cohen's "Suzanne" to her repertoire and put it on her album In My Life, a record that was controversial enough in folk circles -- because of her cover of the Beatles song that gave the LP its title -- that it pulled in a lot of listeners and got a wide airing. "Suzanne" received a considerable amount of radio airplay from the LP, and Cohen was also represented on the album by "Dress Rehearsal Rag."
It was Collins who persuaded Cohen to return to performing for the first time since his teens. He made his debut during the summer of 1967 at the Newport Folk Festival, followed by a pair of sold-out concerts in New York City and an appearance singing his songs and reciting his poems on the CBS network television show Camera Three, in a show entitled "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen." It was around the same time that actor/singer Noel Harrison brought "Suzanne" onto the pop charts with a recording of his own. One of those who saw Cohen perform at Newport was John Hammond, Sr., the legendary producer whose career went back to the '30s and the likes of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie, and extended up through Bob Dylan and, ultimately, to Bruce Springsteen. Hammond got Cohen signed to Columbia Records and he created The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which was released just before Christmas of 1967. Producer John Simon was able to find a restrained yet appealing approach to recording Cohen's voice, which might have been described as an appealingly sensitive near-monotone; yet that voice was perfectly suited to the material at hand, all of which, written in a very personal language, seemed drenched in downbeat images and a spirit of discovery as a path to unsettling revelation.
Despite its spare production and melancholy subject matter -- or, very possibly because of it -- the album was an immediate hit by the standards of the folk music world and the budding singer/songwriter community. In an era in which millions of listeners hung on the next albums of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel -- whose own latest album had ended with a minor-key rendition of "Silent Night" set against a radio news account of the death of Lenny Bruce -- Cohen's music quickly found a small but dedicated following. College students by the thousands bought it; in its second year of release, the record sold over 100,000 copies. The Songs of Leonard Cohen was as close as Cohen ever got to mass audience success.
Amid all of this sudden musical activity, he hardly neglected his other writing -- in 1968, he released a new volume, Selected Poems: 1956-1968, which included both old and newly published work, and earned him the Governor General's Award, Canada's highest literary honor, which he proceeded to decline. By this time, he was actually almost more a part of the rock scene, residing for a time in New York's Chelsea Hotel, where his neighbors included Janis Joplin and other performing luminaries, some of whom influenced his songs very directly.
His next album, Songs from a Room (1969), was characterized by an even greater spirit of melancholy -- even the relatively spirited "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes" was steeped in such depressing sensibilities, and the one song not written by Cohen, "The Partisan," was a grim narrative about the reasons for and consequences of resistance to tyranny that included lines like "She died without a whisper" and included images of wind blowing past graves. Joan Baez subsequently recorded the song, and in her hands it was a bit more upbeat and inspiring to the listener; Cohen's rendition made it much more difficult to get past the costs presented by the singer's persona. On the other hand, "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy," although as downbeat as anything else here, did present Cohen in his most expressive and commercial voice, a nasal but affecting and finely nuanced performance.
In all, however, Songs from a Room was less well-received commercially and critically. Bob Johnston's restrained, almost minimalist production made it less overtly appealing than the subtly commercial trappings of his debut, though the album did have a pair of tracks, "Bird on the Wire" and "The Story of Isaac," that became standards rivaling "Suzanne." "The Story of Isaac," a musical parable woven around biblical imagery about Vietnam, was one of the most savage and piercing songs to come out of the antiwar movement, and showed a level of sophistication in its music and lyrics that put it in a whole separate realm of composition; it received an even better airing on the Live Songs album, in a performance recorded in Berlin during 1972.
Cohen may not have been a widely popular performer or recording artist, but his unique voice and sound, and the power of his writing and its influence, helped give him entrée to rock's front-ranked performers, an odd status for the then 35-year-old author/composer. He appeared at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival in England, a post-Woodstock gathering of stars and superstars, including late appearances by such soon-to-die-or-disband legends as Jimi Hendrix and the Doors; looking nearly as awkward as his fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, Cohen strummed his acoustic guitar backed by a pair of female singers in front of an audience of 600,000 ("It's a large nation, but still weak"), comprised in equal portions of fans, freaks, and belligerent gatecrashers, but the mere fact that he was there -- sandwiched somewhere between Miles Davis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- was a clear statement of the status (if not the popular success) he'd achieved. One portion of his set, "Tonight Will Be Fine," was released on a subsequent live album, while his performance of "Suzanne" was one of the highlights of Murray Lerner's long-delayed, 1996 documentary Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival.
Already, he had carved out a unique place for himself in music, as much author as performer and recording artist, letting his songs develop and evolve across years -- his distinctly non-commercial voice became part of his appeal to the audience he found, giving him a unique corner of the music audience comprising listeners descended from the same people who had embraced Bob Dylan's early work before he'd become a mass-media phenomenon in 1964. In a sense, Cohen embodied a phenomenon vaguely similar to what Dylan enjoyed before his early-'70s tour with the Band -- people bought his albums by the tens and, occasionally, hundreds of thousands, but seemed to hear him in uniquely personal terms. He earned his audience seemingly one listener at a time, by word of mouth more than by the radio, which, in any case (especially on the AM dial), was mostly friendly to covers of Cohen's songs by other artists.
Cohen's third album, Songs of Love and Hate (1971), was his most powerful body of work to date, brimming with piercing lyrics and music as poignantly affecting as it was minimalist in its approach -- arranger Paul Buckmaster's work on strings was peculiarly muted, and the children's chorus that showed up on "Last Year's Man" was spare in its presence; balancing them was Cohen's most effective vocalizing to date, brilliantly expressive around such acclaimed songs as "Joan of Arc," "Dress Rehearsal Rag" (which had been recorded by Judy Collins five years before), and "Famous Blue Raincoat." The bleakness of the tone and subject matter ensured that he would never become a "pop" performer; even the beat-driven "Diamonds in the Mine," with its catchy children's chorus accompaniment and all, and with a twangy electric guitar accompaniment to boot, was as dark and venomous a song as Columbia Records put out in 1971. And the most compelling moments -- among an embarrassment of riches -- came on lyrics like "Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc/As she came riding through the dark/No Moon to keep her armor bright/No man to get her through this night..." Teenagers of the late '60s (or any era that followed) listening devotedly to Leonard Cohen might have worried their parents, but could well have been the smartest or most sensitive kids in their class and the most well-balanced emotionally -- if they weren't depressed -- but also effectively well on their way out of being teenagers, and probably too advanced for their peers and maybe most of their teachers (except maybe the ones listening to Cohen). Songs of Love and Hate, coupled with the earlier hit versions of "Suzanne," etc., earned Cohen a large international cult following. He also found himself in demand in the world of commercial filmmaking, as director Robert Altman used his music in his 1971 feature film McCabe and Mrs. Miller, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, a revisionist period film set at the turn of the 19th century that was savaged by the critics (and, by some accounts, sabotaged by its own studio) but went on to become one of the director's best-loved movies. The following year, he also published a new poetry collection, The Energy of Slaves.
As was his wont, Cohen spent years between albums, and in 1973 he seemed to take stock of himself as a performer by issuing Leonard Cohen: Live Songs. Not a conventional live album, it was a compendium of performances from various venues across several years and focused on highlights of his output from 1969 onward. It showcased his writing as much as his performing, but also gave a good account of his appeal to his most serious fans -- those still uncertain of where they stood in relation to his music who could get past the epic-length "Please Don't Pass Me By" knew for certain they were ready to "join" the inner circle of his legion of devotees after that, while others who only appreciated "Bird on the Wire" or "The Story of Isaac" could stay comfortably in an outer ring.
Meanwhile, in 1973, his music became the basis for a theatrical production called Sisters of Mercy, conceived by Gene Lesser and loosely based on Cohen's life, or at least a fantasy version of his life. A three-year lag ensued between Songs of Love and Hate and Cohen's next album, and most critics and fans just assumed he'd hit a dry spell with the live album covering the gap. He was busy concertizing, however, in the United States and Europe during 1971 and 1972, and extending his appearances into Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was during this period that he also began working with pianist and arranger John Lissauer, whom he engaged as producer of his next album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). That album seemed to justify his fans' continued faith in his work, presenting Cohen in a more lavish musical environment. He proved capable of holding his own in a pop environment, even if the songs were mostly still depressing and bleak.
The following year, Columbia Records released The Best of Leonard Cohen, featuring a dozen of his best-known songs -- principally hits in the hands of other performers -- from his previous four LPs (though it left out "Dress Rehearsal Rag"). It was also during the mid-'70s that Cohen first crossed paths professionally with Jennifer Warnes, appearing on the same bill with the singer at numerous shows, which would lead to a series of key collaborations in the ensuing decade. By this time, he was a somewhat less mysterious persona, having toured extensively and gotten considerable exposure -- among many other attributes, Cohen became known for his uncanny attractiveness to women, which seemed to go hand in glove with the romantic subjects of most of his songs.
