1934 - Yes, date unknown
Has one ancestor and 3 descendants in this family tree.
||Leonard Norman Cohen |
||21 Sep 1934
||Yes, date unknown
||28 Aug 2009 |
- a Canadian poet , novelist , and singer-songwriter . Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963.
Cohen's early songs are based in folk music melodies and instrumentation. In the 1970s, he was more influenced by popular music and cabaret music. Since the 1980s he typically has sung in a bass register, with accompaniments from electronic synthesizers and female backing vocals.
His work often explores the themes of religion , isolation , sexuality, and complex interpersonal relationships.
Cohen's songs and poetry have influenced many other singer-songwriters, and more than a thousand renditions of his work have been recorded. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and he is a Companion of the Order of Canada , the nation's highest civilian honour.
Cohen was born to a middle-class Jewish family of Polish ancestry. He grew up in Westmount on the Island of Montreal .
Like many other Jews named Cohen, Katz, Kagan, etc., his family made a proud claim of descent from the Kohanim : "I had a very Messianic childhood," he told Richard Goldstein in 1967. "I was told I was a descendant of Aaron , the high priest." As a teenager he learned to play the guitar , subsequently forming a country -folk group called the Buckskin Boys. His father's will provided Leonard with a modest trust income, sufficient to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions.
In 1951, Cohen enrolled at McGill University , where he was president of the McGill Debating Union . His first poetry book, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), was published under Louis Dudek as the first book in the McGill Poetry Series, while Cohen was an undergraduate. The Spice-Box of Earth (1961) made him well known in poetry circles, especially in his native Canada.
Cohen applied a strong work ethic to his early and keen literary ambitions. He wrote poetry and fiction through much of the 1960s, and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive circumstances. After moving to Hydra , a Greek island, Cohen published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964), and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). The Favourite Game is an autobiographical bildungsroman about a young man finding his identity in writing.
In contrast, Beautiful Losers can be considered as an 'anti-bildungsroman' since it - in an early post modern fashion - deconstructs the identity of the main characters by combining the sacred and the profane, religion and sexuality in a rich, lyrical language. Reflecting Cohen's Québécois roots, but perhaps unusually for someone from a Jewish background, a secondary plot in Beautiful Losers concerns Kateri Tekakwitha , the Roman Catholic Iroquois mystic. Beautiful Losers initially shocked Canadian reviewers with its explicit sexual content.
In 1967, Cohen relocated to the United States to pursue a career as a folk singer-songwriter. His song "Suzanne " became a hit for Judy Collins . After performing at a few folk festivals, he came to the attention of Columbia Records representative John H. Hammond (who signed artists such as Billie Holiday , Bob Dylan , and Bruce Springsteen ).
The sound of Cohen's first album Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967 ) was too dark to be a commercial success, but was widely acclaimed by folk music buffs. He became a cult name in the UK, where the album spent over a year on the album charts. He followed up with Songs from a Room (1969 ) (featuring the oft-covered "Bird on the Wire "), Songs of Love and Hate (1971 ), Live Songs (1973 ), and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974 ).
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cohen toured the United States, Canada and Europe . In 1973 , Cohen toured Israel and performed at army bases during the Yom Kippur War . Beginning around 1974, his collaboration with pianist/arranger John Lissauer created a live sound praised by the critics, but which was never really captured on record. During this time, Cohen often toured with Jennifer Warnes as a back-up singer. Warnes would become a fixture on Cohen's future albums and she recorded an album of Cohen songs in 1987 , Famous Blue Raincoat .
In 1977 , Cohen released Death of a Ladies' Man (note the plural possessive case; one year later in 1978, Cohen released a volume of poetry with the coyly revised title, Death of a Lady's Man ). The album was produced by Phil Spector , well known as the inventor of the "wall of sound " technique, in which pop music is backed with thick 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 at gunpoint. Cohen thinks the end result is "grotesque", but also "semi-virtuous".
In 1979 , Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs . Produced by Cohen himself, and Henry Lewy (Joni Mitchell 's sound engineer), the album included performances by a jazz-fusion band, introduced to Cohen by Mitchell, and oriental instruments (oud, Gypsy violin and mandolin). In 2001, Cohen releasing the live version of songs from its 1979 tour on record Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979 .
In 1984 , Cohen released Various Positions , a highly spiritual and synthesizer-guided album, featuring the often covered "Hallelujah ". Columbia declined to release the album in the United States, where Cohen's popularity had declined in previous years. (Throughout his career, Cohen's music has sold better in Europe and Canada than in the U.S.; he once satirically expressed how touched he is at the modesty the American company has shown in promoting his records.)
