Cohen in 1988
|Birth name ||Leonard
Norman Cohen |
|Born ||September 21, 1934 |
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7, 2016 (aged 82) |
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation(s) || |
|Instruments || |
|Years active ||1952–2016 |
|Labels ||Columbia |
Leonard Norman Cohen CC GOQ (September
21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, musician, poet and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships. Cohen
was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian
Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a Companion of the Order
of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.
Cohen pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and early 1960s; he did not launch a music career until 1967, at the age of 33. His
first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was followed by three more albums of folk
music: Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of
Love and Hate (1971) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). His 1977 record Death of a Ladies' Manwas 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. Perhaps Cohen's most famous song, "Hallelujah" was first released on his 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. His eleventh album, Dear Heather, followed in 2004. After a successful string of tours between 2008 and 2010, Cohen released three albums in the
final four years of his life: Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014)
and You Want It Darker (2016), the last of which was released three weeks before his death.
Cohen was born on September 21, 1934, into a middle-class Canadian Jewish family residing in Westmount,
Quebec, an English-speaking suburb of Montreal. His mother, Marsha (Masha) Klonitsky, was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline, and emigrated to Montreal in
1927 from Lithuania. His
paternal grandfather, whose family had moved from Poland to Canada, was Lyon Cohen, the founding president of the Canadian
Jewish Congress. His father, Nathan Cohen, owned a substantial clothing store and died when Cohen was nine years old. The family observed Orthodox Judaism, and belonged
to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, to which Cohen retained connections all his life. On
the topic of being a Kohen, Cohen told Richard Goldstein in 1967, "I had a very Messianic childhood. I was told
I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest."
Cohen attended Roslyn Elementary School, completed grades seven through nine at Herzliah
High School, where his literary mentor Irving Layton taught, then
transferred in 1948 to Westmount High School, where he studied music and poetry. He became especially interested in the poetry of Federico García Lorca. Cohen
involved himself actively beyond Westmount's curriculum, in photography, on the yearbook staff, as a cheerleader, in campus clubs (Art, Current Events), and even when "heavily involved in the school's theater program", he served in the position of president
of the Students' Council. During all of that period, Cohen taught himself to play the acoustic guitar, and formed a country–folk group that he called the Buckskin Boys. After a young Spanish guitar player taught him "a few chords and some flamenco",
Cohen switched to a classical guitar. He
has attributed his love of music to his mother, who, he said, had such a lovely voice:
|“ ||She was Russian and sang songs around the house. And I know that those changes, those melodies, touched me very
much. She would sing with us when I took my guitar to a restaurant with some friends; my mother would come, and we'd often sing all night.
Cohen frequented Saint Laurent Boulevard for fun, and ate at such places as the Main Deli Steak House. According to journalist David Sax, Cohen and one of his cousins would go to the Main Deli to
"watch the gangsters, pimps, and wrestlers dance around the night." Cohen enjoyed the formerly raucous bars of Old Montreal as well as Saint Joseph's Oratory, which had the restaurant nearest to
Westmount for him and his friend Mort Rosengarten to share a coffee and a smoke. When Cohen left Westmount, he purchased a
place on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, in the previously working-class neighbourhood of Montreal's Little Portugal, within which he would read his poetry
at assorted surrounding clubs. In that period and that place, Cohen wrote the lyrics to some of his most famous songs.
Romantic relationships and children
In 1960, Cohen lived in rural Hydra, Greece, in an apartment with intermittent electricity that he was renting for $14 a month. He
lived there with Marianne Ihlen, with whom he was in a relationship for most of the 1960s. The song "So
Long, Marianne" was written to and about her. Ihlen died of leukemia three months before Cohen. His farewell letter to her was read at her funeral, stating that "... our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very
soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine."