In 1977, Cohen reappeared with the ironically titled Death of a Ladies' Man, the most controversial album of his career, produced by Phil Spector. The notion of pairing Spector -- known variously as a Svengali-like presence to his female singers and artists and the most unrepentant (and often justified) over-producer in the field of pop music -- with Cohen must have seemed like a good one to someone at some point, but apparently Cohen himself had misgivings about many of the resulting tracks that Spector never addressed, having mixed the record completely on his own. The resulting LP suffered from the worst attributes of Cohen's and Spector's work, overly dense and self-consciously imposing in its sound, and virtually bathing the listener in Cohen's depressive persona, but showing his limited vocal abilities to disadvantage, owing to Spector's use of "scratch" (i.e., guide) vocals and his unwillingness to permit the artist to redo some of his weaker moments on those takes. For the first (and only) time in Cohen's career, his near-monotone delivery of this period wasn't a positive attribute. Cohen's unhappiness with the album was widely known among fans, who mostly bought it with that caveat in mind, so it didn't harm his reputation -- a year after its release, Cohen also published a new literary collection using the title Death of a Ladies' Man.
Cohen's next album, Recent Songs (1979), returned him to the spare settings of his early-'70s work and showed his singing to some of its best advantage. Working with veteran producer Henry Lewy (best known for his work with Joni Mitchell), the album showed Cohen's singing as attractive and expressive in its quiet way, and songs such as "The Guests" seeming downright pretty -- he still wrote about life and love, and especially relationships, in stark terms, but he almost seemed to be moving into a pop mode on numbers such as "Humbled in Love." Frank Sinatra never needed to look over his shoulder at Cohen (at least, as a singer), but he did seem to be trying for a slicker pop sound at moments on his record.
Then came 1984, and two key new works in Cohen's output -- the poetic/religious volume The Book of Mercy and the album Various Positions (1984). The latter, recorded with Jennifer Warnes, is arguably his most accessible album of his entire career up to that time -- Cohen's voice, now a peculiarly expressive baritone instrument, found a beautiful pairing with Warnes, and the songs were as fine as ever, steeped in spirituality and sexuality, with "Dance Me to the End of Love" a killer opener: a wry, doom-laden yet impassioned pop-style ballad that is impossible to forget. Those efforts overlapped with some ventures by the composer/singer into other creative realms, including an award-winning short film that he wrote, directed, and scored, entitled I Am a Hotel, and the score for the 1985 conceptual film Night Magic, which earned a Juno Award in Canada for Best Movie Score.
Sad to say, Various Positions went relatively unnoticed, and was followed by another extended sabbatical from recording, which ended with I'm Your Man (1988). But during his hiatus, Warnes had released her album of Cohen-authored material, entitled Famous Blue Raincoat, which had sold extremely well and introduced Cohen to a new generation of listeners. So when I'm Your Man did appear, with its electronic production (albeit still rather spare) and songs that added humor (albeit dark humor) to his mix of pessimistic and poetic conceits, the result was his best-selling record in more than a decade. The result, in 1991, was the release of I'm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, a CD of recordings of his songs by the likes of R.E.M., the Pixies, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and John Cale, which put Cohen as a songwriter pushing age 60 right back on center stage for the '90s. He rose to the occasion, releasing The Future, an album that dwelt on the many threats facing mankind in the coming years and decades, a year later. Not the stuff of pop charts or MTV heavy rotation, it attracted Cohen's usual coterie of fans, and enough press interest as well as sufficient sales, to justify the release in 1994 of his second concert album, Cohen Live, derived from his two most recent tours. A year later came another tribute album, Tower of Song, featuring Cohen's songs as interpreted by Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, et al.
In the midst of all of this new activity surrounding his writing and compositions, Cohen embarked on a new phase of his life. Religious concerns were never too far from his thinking and work, even when he was making a name for himself writing songs about love, and he had focused even more on this side of life since Various Positions. He came to spend time at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, a Buddhist retreat in California, and eventually became a full-time resident, and a Buddhist monk in the late '90s. When he re-emerged in 1999, Cohen had many dozens of new compositions in hand, songs and poems alike. His new collaborations were with singer/songwriter/musician Sharon Robinson, who also ended up producing the resulting album, Ten New Songs (2001) -- there also emerged during this period a release called Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979, comprised of live recordings from his tour of 22 years before.
In 2004, the year he turned 70, Cohen released one of the most controversial albums of his career, Dear Heather. It revealed his voice anew, in this phase of his career, as a deep baritone more limited in range than on any previous recording, but it overcame this change in vocal timbre by facing it head-on, just as Cohen had done with his singing throughout his career -- it also contained a number of songs for which Cohen wrote music but not lyrics, a decided change of pace for a man who'd started out as a poet. And it was as personal a record as Cohen had ever issued. His return to recording was one of the more positive aspects of Cohen's resumption of his music activities. On another side, in 2005, he filed suit against his longtime business manager and his financial advisor over the alleged theft of more than five million dollars, at least some of which took place during his years at the Buddhist retreat.
Five decades after he emerged as a public literary figure and then a performer, Cohen remains one of the most compelling and enigmatic musical figures of his era, and one of the very few of that era who commands as much respect and attention, and probably as large an audience, in the 21st century as he did in the '60s. As much as any survivor of that decade, Cohen has held onto his original audience and has seen it grow across generations, in keeping with a body of music that is truly timeless and ageless. In 2006, his enduring influence seemed to be acknowledged in Lions Gate Films' release of Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, director Lian Lunson's concert/portrait of Cohen and his work and career. A performance set, Live in London, was released in 2009. In 2010, the DVD/CD package Songs from the Road was issued, documenting his 2008 world tour (which actually lasted until late 2010), revisiting songs from each part of his career. The tour covered 84 dates and sold over 700,000 tickets worldwide.
Cohen didn't rest long, however: in early 2011 he began to craft what would become Old Ideas, his first album of new material in seven years. The sessions took place with producers Ed Sanders (renowned poet and leader of the Fugs), Patrick Leonard, Cohen's saxophonist Dino Soldo, and his partner, singer and songwriter Anjani Thomas. Old Ideas contained ten new songs dealing with spirituality, mortality, sexuality, loss, and acceptance, similar in sound and texture to Dear Heather. The tracks "Lullaby" and "Darkness" were staples of the world tour, while the cut "Show Me the Place" was pre-released in late 2011. Old Ideas was released at the end of January 2012. After yet another world tour that brought him universal accolades Cohen, uncharacteristically, returned quickly to the studio with producer (and co-writer) Patrick Leonard, emerging with nine new songs, at least one of which -- "Born in Chains" -- had origins that dated back 40 years. Popular Problems was released in September of 2014.
Leonard Norman Cohen, CC GOQ (born 21 September 1934) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist. His work has explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships. Cohen has been inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received a Prince of Asturias Award for literature.
The critic Bruce Eder assessed Cohen's overall career in popular music by asserting that "[he is] one of the most fascinating and enigmatic … singer/songwriters of the late '60s … [and] has retained an audience across four decades of music-making … Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon) [in terms of influence], he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is still working at the outset of the 21st century."
One of his notable novels, Beautiful Losers (1966) received a lot of attention from the Canadian press and stirred up controversy because of a number of sexually graphic passages. The Academy of American Poets has commented more broadly on Cohen's overall career in the arts, including his work as a poet, novelist, and songwriter, stating that "[Cohen's] successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, published in 1993, which gathered more than 200 of Cohen's poems … several novel excerpts, and almost 60 song lyrics … While it may seem to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, his fans continue to embrace him as a Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines."
Cohen's first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) followed by Songs from a Room (1969) (featuring the often-recorded "Bird on the Wire") and Songs of Love and Hate (1971). His 1977 record, Death of a Ladies' Man was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, which was a move away from Cohen's previous minimalist sound. In 1979, Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. "Hallelujah" was first released on Cohen's studio album Various Positions in 1984. I'm Your Man in 1988 marked Cohen's turn to synthesized productions and remains his most popular album. In 1992, Cohen released its follow-up, The Future, which had dark lyrics and references to political and social unrest. Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, which was a major hit in Canada and Europe. In 2006, Cohen produced and co-wrote Blue Alert, a collaboration with jazz chanteuse Anjani Thomas. After the success of his 2008–2013 world tours, Cohen released the highest charting album in his entire career, Old Ideas, to positive reviews. On September 22, 2014, one day after his 80th birthday, Cohen released his 13th studio album, Popular Problems, again to positive reviews.The Montreal Gazette – Google News Archive Search de Melo, Jessica (11 December 2009). "Leonard Cohen to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award at 2010 Grammys". Spinner Canada. Archived from the original on 24 February 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2010. "Eder, Bruce. "Leonard Cohen: Biography." Allmusic by Rovi". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 September 2014. Cite error: The named reference Nadel_1996 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Leonard Cohen: Poet, Novelist, Musician". Poets.org. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
Cohen was born on 21 September 1934 in Westmount, an English-speaking area of Montreal, Quebec, into a middle-class Jewish family. His mother, Marsha (Masha) Klonitsky, was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. His paternal grandfather, whose family had emigrated from Poland, was Lyon Cohen, founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. His father, Nathan Cohen, who owned a substantial clothing store, died when Cohen was nine years old. On the topic of being a Kohen, Cohen has said that, "I had a very Messianic childhood." He told Richard Goldstein in 1967, "I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest."
