“I always feel that the world was created through words, through speech in our tradition, and I’ve always seen the enormous light in charged speech. That’s what I’ve tried to get to [and] that is where I squarely stand.” Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
aNewDomain — Music lost one of its most important and influential artists today. The legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is dead at 82.
What a loss.
Born in Quebec, Cohen rose to fame in the folk revival movement of the 1960s, alongside such storied poet-performers as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
An inspiration to such musicians as Dylan, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson and R.E.M., Cohen watched his star rise over the course of a meteoric, five-decade career. His fame never peaked, stalled or paled, not even when he hit his 80s.
On the day he died, Cohen was more popular than ever, thanks to poetic, evocative hits like “Hallelujah,” “Bird On The Wire” and “Suzanne.”
The gravel-voiced Cohen released his latest album, You Want It Darker, just last month.
“When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” said Dylan in an interview about Cohen’s life and legacy in The New Yorker.
“Even the counterpoint lines — they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs, said Dylan. “As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.”
And could Cohen ever sing. His haunting voice and compositional chops were standout. Yet he was a kaleidoscope of other great talents and abilities. He was a gifted poet. The fact that he couldn’t make a living at poetry, he once said, was the entire reason why he ended up playing his nylon-stringed guitar at 1960s folk revivals. Listen to him reading one of his poems, Almost Like The Blues, here.
Cohen also was an accomplished artist. And he was a novelist. His second book, Beautiful Losers (1966), published when he was just 22, had critics comparing him to James Joyce.
He also was an ordained Zen Buddhist monk.
“Hallelujah,” the hit that probably will immortalize him, achieved anthem status after Jeff Buckley covered a John Cale arrangement of the haunting tune in late 1994. The song remains a standby in concert halls, high school graduations, reality shows and, of course, YouTube. Everyone’s heard it, but somehow it never seems to get old.
Acclaimed for his deep baritone and the complex way he weaved themes like sex, death, ecstasy, joy and depression into his lyrics and arrangements, Cohen was also no stranger to the road. He maintained a rigorous touring schedule until 2013, when he ended his touring act and began working on what was to be his final album.
“You Want It Darker” earned stellar reviews in the four weeks since its release.
But Cohen knew his days were numbered. His health was deteriorating, he told a reporter late last year.
“I am ready to die,” said Cohen. “I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
In an obit it posted this evening, The New Yorker re-ran portions of the interview, comments in which Cohen seemed to offer a certain closure. He said:
“I’ve had a family to support, so there’s no sense of virtue attached to it … it’s a habit. And (now) there’s the element of time, which is powerful, with its incentive to finish up. Now I haven’t gotten near finishing up,” Cohen said. “I’ve finished up a few things. I don’t know how many other things I’ll be able to get to, because at this particular stage I experience deep fatigue. . .
“There are times when I just have to lie down. I can’t play anymore, and my back goes fast also. Spiritual things, baruch Hashem, have fallen into place, for which I am deeply grateful.”
Scroll down to watch Cohen perform his most memorable hits and lesser known works composed during his five decade-long career.
The cause of Cohen’s death is as yet unknown.
“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries,” a rep from Cohen’s record label, Sony Music Canada, wrote on Cohen’s Facebook page today, a post that confirmed his passing.
RIP Leonard Cohen. Nov. 10, 2016.
For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.
Editor Tom Ewing contributed to this piece, along with the AND research team. -Ed.
To honor Cohen, our staff collected the best Cohen performances and interviews they could find on YouTube. Here’s our Leonard Cohen video gallery, below.
You’d better start with this one. It’s Leonard Cohen’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Lou Reed hosts …
Here’s a long, juicy interview Cohen did on Canadian’s CBC.
And yes, I know you’ve seen it before, but to mark Cohen’s passing, maybe it bears just one more watching. Here’s Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Here’s Cohen doing a fan favorite, “I’m Your Man”
Here’s “Everybody Knows,” the Cohen tune we all heard in the movie, “Pump Up The Volume.”
Here’s a rare look at Cohen. Here he is, live, with “The Future.” The message he delivers here is especially relevant to Americans reeling from the bitter 2016 presidential election.
Another huge favorite among AND staffers is”Closing Time.” Never heard it? God. Watch it now.
This one is great! What better time to fall in love with Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” all over again?
Next to “Hallelujah,” this tune is one of Cohen’s hugest hits. Listen to “Suzanne” and we bet you’ll remember why.
And here’s another legendary Leonard Cohen tune, “Bird on the Wire.” When asked what he wanted his tombstone to say, Kris Kristofferson once told an interview he wanted just the opening lines from this song.
And whatever you do, make sure you catch this one, which is this writer’s all-time Cohen favorite. Here’s “Dance Me To The End of Love.”
From Cohen’s later years, It’s “So Long, Marianne.” In this recording, you’ll notice how Cohen baritone only ripened and deepened with age. He really did keep getting better.
All videos, courtesy YouTube. All Rights Reserved.
Cover image: RollingStone.com, All Rights Reserved. Inside images, in order: RateYourMusic, All Rights Reserved; PopMatters, All Rights Reserved.