Passings: Leonard Cohen (1934 - 2016)

by VVN Music

Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer/songwriter who influenced a generation of artists, has died at the age of 82.

While no cause of death has been announced, Cohen told the New Yorker in mid-October "I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me." He later retracted the statement but there is now a lingering question as to whether he was telling the world that he was ill.

The announcement was made on Cohen's Facebook page:
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 memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief.
Cohen was born in Westmount, QB in 1934. While attending high school, he learned to play guitar and formed a group called The Buckskin Boys who played country and folk music.

At McGill University, he became known for his poetry and published his first poems in 1954 followed by his first full book, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956). After a time in graduate school, he returned to Montreal where he continued to write both poetry and fiction. Eventually moving to an island off Greece, he published a number of poetry books along with a semi-autobiographical novel, The Favourite Game.

By the second half of the 60's, Cohen became less enamored with writing and began moving into music. His first well known song was Suzanne, as recorded by Judy Collins and his music soon came to the attention of John H. Hammond at Columbia Records who signed him to a contract.

Leonard's first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in 1967. Even though he was not happy with the final product, feeling that it was over produced, it still became a favorite among the folk and singer/songwriter crowd, introducing the world to Sisters of Mercy, So Long, Marianne, Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye and Cohen's own version of Suzanne. While only a modest hit in the U.S., going to number 83, it was much bigger in England where it peaked at 13.

Cohen followed with Songs From a Room (1969 / #83 U.S. / #2 U.K.) which included Bird on a Wire, and Songs of Love and Hate (1971 / #145 U.S. / #4 U.K.) along with regularly touring starting in 1970. Those treks brought his music to the world which responded with sometimes brilliant sales. His 1988 album I'm Your Man topped the charts in Norway where it went four-times platinum and 1992's The Future received double platinum in his home country of Canada, yet none charted in the U.S.

Even with all of the songs that had become standards from earlier in his career, one now stands out as his crowning achievement. Hallelujah was included on the 1984 album Various Positions where it languished until John Cale first recorded it in 1991 followed by the classic cover by Jeff Buckley for his one studio album, 1994's Grace. The song took on mythic proportions and has now been recorded well over 200 times by artists around the world.

In 1994, Cohen withdrew from the music world and went into seclusion at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California where he stayed for five years, becoming a Buddhist monk. His return to music came in 2001 with the albums Ten New Songs (#143 U.S. / #26 U.K.) and Dear Heather (2004 / #131 U.S. / #34 U.K.).

It was also during this time that Cohen discovered that his long time manager had been bleeding most of his financial accounts dry to the tune of $5 million. While he sued and won in court, he was never able to recover the money.

Amazingly, Cohen reached the peak of his career, commercially, in the last eight years of his life. In 2008, he embarked on his first tour in fifteen years to universal acclaim. He followed with additional tours in 2010 and 2012/13 although it almost seemed like he never left the road.

Leonard also released the biggest albums of his career during this time with Old Ideas (2012 / #3 U.S. / #2 U.K.), Popular Problems (2014 / #15 U.S. / #5 U.K.) and the recent You Want It Darker (2016 / #10 U.S. / #4 U.K.).

While he never married, Cohen did have a number of long term relationships. He has a son, Adam, and a daughter, Lorca.

Among his many accolades, Cohen became on Officer of Canada and a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1991, won the Juno for Male Vocalist of the Year in 1993, was given the Companion of the Order of Canada in 2003, was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 and was named Artist and Songwriter of the Year at the 2013 Juno Awards.

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