Cohen attended Roslyn Elementary School and, from 1948, Westmount High School, where he was involved with the student council and studied music and poetry. He became especially interested in the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. As a teenager, he learned to play the guitar, and formed a country-folk group called 'The Buckskin Boys.' Although he initially played a regular acoustic guitar, he soon switched to playing a classical guitar after meeting a young Spanish flamenco guitar player who taught him "a few chords and some flamenco."
Cohen frequented Saint-Laurent Boulevard where he went for fun, and ate at places such as the Main Deli Steak House. According to journalist David Sax, the Main Deli was where Cohen and one of his cousins would go to "...watch the gangsters, pimps, and wrestlers dance around the night." Cohen also enjoyed visiting the previously raucous bars of Old Montreal as well as Saint Joseph's Oratory, which had the closest restaurant near Westmount where he and his friend Mort Rosengarten could go for coffee and a smoke. After moving out of Westmount, Cohen purchased a place in the previous working-class neighborhood of Montreal's Little Portugal on Saint-Laurent Boulevard where he read his poetry at various surrounding clubs. It is also during his time there in the small neighborhood that he wrote the lyrics to what would become some of his most famous songs.The International Who's Who. 2004. Retrieved 22 April 2012. Cohen, Leonard (24 May 1985). The Midday Show With Ray Martin. Interview with Ray Martin. ABC. Sydney. Retrieved 1 October 2008. My – my mother was from Lithuania which was a part of Poland and my great-grandfather came over from Poland to Canada. "Leonard Cohen Biography". AskMen. Retrieved 22 September 2014. Williams, P. (n.d.) Leonard Cohen: The Romantic in a Ragpicker's Trade Cite error: The named reference Nadel_1996 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). WYATT, NELSON (11 March 2012), "Celine Dion: Montreal's Schwartz's will go on", The Chronicle Herald Langlois, Christine (October 2009), First We Take The Main, Reader's Digest Sax, David (2009), "Late Night Noshing", Save the Deli
Poetry and novels
In 1951, Cohen enrolled at McGill University, where he became president of the McGill Debating Union and won the Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition for the poems "Sparrows" and "Thoughts of a Landsman". Cohen published his first poems in March 1954 in the magazine CIV/n. The issue also included poems by Cohen's poet-professors (who were also on the editorial board), Irving Layton and Louis Dudek. Cohen graduated from McGill the following year with a B.A. degree. His literary influences during this time included William Butler Yeats, Irving Layton (who taught political science at McGill and became both Cohen's mentor and friend), Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Henry Miller. His first published book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), was published by Dudek as the first book in the McGill Poetry Series the year after Cohen's graduation. The book contained "poems written largely when Cohen was between the ages of fifteen and twenty", and Cohen dedicated the book to his late father. The well-known Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye wrote a review of the book in which he gave Cohen "restrained praise".
After completing his undergraduate degree, Cohen spent a term in McGill's law school and then a year (1956–1957) at the School of General Studies at Columbia University. Cohen described his graduate school experience as "passion without flesh, love without climax". Consequently, Cohen left New York and returned to Montreal in 1957, working various odd jobs and focusing on the writing of fiction and poetry, including the poems for his next book, The Spice-Box of Earth (1961), which was the first book that Cohen published through the Canadian publishing company McClelland & Stewart. His father's will provided him with a modest trust income, sufficient to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions for the time, and The Spice-Box of Earth was successful in helping to expand the audience for Cohen's poetry, helping him reach out to the poetry scene in Canada, outside the confines of McGill University. The book also helped Cohen gain critical recognition as an important new voice in Canadian poetry. One of Cohen's biographers, Ira Nadel, stated that "reaction to the finished book was enthusiastic and admiring...the critic Robert Weaver found it powerful and declared that Cohen was 'probably the best young poet in English Canada right now.'"
Cohen continued to write poetry and fiction throughout much of the 1960s and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive circumstances after he bought a house on Hydra, a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf. While living and writing on Hydra, Cohen published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964), and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). His novel The Favourite Game was an autobiographical bildungsroman about a young man who discovers his identity through writing. Beautiful Losers received a good deal of attention from the Canadian press and stirred up controversy because of a number of sexually graphic passages. In 1966 Cohen also published Parasites of Heaven, a book of poems. Both Beautiful Losers and Parasites of Heaven received mixed reviews and sold few copies.
Subsequently, Cohen published less, with major gaps, concentrating more on recording songs. In 1978, he published his first book of poetry in many years, Death of a Lady's Man (not to be confused with the album he released the previous year with the similar title, Death of a Ladies' Man). It was not until 1984 that Cohen published his next book of poems, Book of Mercy, which won him the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry. The book contains 50 prose-poems, influenced by the Hebrew Bible and Zen writings. Cohen himself referred to the pieces as "prayers". In 1993, Cohen published Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, and in 2006, after 10 years of delays, additions and rewritings, Book of Longing. The Book of Longing is dedicated to the poet Irving Layton. Also, during the late 1990s and 2000s, many of Cohen's new poems and lyrics were first published on the fan website The Leonard Cohen Files, including the original version of the poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep" (which Cohen later adapted for a song).
Cohen's writing process, as he told an interviewer in 1998, is "like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I'm stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it's delicious and it's horrible and I'm in it and it's not very graceful and it's very awkward and it's very painful and yet there's something inevitable about it".
In 2011, Cohen was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for literature.Simmons, Sylvie. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. NY: HarperCollins, 2012. Nadel, Ira B. Various Position: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Pantheon Books: New York, 1996. Adria, Marco, "Chapter and Verse: Leonard Cohen," Music of Our Times: Eight Canadian Singer-Songwriters (Toronto: Lorimer, 1990), p. 28. Nadel, Ira Bruce (1996). Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Toronto: Random House. p. 51. Simmons, Sylvie. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. "The Leonard Cohen Files". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "The Blackening Pages". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. Iyer, Pico (22 October 2001). "Listening to Leonard Cohen | Utne Reader". Utne.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
ContentsRecording career1.1 1960s and 1970s1.2 1980s1.2.1 "Hallelujah"1.3 1990s1.4 2000s1.4.1 Post-monastery records1.4.2 Lawsuits and financial troubles1.4.3 Book of Longing1.5 2008–2010 World Tour1.5.1 2008 tour1.5.2 Live in London1.5.3 2009 tour1.5.4 Live releases1.5.5 2010 tour1.6 2010s1.6.1 Old Ideas1.6.2 2012–2013 World Tour1.6.3 Popular Problems
1960s and 1970s
In 1967, 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. During the 1960s, 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 and was for many years his most covered song. After performing at a few folk festivals, he came to the attention of Columbia Records representative John H. Hammond who signed Cohen to a record deal.
Cohen's first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967). Although Hammond was originally supposed to produce the record, he was ill and was replaced by the producer John Simon. Simon and Cohen clashed over instrumentation and mixing; Cohen wanted the album to have a spare sound, while Simon felt the songs could benefit from arrangements that included strings and horns. According to biographer Ira Nadel, although Cohen was able to make changes to the mix, some of Simon's additions "couldn't be removed from the four-track master tape." Nevertheless, the album became a cult favorite in the US, 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, including James Taylor and Judy Collins.
Cohen followed up that first album with Songs from a Room (1969) (featuring the often-recorded "Bird on the Wire") and Songs of Love and Hate (1971). Both of these albums were produced in Nashville by producer Bob Johnston, who helped Cohen achieve the sparer sound that he'd been after on his first album; Johnston also joined Cohen on two subsequent live tours, playing organ and piano.
In 1970, Cohen toured for the first time, with dates in the United States, Canada and Europe, and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. He toured again in Europe and Israel in 1972 with some of the same band-mates, including Charlie Daniels and his producer, Bob Johnston; the band was nicknamed "The Army". Both tours were represented on the Live Songs LP. Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 was released in 2009. The 1972 tour was also filmed by Tony Palmer under the title Bird on a Wire which was shown re-cut under Cohen's guidance in 1974 but only released to the public in 2010, reconstructed according to Palmer's original version.
In 1971, the film director Robert Altman featured the songs "The Stranger Song", "Winter Lady", and "Sisters of Mercy" (all from Cohen's debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen) on the soundtrack for his Western film McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Beginning around 1974, Cohen's collaboration with pianist and arranger John Lissauer created a live sound praised by the critics. They toured together in 1974 in Europe, and in US and Canada in late 1974 and early 1975, in support of Cohen's record New Skin for the Old Ceremony, which was produced and arranged by Lissauer. In late 1975 Cohen and Lissauer performed a short series of shows in the US and Canada with a new band, in support of Cohen's Best Of release. The tour included new songs from an album in progress, co-written by Cohen and Lissauer and entitled Songs for Rebecca. However, none of the recordings from these live tours with Lissauer were ever officially released, and the album was abandoned in 1976 (however, some of the songs that were meant for Songs for Rebecca were later rewritten by Cohen with Phil Spector for Cohen's 1977 album Death of a Ladies' Man).
