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Cohen, Leonard

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Cohen, Leonard, Canadian poet/singer/songwriter of dark-themed songs; b. Montreal, Canada, Sept. 21, 1934. Cohen studied English literature at McGill and Columbia Univs. and published his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. During the 1960s, he published a number of books of poetry as well as two novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). The latter became standard college literary fare and sold more than 300, 000 copies.

Taught the classics of music as a child, Leonard Cohen began playing guitar at age 13 and singing at 15, performing with a barn-dance group called the Buckskin Boys during his late teens. His first popular acclaim came when Judy Collins recorded one of his most romantic compositions, “Suzanne,” for her 1966 In My Life album. Cohen launched his performing career through appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and N.Y/s Central Park (with Collins) in 1967.

Signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond, Leonard Cohen’s debut album included “Suzanne the alienated “Stranger Song” the sorrowful “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye/’ and the compassionate “Sisters of Mercy.” The latter three songs had appeared on Collins’s Wildflower album. In 1969 Cohen successfully toured North America and Europe and issued Songs from a Room, recorded in Nashville. It contained “The Story of Isaac,” “Tonight Will Be Fine,” and the oft-recorded classic “Bird on a Wire.” Retiring from public performance at the end of 1970, he released Songs of Love and Hate the following year. It contained “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Joan of Arc,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” “Diamonds in the Mine,” and “Love Calls You by Your Name.” He also provided the songs for the soundtrack to the 1971 Robert Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller .

In 1972 Leonard Cohen published another volume of poetry, The Energy of Slaves, and toured the U.S. and Europe with Jennifer Warnes as one of his backup singers. New Skin for the Old Ceremony, with “There is a War” and “Chelsea Hotel,” was issued in 1974 and Cohen toured again in 1975. He collaborated with songwriter-producer Phil Spector for the controversial Death of a Ladies’ Man in 1977 and recorded Recent Songs for Columbia in 1979. In 1985 he toured again in support of Various Positions, but Columbia did not issue the album, instead leasing it to the small Passport label. The album was quickly deleted, despite the inclusion of “The Broken Hallelujah,” “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and “Heart with No Companion.”

In 1986 longtime associate Jennifer Warnes recorded an entire album of Leonard Cohen songs, Famous Blue Raincoat, which became a commercial success and revived interest in his career. Already a well-respected figure in Europe, Cohen’s 1988 I’m Your Man sold spectacularly there and further reawakened interest in his songs in North America. Hailed as a masterpiece, the album contained a number of haunting, compelling songs such as “First We Take Manhattan,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” and “Take This Waltz.” The less impressive follow-up, The Future, included “Democracy,” “Light as a Breeze,” and “Waiting for a Miracle.” The 1993 book Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs assembled Cohen’s poems, prose, and lyrics.

Contemporary alternative artists such as R.E.M., Nick Cave, and the Pixies paid tribute to Leonard Cohen with 1991’s I’m Your Fan, while 1995’s Tower of Song tribute featured mainstream artists such as Elton John, Willie Nelson, and Billy Joel. Cohen’s son Adam moved to the U.S. from Europe in 1992 and began concentrating on his music in N.Y. the following year. In 1998, he made his recording debut on Columbia Records and conducted his first national tour.

Cohen was one of the most powerful song poets to emerge in the 1960s. Despite the limited musical effectiveness of his gruff monotonie voice and sparse musical settings, his poetics more than compensate for any musical shortcomings. His lyrics, legitimately described as brooding and gloomy, even depressing, ultimately succeed through the underlying intensity of their humanity. One of the first artists to bring a spiritual and poetic sensibility to rock music, Cohen became an acclaimed musical figure in Europe, where he was sometimes compared to Jacques Brel. In the U.S., he endured years as a cult figure.

Cohen, Sacha Baron - Comedian, Career, Sidelights [next] [back] Cohen, Bennett R. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Bennett R. Cohen

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