In the 1970s, Cohen
was in a relationship with artist Suzanne Elrod. She took the cover photograph for Live Songs and is pictured on the cover of the Death
of a Ladies' Man. She also inspired the "Dark Lady" of Cohen's book Death of a Lady's Man (1978), but is not the subject of one of his best-known songs, "Suzanne",
which refers to Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of a friend, the Québécois sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. Cohen and Elrod separated
in 1979, with him later stating that "cowardice" and "fear" prevented him from marrying her. Their relationship
produced two children: a son, Adam (b. 1972), and a daughter, Lorca (b.
1974), named after poet Federico García Lorca. Adam is a singer–songwriter and the lead singer of pop-rock band Low Millions, while Lorca is a photographer. She shot the music video for Cohen's song "Because Of" (2004), and worked as a photographer and videographer for his 2008–10 world tour. Cohen
had three grandchildren; grandson Cassius through his son Adam, and granddaughter Viva and grandson Lyon through Lorca.
Cohen was in a relationship with French photographer Dominique
Issermann in the 1980s. They worked together on several occasions: she shot his first two music videos for the songs "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "First
We Take Manhattan" and 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 I'm Your Man (1988), which he also dedicated to her. In 2010, she was also the official photographer of his world tour.
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 dedicated to her with an inscription that 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 part of Cohen's Hebrew name (Eliezer ben Nisan ha'Cohen), and Cohen sometimes referred
to himself as "Eliezer Cohen" or even "Jikan Eliezer".
Religious beliefs and practices
Cohen was described as a Sabbath-observant Jew in an article in The
New York Times:
In his concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, on September 24, 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.
Cohen had a brief phase around 1970 of being interested in a variety of world views, which he later described as "from the Communist party to the Republican
Party. From Scientology to delusions of me as the High Priest rebuilding the Temple".
Cohen was involved with Buddhism beginning in the 1970s and was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996; he continued to consider himself Jewish: "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one, with Judaism." Beginning in the late 1970s, Cohen was associated with Buddhist monk and rōshi (venerable
teacher) Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, regularly visiting him at Mount
Baldy Zen Center and serving him as personal assistant during Cohen's period of reclusion at Mount Baldy monastery in the 1990s. Sasaki appears as a regular motif or addressee in Cohen's poetry, especially in his Book of Longing, and 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.
In a 1993 interview entitled "I am the little Jew who wrote the Bible," he says, "at our best, we inhabit a biblical landscape, and this is where we should situate ourselves without apology….That
biblical landscape is our urgent invitation…Otherwise, it's really not worth saving or manifesting or redeeming or anything, unless we really take up that invitation to walk into that biblical landscape."
Cohen showed an interest in Jesus as a universal figure, saying, "I'm very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says 'Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek' has got
to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness...A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow
the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I'm not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me."
Speaking about his religion in a 2007 interview for BBC
Radio 4's Front Row (partially re-broadcast on November 11, 2016) Cohen said:
Memorial in front of Cohen's residence in Montreal on November 12, 2016
Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82 at his home in Los Angeles; leukemia was a contributing cause.According to his manager, Cohen's death was the result of a fall at his home on the night of November 7, and he subsequently died in his sleep. His death was announced on November 10, the same day as his funeral, which was held in Montreal. As
was his wish, Cohen was laid to rest with a Jewish rite, in a simple pine casket, in a family plot. Tributes were paid by numerous stars and political figures. Citizens
and officials in Montreal, where he spent his early life, are considering honoring him by naming a street and other locations, including a library, after him.
The city of Montreal held a tribute concert to Cohen in December 2016, entitled "God is Alive, Magic Is Afoot" after a prose poem in his novel Beautiful Losers. It featured a number of musical performances and readings of Cohen's poetry.
A memorial also took place in Los Angeles. Cohen was survived by his two children and three grandchildren.
After Cohen's death artist Kevin Ledo painted a nine-story portrait of him near Cohen's home on Montreal's Plateau
Mont-Royal, and a 20-storey fedora-clad likeness on Crescent Street has dominated the city's downtown.
A memorial concert November 6 2017 sold out. A five-month exhibit at Montreal's contemporary art museum titled "Leonard Cohen: A Crack In Everything" opening had in the been in the works for years, according to its curator.