In 1976 Cohen, without Lissauer, embarked on a new major European tour with a new band and changes in his sound and arrangements, again, in support of his The Best of Leonard Cohen release (in Europe retitled as Greatest Hits). Laura Branigan was one of his back-up singers during the tour, and the set-list included the unreleased songs "Everybody's Child" (a.k.a. "Blessed Is the Memory") and "Storeroom" (both released as bonus tracks to 2007 reissue of Songs of Leonard Cohen), and the new song "Do I Have to Dance All Night?" (which was released as a single with the song "The Butcher" in a single available in Europe only). From April to July, Cohen gave 55 shows, including his first appearance at the famous Montreux Jazz Festival.
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 (one year later, in 1978, Cohen also released a volume of poetry with the coyly revised title, Death of a Lady's Man), was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, known as the inventor of the "Wall of Sound" technique, which backs up pop music with many layers of instrumentation, an approach very different from Cohen's usually minimalist instrumentation. The recording of the album was fraught with difficulty—Spector reportedly mixed the album in secret studio sessions, and Cohen said Spector once threatened him with a crossbow. Cohen thought the end result "grotesque", but also "semi-virtuous". The record was released by Spector's label, Warner, and was returned to Columbia's Cohen catalogue in the late 1980s. Cohen did not take part in the album's promotion, but in his tours of 1979, 1980 and 1985, he performed two songs from the album, "Memories" and "Iodine". However, Cohen chose not to include any of the album's songs on his later compilations More Best of Leonard Cohen and The Essential Leonard Cohen.
In 1979, Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. Beginning with this record, Cohen began to co-produce his albums. Produced by Cohen and Henry Lewy (Joni Mitchell's sound engineer), Recent Songs included performances by Passenger, an Austin-based jazz-fusion band that met Cohen through Mitchell. The band helped Cohen create a new sound by featuring instruments like the oud, the Gypsy violin and the mandolin. The album was supported by Cohen's major tour with the new band, and Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson on the backing vocals, in Europe in late 1979, and again in Australia, Israel and Europe in 1980. The tour was filmed by Harry Rasky as The Song of Leonard Cohen, and the film was broadcast on television in 1980. In 2000, Columbia released an album of live recordings of songs from the 1979 tour, entitled Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979; the album (with a different track list) was originally rejected by the label in 1980.
During the 1970s, Cohen toured twice with Jennifer Warnes as a back-up singer (1972 and 1979). Warnes would become a fixture on Cohen's future albums, receiving full co-vocals credit on Cohen's 1985 album Various Positions (although the record was released under Cohen's name, the inside credits say "Vocals by Leonard Cohen and Jennifer Warnes"). In 1987, she recorded an album of Cohen songs, Famous Blue Raincoat.
In the early 1980s, Cohen co-wrote the rock musical film Night Magic with Lewis Furey, starring Carole Laure and Nick Mancuso (voice-over by Furey); the LP was released in 1985. Lissauer produced Cohen's next record Various Positions, which was released in December 1984 (and in January and February 1985 in various European countries). The LP included "Dance Me to the End of Love", which was promoted by Cohen's first video clip, directed by French photographer Dominique Issermann, and the frequently covered "Hallelujah". Cohen supported the release of the album with his biggest tour to date, in Europe and Australia, and with his first tour in Canada and United States since 1975, although Columbia declined to release the album in the United States where it was pressed in small number of copies by the independent Passport Records. Anjani Thomas, who would become Cohen's partner, and a regular member of Cohen's recording team, joined his touring band. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the Roskilde Festival. They also gave a series of highly emotional and politically controversial concerts in Poland, which was under martial law and performed the song "The Partisan", regarded as the hymn of the Polish Solidarity movement. During the 80s, almost all of Cohen's songs were performed in Polish language by Maciej Zembaty.
In 1986, Cohen appeared in the episode "French Twist" of the TV series Miami Vice. In 1987, Jennifer Warnes's tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat helped restore Cohen's career in the US. The following year he released I'm Your Man, which marked a drastic change in his music. Synthesizers ruled the album and Cohen's lyrics included more social commentary and dark humor. The album, self-produced by Cohen, remains one of Cohen's most acclaimed albums, and was promoted by iconic black and white video shot by Dominique Issermann at the beach of Normandy. Cohen supported the record with series of television interviews, and an extensive tour of Europe, Canada and US. Many shows were broadcast on European and US television and radio stations, while Cohen performed for the first time in his career on PBS's Austin City Limits show; he also performed at the Roskilde Festival again, among other dates. The tour gave the basic structure to typical Cohen's three-hours two-acts concert which he used in his tours in 1993, 2008–10 and 2012. The selection of performances from the late 1980s was released in 1994 on Cohen Live. None of the concerts was released in its entirety, although some were bootlegged. Parts of one of three Royal Albert Hall concerts were used in BBC documentary The Songs from the Life of Leonard Cohen, which was released on laser disc and video tape.
"Hallelujah"Main article: Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen song)
"Hallelujah" was first released on Cohen's studio album Various Positions in 1984. 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. Statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); the Canadian Recording Industry Association; the Australian Recording Industry Association; and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry show more than five million copies of the song sold prior to late 2008 in compact-disc format. It has been the subject of a BBC Radio documentary and been featured in the soundtracks of numerous films and television programs.
The song is the subject of the book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of 'Hallelujah' (2012) by Alan Light. In a New York Times review Janet Maslin praised the book and the song, noting that "Cohen spent years struggling with his song 'Hallelujah.' ... he wrote perhaps as many as 80 verses before paring the song down and recording it on the 1984 album Various Positions. His label, CBS Records, refused to release Various Positions, not realizing that 'Hallelujah' would become one of the most haunting, mutable and oft-performed songs in American musical history."
The use of the album track "Everybody Knows" from I'm Your Man in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume helped expose Cohen's music to a younger audience. The song also featured prominently in fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan's 1994 film, Exotica. In 1992, Cohen released The Future, which urges (often in terms of biblical prophecy) perseverance, reformation, and hope in the face of grim prospects. Three tracks from the album – "Waiting for the Miracle", "The Future" and "Anthem" – were featured in the movie Natural Born Killers, which also promoted Cohen's work to a new generation of US listeners.
As with I'm Your Man, the lyrics on the The Future were dark, and made references to political and social unrest. The title track is reportedly a response to the L.A. unrest of 1992. Cohen promoted the album with two music videos, for "Closing Time" and "The Future", and supported the release with the major tour through Europe, United States and Canada, with the same band as in his 1988 tour, including a second appearance on PBS's Austin City Limits. Some of the Scandinavian shows were broadcast live on the radio. The selection of performances, mostly recorded on the Canadian leg of the tour, was released on 1994 Cohen Live album, but none of the new songs from the album itself were included in the live album.
In 1993, Cohen also published his book of selected poems and songs, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, on which he had worked since 1989. It includes a number of new poems from the late 1980s and early 1990s and major revision of his 1978 book Death of a Lady's Man.
In 1994, Cohen retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles, beginning what became five years of seclusion at the center. In 1996, Cohen was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name Jikan, meaning "silence". He served as personal assistant to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
In 1997, Cohen oversaw the selection and release of More Best of Leonard Cohen album, which included a previously unreleased track, "Never Any Good", and an experimental piece "The Great Event". The first was left over from Cohen's unfinished mid-1990s album, which was announced to include songs like "In My Secret Life" (already recited as song-in-progress in 1988) and "A Thousand Kisses Deep", both later re-worked with Sharon Robinson for the 2001 album Ten New Songs.
Although around 2000 there was a public impression that Cohen would not resume recording or publishing, he returned to Los Angeles in May 1999. He began to contribute regularly to The Leonard Cohen Files fan website, emailing new poems and drawings from Book of Longing and early versions of new songs, like "A Thousand Kisses Deep" in September 1998 and Anjani Thomas's story sent on 6 May 1999, the day they were recording "Villanelle for our Time" (released on 2004 Dear Heather album). The section of The Leonard Cohen Files with Cohen's online writings has been titled "The Blackening Pages".
After two years of production, Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, featuring a heavy influence from producer and co-composer Sharon Robinson. The album, recorded at Cohen's and Robinson's home studios – Still Life Studios, includes the song "Alexandra Leaving", a transformation of the poem "The God Abandons Antony", by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. The album was a major hit for Cohen in Canada and Europe, and he supported it with the hit single "In My Secret Life" and accompanying video shot by Floria Sigismondi.
In October 2004, Cohen released Dear Heather, largely a musical collaboration with jazz chanteuse (and current romantic partner) Anjani Thomas, although Sharon Robinson returned to collaborate on three tracks (including a duet). As light as the previous album was dark, Dear Heather reflects Cohen's own change of mood – he has said in a number of interviews that his depression has lifted in recent years, which he attributed to Zen Buddhism. In an interview following his induction into the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame, Cohen explained that the album was intended to be a kind of notebook or scrapbook of themes, and that a more formal record had been planned for release shortly afterwards, but that this was put on ice by his legal battles with his ex-manager. He decided not to promote the album at all, but in 2005 he released a home video accompanying the song "Because Of", shot by his daughter Lorca Cohen, while there were no official album singles.
Blue Alert, an album of songs co-written by Anjani and Cohen, was released on 23 May 2006 to positive reviews. Sung by Anjani, who according to one reviewer "...sounds like Cohen reincarnated as woman... though Cohen doesn't sing a note on the album, his voice permeates it like smoke." The album includes a recent musical setting of Cohen's "As the mist leaves no scar", a poem originally published in The Spice-Box of Earth in 1961 and adapted by Phil Spector as "True Love Leaves No Traces" on Death of a Ladies' Man album. Blue Alert also included Anjani's own version of "Nightingale", performed by her and Cohen on his Dear Heather, as well the country song "Never Got to Love You", apparently made after an early demo version of Cohen's own 1992 song "Closing Time". During the 2010 tour, Cohen was closing his live shows with the performance of "Closing Time" which included the recitation of verses from "Never Got to Love You". The title song, "Blue Alert", and "Half the Perfect World" were covered by Madeleine Peyroux on her 2006 album Half the Perfect World, while the third covered song, "Crazy To Love You", was included in the album's Japanese edition.
Before embarking on his 2008–2010 world tour, and without finishing the new album which has been in work since 2006 (new song, "The Street", was recited by Cohen in 2006 on KCRW radio, and he also played two new songs from a demo tape, "Book of Longing" and "Puppets"), Cohen contributed few tracks to other artists' albums – new version of his own "Tower of Song" was performed by him, Anjani Thomas and U2 in 2006 tribute film Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man (the video and track were included on the film's soundtrack and released as B-side of U2's single "Window in the Skies", reaching No 1 in Canadian Singles Chart), in 2007 he recited "The Sound of Silence" on album Tribute to Paul Simon: Take Me to the Mardi Gras and "The Jungle Line" by Joni Mitchell, accompanied by Herbie Hancock on piano, on Hancock's Grammy-winning album River: The Joni Letters, while in 2008 he recited the poem "Since You've Asked" on album Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins. According to the press release for his 2012 album Old Ideas, song "Amen" was recorded in 2007.
Lawsuits and financial troubles
Sylvie Simmons explains, in her 2012 biography on Cohen that Kelley Lynch, Cohen's longtime manager, "took care of Leonard's business affairs … [and was] not simply his manager but a close friend, almost part of the family." However, Simmons notes that in late 2004, Cohen's daughter Lorca began to suspect Lynch of financial impropriety, and when Cohen checked his bank accounts, he noticed that he had unknowingly paid a credit card bill of Lynch's for $75,000 and also found that most of the money in his accounts was gone (including money from his retirement accounts and charitable trust funds). Cohen would discover that this theft had actually begun as early as 1996 when Lynch started selling Cohen's music publishing rights despite the fact that Cohen had no financial incentive to do so at the time.
On 8 October 2005, Cohen sued Kelley Lynch, alleging that she had misappropriated over US $5 million from Cohen's retirement fund leaving only $150,000. Cohen was sued in turn by other former business associates. These events placed him in the public spotlight, including a cover feature on him with the headline "Devastated!" in Canada's Maclean's magazine. In March 2006, Cohen won a civil suit and was awarded US$9 million by a Los Angeles County superior court. Lynch, however, ignored the suit and did not respond to a subpoena issued for her financial records. As a result it has been widely reported that Cohen may never be able to collect the awarded amount.
In 2007, US. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock dismissed a claim by Cohen for more than US$4.5 million against Colorado investment firm Agile Group, and in 2008 he dismissed a defamation suit that Agile Group filed against Cohen. Cohen has been under new management since April 2005.
On 1 March 2012, Sylvie Simmons notes that Kelley Lynch was arrested in Los Angeles for "violating a permanent protective order that forbade her from contacting Leonard, which she had ignored repeatedly. On April 13, the jury found her guilty on all charges. On April 18 she was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and five years probation." Cohen told that court, "It gives me no pleasure to see my onetime friend shackled to a chair in a court of law, her considerable gifts bent to the services of darkness, deceit, and revenge. It is my prayer that Ms. Lynch will take refuge in the wisdom of her religion, that a spirit of understanding will convert her heart from hatred to remorse, from anger to kindness, from the deadly intoxication of revenge to the lowly practices of self-reform."
Book of Longing
Cohen's book of poetry and drawings, Book of Longing, was published in May 2006; in March a Toronto-based retailer offered signed copies to the first 1500 orders placed online. All 1500 sold within hours. The book quickly topped bestseller lists in Canada. On 13 May 2006, Cohen made his first public appearance in thirteen years, at an in-store event at a bookstore in Toronto. Approximately 3000 people turned up for the event, causing the streets surrounding the bookstore to be closed. He sang two of his earliest and best-known songs: "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye", accompanied by the Barenaked Ladies and Ron Sexsmith. Also appearing with him was Anjani, the two promoting her new CD along with his book.
In 2006, Philip Glass composed music to Cohen's 2006 book of poetry Book of Longing. Following the series of live performances which included Glass on keyboards, Cohen's recorded spoken text, four voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass-baritone), and other instruments, and as well the screenings of Cohen's artworks and drawings, Glass' label Orange Mountain Music released a double CD with the recording of the work, entitled Book of Longing. A Song Cycle based on the Poetry and Artwork of Leonard Cohen.
2008–2010 World Tour
13 January 2008, Cohen quietly announced a long-anticipated concert tour. The tour, Cohen's first in 15 years, began 11 May in Fredericton, New Brunswick to wide critical acclaim, and was extended until Winter of 2010. The schedule of the first leg in Summer of 2008 encompassed Canada and Europe, including performances at The Big Chill, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and on the Pyramid Stage at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival on 29 June 2008. His performance at Glastonbury was hailed by many as the highlight of the festival, and his performance of "Hallelujah" as the sun went down received a rapturous reception and a lengthy ovation from a packed Pyramid Stage field. He also played two shows in London's O2 Arena, while in Dublin he was the first performer to play an open air concert at IMMA (Royal Hospital Kilmainham) ground, performing there on 13, 14 and 15 June 2008. In 2009, the performances were awarded Ireland's Meteor Music Award as the best international performance of the year.
In September, October and November 2008, Cohen gave a marathon tour of Europe, including stops in Austria, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia. In London, he played two more shows at the O2 Arena and two additional shows at the Royal Albert Hall.
Live in London
On 21 March 2009, Cohen released Live in London, recorded on 17 July 2008 at London's O2 Arena and released on DVD and as a two-CD set. The album contains 25 songs and is over two-and-a-half hours long. It was the first official DVD in Cohen's recording career. The quotation on the album referred to one hundred five-star reviews the tour gained in the international press in 2008.
The third leg of Cohen's World Tour 2008–2009 encompassed New Zealand and Australia from 20 January to 10 February 2009. In January 2009, The Pacific Tour first came to New Zealand. Simon Sweetman in The Dominion Post (Wellington) of 21 January wrote "It is hard work having to put this concert in to words so I'll just say something I have never said in a review before and will never say again: this was the best show I have ever seen." The Sydney Entertainment Centre show on 28 January sold out rapidly, which motivated promoters to announce a second show at the venue. The first performance was well-received, and the audience of 12,000 responded with five standing ovations. In response to hearing about the devastation to the Yarra Valley region of Victoria in Australia, Cohen donated $200,000 to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal in support of those affected by the extensive Black Saturday bushfires that razed the area just weeks after his performance at the Rochford Winery in the A Day on the Green concert. Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper reported: "Tour promoter Frontier Touring said $200,000 would be donated on behalf of Cohen, fellow performer Paul Kelly and Frontier to aid victims of the bushfires."
On 19 February 2009, Cohen played his first American concert in fifteen years at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The show, showcased as the special performance for fans, Leonard Cohen Forum members and press, was the only show in the whole three-year tour which was broadcast on the radio (NPR) and available as the free podcast.
The North American Tour of 2009 opened on 1 April and included the performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Friday, 17 April 2009, in front of one of the largest outdoor theatre crowds in the history of the festival. His performance of Hallelujah was widely regarded as one of the highlights of the festival, thus repeating the major success of the 2008 Glastonbury appearance. The performance has been included on 2010 Songs from the Road live release. During this leg, Cohen regularly performed new song, "Lullaby".
On 1 July 2009, Cohen started his marathon European tour, his third in two years. The itinerary mostly included sport arenas and open air Summer festivals in Germany, UK, France, Spain, Ireland (the show at O2 in Dublin won him the second Meteor Music Award in a row), but also performances in Serbia in the Belgrade Arena, in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, and again in Romania. On 3 August, Cohen gave an open air show at the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
On 18 September 2009, on the stage at a concert in Valencia, Spain, Cohen suddenly fainted halfway through performing his song "Bird on the Wire", the fourth in the two-act set list; Cohen was brought down backstage by his band members and then admitted to local hospital, while the concert was suspended. It was reported that Cohen had stomach problems, and possibly food poisoning. Three days later, on 21 September, on his 75th birthday, he performed in Barcelona. The show, last in Europe in 2009 and rumoured to be the last European concert ever, attracted many international fans, who lighted the green candles honouring Cohen's birthday, leading Cohen to give a special speech of thanks for the fans and Leonard Cohen Forum.
The last concert of this leg was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 24 September, three days after Cohen's 75th birthday, at Ramat Gan Stadium. The event was surrounded by public discussion due to a cultural boycott of Israel proposed by a number of musicians. Nevertheless, tickets for the Tel Aviv concert, Cohen's first performance in Israel since 1980, sold out in less than 24 hours. It was announced that the proceeds from the sale of the 47,000 tickets would go into a charitable fund in partnership with Amnesty International and would be used by Israeli and Palestinian peace groups for projects providing health services to children and bringing together Israeli veterans and former Palestinian fighters and the families of those killed in the conflict. However, on 17 August 2009, Amnesty International released a statement saying they were withdrawing from any involvement with the concert and its proceeds. Amnesty International later stated that its withdrawal was not due to the boycott but "the lack of support from Israeli and Palestinian NGOs." The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) led the call for the boycott, claiming that Cohen was "intent on whitewashing Israel's colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel."
On 24 September 2009, at the Ramat Gan concert, Cohen was highly emotional about the Israeli-Palestinian NGO Bereaved Families for Peace. He mentioned the organization twice, saying: "I bow my head in respect to the nobility of this enterprise." At the end of the show he blessed the crowd by the Priestly Blessing, a Jewish blessing offered by Kohanim. Cohen's surname derives from this Hebrew word for priest, thus identifying him as a Kohen.
The sixth leg of the 2008–2009 world tour went again to US, with fifteen shows in October and November, with the "final" show in San Jose. The final leg included two new songs, "Feels So Good" and "The Darkness". But at that point, Cohen's "World Tour 2010" was already announced with the European dates in March.
The 2009 world tour earned a reported $9.5 million, putting Cohen at number 39 on Billboard magazine's list of the year's top musical "money makers".
On 14 September 2010, Sony Music released a live CD/DVD album, Songs from the Road, showcasing Cohen's 2008 and 2009 live performances. The previous year, Cohen's performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Music Festival was released as a CD/DVD combo. The DVD version included interviews with Kris Kristofferson and others.
Cohen's 2008–2009 world tour was prolonged into 2010. Originally scheduled to start in March, the first dozen of the original European dates were postponed to September and October due to Cohen's lower-back injury. Officially billed as the "World Tour 2010", the tour started on 25 July 2010 in Arena Zagreb, Croatia, where in the week of the show 16 of Cohen's albums simultaneously entered the Croatian Top 40, while Cohen's work was presented by the translation of Book of Mercy, two of Cohen's biographies, and with selection of poems in major literary magazine Quorum, while there was also the translation of Linda Hutcheon's work on Cohen's literary output. In December 2010, the national daily newspaper Vjesnik ranked Cohen's show among the five most important cultural event in Croatia in 2010, in the poll among dozen of intellectuals and writers; it was the only event ranked which was not actually Croatian. The tour continued through August, with stops in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, and Ireland, where on 31 July 2010 Cohen performed at Lissadell House in County Sligo. It was Cohen's eighth Irish concert in just two years after a hiatus of more than 20 years. On 12 August, Cohen played the 200th show of the tour in Scandinavium, Gothenburg, Sweden, where he had already played in October 2008; the show was four hours long.
The Fall leg of the European tour started in early September with an open-air show in Florence, Italy, and continued through Germany, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Austria, where Cohen performed at the famous open-air opera stage of Römersteinbruch bei St. Margarethen im Burgenland, and then continued with dates in France, Poland, Russia (Moscow's State Kremlin Palace), Slovenia and Slovakia. In Slovenia's brand new Arena Stožice, Cohen accepted Croatia's Porin music award for best foreign live video programme, which he won for his Live in London DVD. Cohen's last European show was held in Sibamac Arena, in Bratislava, Slovakia. The shows in late September and October were performed without Sharon Robinson, who left this tour leg due to heavy illness; the setlist omitted songs co-written by her, but old Cohen standards were added instead.
The third leg of the 2010 tour started on 28 October in New Zealand and continued in Australia, including an open-air concert at Hanging Rock near Melbourne. It was the first show ever organised at the site. The tour finished with seven special dates added in Vancouver, Portland, Victoria and Oakland, with two final shows in Las Vegas' The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on 10 and 11 December. The very last concert on 11 December was the 246th show on the world tour which started on 11 May 2008.
The world tour 2010 was covered daily on the Flickr photo blog which was edited by Cohen's road manager, entitled Notes from the Road.
In 2011, Cohen's poetical output was represented in Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, in a selection Poems and Songs edited by Robert Faggen. The collection included a selection from all Cohen's books, based on his 1993 books of selected works, Stranger Music, and as well from Book of Longing, with addition of six new song lyrics. Nevertheless, three of those songs, "A Street", recited in 2006, "Feels So Good", performed live in 2009 and 2010, and "Born in Chains", performed live in 2010, were not released on Cohen's 2012 album Old Ideas, with him being unhappy with the versions of the songs in the last moment; the song "Lullaby", as presented in the book and performed live in 2009, was completely re-recorded for the album, presenting new lyrics on the same melody. Cohen has announced that those songs will be included on the follow-up to Old Ideas, unofficially announcing very close release date, what was not confirmed as he embarked to the new world tour in August 2012.
A new biography, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, written by Sylvie Simmons, was published in October 2012. The book is the second major biography of Cohen (Ira Nadel's 1997 biography Various Positions was the first).
Leonard Cohen's twelfth studio album, Old Ideas, was released worldwide on 31 January 2012, and it soon became the highest charting album of Cohen's entire career, reaching #1 positions in Canada, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, New Zealand, and top ten positions in United States, Australia, France, Portugal, UK, Scotland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland, competing for number one position with Lana Del Rey's debut album Born to Die, released the same day.
The album was produced by Cohen, Ed Sanders, and Patrick Leonard (better known for long time Madonna collaborations), who was credited for production, co-writing, engineering and programming of four songs off the album. Anjani Thomas and 2008–10 tour band member Dino Soldo produced one song retrospectively, with members of Cohen's 2008–10 tour band playing prominently on number of songs. Still, only one song was performed fully with the tour band, the leading single for the album, "Darkness", already played on 2009 and 2010 shows. Sharon Robinson, Dana Glover and Jennifer Warnes contributed most of the backing female vocals.
The album was announced with free online single and lyric video for "Show Me the Place". The lyrics for the song "Going Home" were published as a poem in The New Yorker magazine in January 2012, prior to the record's release. The entire album has been streamed online by NPR on 22 January and on 23 January by The Guardian.
The album received uniformly positive reviews from publications like Rolling Stone, the Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian. At a record release party for the album in January 2012, Cohen spoke with The New York Times reporter Jon Pareles who states that "mortality was very much on his mind and in his songs [on this album]." Pareles goes to characterize the album as "an autumnal album, musing on memories and final reckonings, but it also has a gleam in its eye. It grapples once again with topics Mr. Cohen has pondered throughout his career: love, desire, faith, betrayal, redemption. Some of the diction is biblical; some is drily sardonic."
2012–2013 World Tour
On 12 August 2012, Cohen embarked on new European tour in support of Old Ideas, adding a violinist to his 2008–10 tour band, now nicknamed Unified Heart Touring Band, and following the same three-hours setlist structure as in 2008–12 tour, with addition of number of songs from Old Ideas. European leg ended on 7 October, after concerts in Belgium, Ireland (Royal Hospital), France (Olympia in Paris), England (Wembley Arena in London), Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy (Arena in Verona), Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Romania and Turkey.
The second leg of the Old Ideas World Tour took place in the US and Canada in November and December, with 56 shows altogether on both legs.
Cohen returned to North America in the spring of 2013 with concerts in the United States and Canada. A summer tour of Europe happened shortly afterwards.
Cohen then toured Australia and New Zealand in November–December 2013.
On 19 September 2014, Cohen released his thirteenth studio album, Popular Problems in Germany, with a worldwide release date of 22 September, two days after his 80th birthday. This latest album of his cuts back to deep bluesy themes, instrumented with Hammond B3 organ and snazzy background vocals on almost every track.
The album reached No. 1 in 29 countries on the iTunes chart, awarding Cohen his first ever No. 1 album in Austria and Switzerland, becoming the best-selling album of the week in Israel and also topping the charts in Belgium, Canada, Holland and Portugal. Also, Popular Problems was Top 5 in an additional 15 countries.Warhol, Andy: Popism. Orlando: Harcourt Press, 1980. Cite error: The named reference Nadel_1996 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Sixties crooner Leonard Cohen makes comeback concert tour". London Evening Standard. 13 March 2008. Archived from the original on 23 February 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2010. "leonardcohenforum.com". Leonardcohenforum.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Pictures of various European records with recording". 1heckofaguy.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. de Lisle, T. (2004)Hallelujah: 70 things about Leonard Cohen at 70 Fitzgerald, J. (2001) Beautiful loser, beautiful comeback. The National Post, 24 March 2001. Rohter, Larry (24 February 2009). "On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2010. "Leonard Cohen in Warsaw (1985) by Daniel Wyszogrodzki". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Covers by Maciej Zembaty". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Tour of 1988 in Europe". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 21 February 2011. Arjatsalo, J., Riise, A., & Kurzweil, K. (11 July 2009). A Thousand Covers Deep: Leonard Cohen Covered by Other Artists. The Leonard Cohen Files. Retrieved 12 July 2009. Appleyard, Bryan (9 January 2005)."Hallelujah! — One Haunting Ballad Has Been the Soundtrack to Many Lives Recently. But Why? Bryan Appleyard on Leonard Cohen’s Uber-Song". The Times. Maslin, Janet. "Time Passes, but a Song's Time Doesn't." The New York Times Book Review 9 December 2012. "News and future plans". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "A Thousand Kisses Deep". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Anjani Thomas". Leonardcohenfiles.com. 18 May 1999. Retrieved 21 February 2011. Cite error: The named reference The_Blackening_Pages was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Still Life Studios". Discogs.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014.  "leonardcohenforum.com". Leonardcohenforum.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. Simmons, Sylvie. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. NY: HarperCollins, 2012. Glaister, Dan (8 October 2005). "Cohen stays calm as $5m disappears". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2009. Macklem, Katherine; Gillis, Charlie; Johnson, Brian D. (22 August 2005). "Leonard Cohen Goes Broke". MacLean's. Retrieved 19 September 2011, "Leonard Cohen awarded $9 million in civil suit". CTV.ca. 2 March 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2010. "Leonard Cohen 'unlikely' to recover stolen millions: Funds taken by ex-manager going to be hard to recover". NME. 3 March 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2010. "Defamation Suit Against Songwriter Cohen Is Dropped (Update2)". Bloomberg News. 17 June 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2009. Leibovitz, Liel (2014). A Broken Hallelujah : Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 235. ISBN 0393082059. |accessdate= requires |url= (help)  "Book of Longing – Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen collaboration". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "• View topic – Leonard Cohen: TOUR 2008". Leonardcohenforum.com. 13 January 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "2008 Tour schedule". Leonardcohenforum.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Leonard Cohen reveals details of world tour | News". Nme.Com. 11 March 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Glastonbury headliners revealed". BBC News. 8 February 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Glastonbury 2008 – Leonard Cohen". BBC. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Glastonbury says 'Hallelujah' to Leonard Cohen". Nme.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "• View forum – The Pacific Tour 2009". leonardcohenforum.com. 2009. Retrieved 21 February 2011. Swash, Rosie (10 February 2009). "Leonard Cohen donates £90,000 to Australian bushfire victims". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2010. "Leonard Cohen donates concert profits to bushfire relief fund". Herald Sun. 11 February 2009. "Leonard Cohen Dazzles at New York Tour Warm-Up". Retrieved 20 February 2009. "Leonard Cohen OK after fainting on stage". CBC News. 19 September 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2009. "Leonard Cohen collapses on stage". BBC News. 19 September 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2009. Kliger, Rachelle (13 July 2009). "Leonard Cohen's Ramallah gig called off". mideast.jpost.com (Jerusalem Post). Retrieved 20 February 2012. "Leonard Cohen's blessed summer finale". Jerusalem Post. 26 September 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2009. "Haaretz on proceeds from Tel Aviv concert". 2 August 2009. Retrieved 15 July 2010. "Amnesty International and the Leonard Cohen Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace" (PDF). Public document. Amnesty International. 17 Aug 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2012.  "Cohen laudes the Bereaved Families for Peace". YouTube. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Cohen blesses crowd with the Priestly Blessing". YouTube. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Music's Top 40 Money Makers". Billboard. 26 February 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2010. "Leonard Cohen postpones European tour after injury". Nme.com. 6 February 2010. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "Leonard's 16 albums in Croatian Top 40". Leonardcohenforum.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010.  "Leonard Cohen at Lissadell House". Lissadellhouse.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010. jarkko » 2 November 2009, 7:56 pm (2 November 2009). "Leonard Cohen Tour Dates 2010". Leonardcohenforum.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010. "• View topic – Leonard Cohen receives the PORIN Award (Croatia)". Leonardcohenforum.com. Retrieved 21 February 2011. "Lana Del Rey Debuts At No. 2, Adele Holds No. 1 on Billboard 200". Billboard. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Leonard Cohen – Show Me The Place". YouTube. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Leonard Cohen's "Going Home"". Culture Desk (The New Yorker). 16 January 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012. Powers, Ann (22 January 2012). "First Listen: Leonard Cohen, 'Old Ideas'". NPR. Retrieved 24 January 2012. "Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas: exclusive album stream". The Guardian. 23 January 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2012. Joe Levy (26 January 2012). "Old Ideas | Album Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7 May 2012. Kot, Greg (24 January 2012). "Album review: Leonard Cohen, 'Old Ideas'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 20 February 2012. Costa, Maddy (26 January 2012). "Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas – review". Culture > Music (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 20 February 2012. Pareles, Jon (29 January 2012). "Final Reckonings, a Tuneful Fedora and Forgiveness". Music (The New York Times). Retrieved 20 February 2012. Pelly, Jenn (3 May 2012). "Leonard Cohen Announces North American Tour". Pitchfork. Retrieved 1 April 2013. Battan, Carrie (9 January 2013). "Leonard Cohen Plans North American Tour". Pitchfork. Retrieved 1 April 2013. "The Official Leonard Cohen Site". The Official Leonard Cohen Site. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
ContentsThemes1.1 Love and sex1.2 Religion1.3 Depression1.4 Politics
Recurring themes in Cohen's work include love, sex, religion, depression, and music itself. He has also engaged with certain political themes, though sometimes ambiguously so.
Love and sex
Almost every song that Cohen has written could be interpreted as being about love and/or sex. "Suzanne" mixes a wistful type of love song with a religious meditation, themes that are also mixed in "Joan of Arc". "Famous Blue Raincoat" is from the point of view of a man whose marriage has been broken by his wife's infidelity with his close friend, and is written in the form of a letter to that friend. "Everybody Knows" is about sexual relationships during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s in which "the naked man and woman are just a shining artifact of the past."
Cohen is Jewish, and he has drawn from Jewish religious and cultural imagery throughout his career. Examples include "Story of Isaac", and "Who by Fire", the words and melody of which echo the Unetaneh Tokef, an 11th-century liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Broader Jewish themes sound throughout the album Various Positions. "Hallelujah", which has music as a secondary theme, begins by evoking the biblical King David composing a song that "pleased the Lord" and continues with references to Bathsheba and Samson. The lyrics of "Whither Thou Goest", performed by him and released in his album Live in London, are adapted from the Bible (Ruth 1:16–17, King James Version). "If It Be Your Will" also has a strong air of religious submission to the divine.
He had a brief phase of being interested in Scientology, most obviously seen in a line in "Famous Blue Raincoat" ("Did you ever go clear"?), and has learned extensively from Zen Buddhism, although he has said that he does not believe it to be incompatible with Judaism since the form of it he practised has no doctrine of God of its own. Cohen also draws extensively on Christian imagery in his work, both Catholic and more generically Christian, without ever having been a Christian. Jesus appears in "Suzanne" as "forsaken, almost human". Catholic imagery appears in the songs "Sisters of Mercy", "Joan of Arc", "Song of Bernadette" (written with Jennifer Warnes), and "Death of a Ladies' Man" (St Francis), as well as in the many references to crucifixes. Images from Gospel music include "washed in the blood of the Lamb" (from "Amen"), and many references to the Cross (e.g. the line 'the splinters that you carry, the cross you left behind" in "Come, healing").
Having suffered from depression during much of his life (although less so in recent years), Cohen's early works often included themes of depression, self-harm and suicide. An atmosphere of depression pervades "Please Don't Pass Me By" and "Tonight Will Be Fine". "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag" are songs about suicidal characters (though another interpretation of "Dress Rehearsal Rag" suggests that the reference to cutting with a razor could be self-harm rather than suicide), and the darkly comic songs "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" and "Stories of the Street" mention suicide. The song "Teachers" mentions girls who use scalpels to harm themselves, and in "The Butcher", Cohen writes, "Well, I found a silver needle, I put it into my arm. It did some good, it did some harm." It has also been suggested that this lyric references heroin use and addiction.
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." He has made the observation in "Tower of Song" that "the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor/ And there's a mighty judgment coming." In the title track of The Future he recasts this prophecy on a pacifist note: "I've seen the nations rise and fall/ .../ But love's the only engine of survival." In "Anthem", he promises that "the killers in high places [who] say their prayers out loud/ [are] gonna hear from me."
War is an enduring theme of Cohen's work that—in his earlier songs and early life—he approached ambivalently. Challenged in 1974 over his serious demeanor in concerts and the military salutes he ended them with, Cohen remarked, "I sing serious songs, and I'm serious onstage because I couldn't do it any other way...I don't consider myself a civilian. I consider myself a soldier, and that's the way soldiers salute." In "Field Commander Cohen" he imagines himself as a soldier of sorts, socializing with Fidel Castro in Cuba—where he had actually visited at the height of US-Cuba tensions in 1961, allegedly sporting a Che Guevara-style beard and military fatigues. This song was written immediately following Cohen's front-line stint with the Israeli air force, the "fighting in Egypt" documented in a passage of "Night Comes On". In 1973, Cohen, who had traveled to Jerusalem to sign up on the Israeli side in the Yom Kippur War, had instead been assigned to a USO-style entertainer tour of front-line tank emplacements in the Sinai Desert, coming under fire.
Deeply moved by encounters with Israeli and Arab soldiers, he left the country to write "Lover Lover Lover". This song has been interpreted as a personal renunciation of armed conflict, and ends with the hope his song will serve a listener as "a shield against the enemy". He would later remark, "'Lover, Lover, Lover' was born over there; the whole world has its eyes riveted on this tragic and complex conflict. Then again, I am faithful to certain ideas, inevitably. I hope that those of which I am in favour will gain." Asked which side he supported in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cohen responded, "I don't want to speak of wars or sides ... Personal process is one thing, it's blood, it's the identification one feels with their roots and their origins. The militarism I practice as a person and a writer is another thing.... I don't wish to speak about war."
His recent politics continue a lifelong predilection for the underdog, the "beautiful loser". Whether recording "The Partisan", a French Resistance song by Anna Marly and Emmanuel d'Astier, or singing his own "The Old Revolution", written from the point of view of a defeated royalist, he has throughout his career expressed in his music sympathy and support for the oppressed. Although Cohen's fascination with war is often as a metaphor for more general cultural and personal issues, as in "New Skin for the Old Ceremony", by this measure his most militant album.
Cohen blends pessimism about political/cultural issues with humour and, especially in his later work, with gentle acceptance.Sylvie Simmonds 189 Sylvie Simmonds, 190 Nick Paton Walsh. "Interview: Leonard Cohen – From the Observer – The Observer". the Guardian. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Features". Dogmatik.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Democracy lyrics on the Official Leonard Cohen Site". Retrieved 13 April 2014. "1974 Interview from "Leonard Cohen" by Manzano". Webheights.net. 12 October 1974. Retrieved 26 July 2010. (2001) "Cohen: Lover Lover Lover est né là-bas... Le monde entier a les yeux rivés sur ce conflit tragique et complexe. Alors, je suis fidèle à certaines idées, forcément. J'espère que ceux dont je suis partisan vont gagner.." L'Express, France, 04 octobre 2001 "1974 Interview from "Leonard Cohen" by Manzano". Webheights.net. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
Leonard Cohen lived at Hydra, Greece in 1960 with Marianne C. Stang Jensen Ihlen (born in Norway 1935), and the song "So Long, Marianne" was written to and about her. Their relationship lasted for most of the 1960s.
Cohen had a relationship beginning in the 1970s with the Los Angeles artist Suzanne Elrod, with whom he has two children: a son, Adam, born in 1972, and a daughter, Lorca, born in 1974 and named after poet Federico García Lorca. Adam Cohen began a career as a singer-songwriter in the mid-1990s and fronts a band called Low Millions, while Lorca took part in her father's tour team during the 2008–2010 world tour as photographer and videographer. She also shot Cohen's video for the song "Because Of" in 2004, while her "Backstage Sketch" was included on Cohen's 2010 DVD Songs from the Road. She has directed and shot video clips for The Webb Sisters and Kamila Thompson. In 2011, Lorca gave birth to a daughter, with biological father Rufus Wainwright. Lorca is raising the child.
Cohen has said that "cowardice" and "fear" prevented him from ever actually marrying Elrod. Elrod took the cover photograph on Cohen's Live Songs album and is pictured on the cover of the Death of a Ladies' Man album. She is also the "Dark Lady" of Cohen's 1978 book Death of a Lady's Man. Cohen and Elrod split up in 1979.
"Suzanne", one of his best-known songs, refers to Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of his friend, the Québécois sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, rather than Elrod.
In the 1980s, Cohen was in a relationship with the French photographer Dominique Issermann, who shot his first two music videos for the songs "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "First We Take Manhattan". Today Issermann is most famous for her photo sessions with Carla Bruni and for her fashion photography for magazines like Elle; in 2010 she was the official photographer of Cohen's world tour. Her photographs were used for the covers of his 1993 book Stranger Music and his album More Best of Leonard Cohen and for the inside booklet of Cohen's 1988 record I'm Your Man (which is dedicated to Issermann with words: "All these songs are for you, D. I.").
In the 1990s, Cohen was romantically linked to actress Rebecca De Mornay. De Mornay co-produced Cohen's 1992 album The Future, which is also supposedly dedicated to her with an inscription which quotes Rebecca's coming to the well from the Book of Genesis chapter 24 and giving drink to Eliezer's camels, after he prayed for the help; Eliezer ("God is my help" in Hebrew) is Cohen's Hebrew name, and Cohen sometimes referred to himself as "Eliezer Cohen" or even "Jikan Eliezer".
Religious beliefs and practices
Cohen is described as a Sabbath-observant Jew in an article in The New York Times:
Mr. Cohen keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen? "Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago," he said. "Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I've practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief."
Cohen has been involved with Buddhism since the 1970s and was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996; however, he still considers himself Jewish: "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one, with Judaism."
In his concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, on 24 September 2009, Cohen spoke Jewish prayers and blessings to the audience in Hebrew. He opened the show with the first sentence of Ma Tovu. At the middle he used Baruch Hashem, and he ended the concert reciting the blessing of Birkat Cohanim.
Since the late 1970s Cohen has been associated with Buddhist monk and teacher Kyozan Joshu Sasaki roshi (venerable teacher), regularly visiting him at Mount Baldy Zen Center and serving him as personal assistant during Cohen's own reclusion into Mt. Baldy monastery in the 1990s. Sasaki roshi appears as a regular motif or addressee in Cohen's poetry, especially in the Book of Longing, and also took part in a 1997 documentary about Cohen's monastery years, Leonard Cohen: Spring 1996. Cohen's 2001 album Ten New Songs is dedicated to Joshu Sasaki.Topping, Alexandra (21 February 2011). "Rufus Wainwright and Lorca Cohen announce birth of Viva Katherine". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2013. "Transcript of Stina Lundberg's Interview in Paris, 2001". Webheights.net. 2001. Retrieved 26 July 2010. de Lisle, Tim (17 September 2004). "Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 6 February 2010. "The Story of Suzanne". BBC Radio 4 interview with Suzanne Verdal McCallister (leonardcohenfiles.com). 6 June 1998. Retrieved 19 November 2010. "Dominique Issermann". Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. 1 May 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2011. Cohen, Leonard (2012). "I'm Your Man" (in English for album notes; website in Croatian). Leonardcohencroatia.com. Retrieved 20 February 2012. Cohen, Leonard (1 June 1993). "Knowing Rebecca de Mornay Like Only Leonard Cohen Can". Interview magazine. Retrieved 19 November 2010. Cohen, Leonard (2012). "The Future". A Record by Leonard Cohen (in English for album notes; website in Croatian). Leonardcohencroatia.com. Retrieved 20 February 2012. The Online Jewish Book Community (JBooks.com) (June 2006). "Book of Longing (Review)". Reviews & Articles. www.leonardcohencroatia.com. Retrieved 20 February 2012. See Larry Rohter, "On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual." The New York Times, 25 February 2009. For an extended discussion of the Jewish mystical and Buddhist motifs in Cohen's songs and poems, see Elliot R. Wolfson, "New Jerusalem Glowing: Songs and Poems of Leonard Cohen in a Kabbalistic Key," Kabbalah: A Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 15 (2006): 103–152. "Leonard Cohen: Poet, Prophet, Eternal Optimist;". Myjewishlearning.com. Retrieved 22 September 2014. "Cohen using Jewish prayers and blessings in Hebrew in his concert in Israel". Forward.com. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
Cohen is mentioned in the Nirvana song "Pennyroyal Tea" from the band's 1993 release, In Utero. Kurt Cobain wrote, "Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/ So I can sigh eternally." Cohen, after Cobain's suicide, was quoted as saying "I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him."
Cohen is also referenced in the songs "Want" by Rufus Wainwright, "Speedboat" by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, "Who Is in Your Heart Now?" by Studio Killers, "A Drop in Time" by Mercury Rev, "Now I Am Here" by The Black, "Ego Is Not A Dirty Word" by Skyhooks, "Under You" by Better Than Ezra, "Fools Gold" by Fiction Family, "Illusions in G Major" by Electric Light Orchestra, "Careful What You Wish For" by Raine Maida, "Pass the Milk" by Kool A.D., and "Leonard Cohen" by The Dreadnoughts and "A Song for Leonard Cohen" by Amanda Shires.
In 1991, playwright Bryden MacDonald launched Sincerely, A Friend, a musical revue based on Cohen's music.
The Goth band "The Sisters of Mercy" have many references to Leonard Cohen, apart from their name they also released an album "Some Girls Wonder by Mistake", a lyric from the song Teachers and a cover of "Teachers" on the Album "Adrenochrome".de Lisle, Tim (17 September 2004). "Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head?". The Guardian (London). Gabrielle H. Cody and Evert Sprinchorn, The Columbia encyclopedia of modern drama: M-Z, Volume 2 (p. 843). Columbia University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780231144247.