In 1986 he made a guest appearance in the episode French Twist of the TV series Miami Vice . In 1987 , Jennifer Warnes ' tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat helped restore Cohen's career in the U.S., and the following year he released I'm Your Man , which marked a drastic change in his music. Synthesizers ruled the album, although in a much more subdued manner than on Death of a Ladies' Man, and Cohen's lyrics included more social commentary and dark humour. It was Cohen's most acclaimed and popular since Songs of Leonard Cohen, and "First We Take Manhattan" and the title song became two of his most popular songs.
The use of the album track "Everybody Knows " (co-written by Sharon Robinson ) in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume helped to expose Cohen's music to a younger audience. 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 controversial and violent movie Natural Born Killers .
In the title track, Cohen prophesies impending political and social collapse, reportedly as his response to the L.A. unrest of 1992 : "I've seen the future, brother: It is murder." In "Democracy," Cohen, criticizes America but says he loves it: "I love the country but I can't stand the scene." Further, he criticises the American public's lack of interest in politics and addiction to television: "I'm neither left or right/I'm just staying home tonight/getting lost in that hopeless little screen."
Nanni Moretti's film "Caro Diario" (1993) features "I'm Your Man", as Moretti himself rides his Vespa along the streets of Rome.
In 1994, following a tour to promote The Future, Cohen retreated to the Mount Baldy Zen Centre near Los Angeles, beginning what would become 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 'silent one'. He left Mount Baldy in 1999.
In 2001 , following the five years' seclusion as a Zen Buddhist monk at the Mount Baldy Zen Centre (where he served as personal assistant to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi ), Cohen returned to music with Ten New Songs , featuring a heavy influence from producer and co-composer Sharon Robinson . With this album, Cohen shed the relatively extroverted, engaged, and even optimistic outlook of The Future (the sole political track, "The Land of Plenty," abandoning stern commandment for yearning but helpless prayer) to lament and seek acceptance of varieties of personal loss: the approach of death and the departure of love, romantic and even divine. Ten New Songs' cohesive musical style (perhaps absent from Cohen's albums since Recent Songs) owes much to Robinson's involvement. Although not Cohen's bitterest album, it may rank as his most melancholic.
In October 2004 , he released Dear Heather , largely a musical collaboration with jazz chanteuse (and current Cohen partner) Anjani Thomas , although Sharon Robinson returns 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 attributes to the neurological processes of aging. Dear Heather is perhaps his least cohesive, and most experimental and playful album to date, and the stylings of some of the songs (especially the title track) frustrated many fans. 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. Cohen has been under new management since April 2005.
Blue Alert , an album of songs co-written by Anjani and Cohen, was released on May 23 , 2006 to positive reviews. The album is 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 Spector into "True Love Leaves No Traces" on Death of a Ladies' Man.
Cohen's new 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, which saw the entire amount sold within hours. The book quickly topped bestseller lists in Canada. On May 13 , 2006 , Cohen made his first public appearance for 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. Cohen's new album meanwhile is also slated for late 2007, while announced touring, first after 1993, still isn't confirmed.
Cohen's recent activity has been necessary because Cohen alleges that his financial resources (including the publishing rights to his songs) were misappropriated by his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch. A lawsuit is pending for gross misappropriation of funds. Cohen stated that Lynch has 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 have put him in the public spotlight, including a cover feature on him with the headline "Devastated!" in Canada's Maclean's magazine. In March of 2006, Cohen won the civil suit , and was awarded US$9 million by a Los Angeles County superior court. Lynch, however, had completely 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 cash.
In the 1960s, during his stay at Hydra, Cohen befriended the Scandinavian novelists Axel Jensen and Göran Tunström . Leonard lived there with Axel's wife Marianne Jensen (now: Ihlen Stang) and their son Axel after they broke up. The song "So Long, Marianne" is about her. For a long time it was believed that the character Lorenzo in Jensen's novel Joacim (1961) was based on Cohen, but Axel told him it was influenced by Tunström.
According to biographer and filmmaker Harry Rasky , Cohen has been married once, to Los Angeles artist Suzanne Elrod , and although the two did have an important relationship in the 1970s Cohen himself has said that 'cowardice' and 'fear' have prevented him from ever actually marrying. He has two children with Elrod: a son, Adam, was born in 1972 and a daughter, Lorca, named after poet Federico García Lorca , was born in 1974. Adam Cohen began his own career as a singer-songwriter in the mid-1990s. 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.
Cohen and Elrod had split by 1979. Contrary to popular belief, "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 1990, Cohen was romantically linked to actress Rebecca De Mornay . He is now romantically involved with (and working with) Anjani Thomas .
Recurring themes in Cohen's work include love and sex, religion, psychological depression, and music itself. He has also engaged with certain political themes, though sometimes ambiguously so. Love and sexuality are common themes in popular music, yet Cohen's background as a novelist and poet enabled him to bring a darker, deeper edge to these themes. "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 (in exactly what degree is ambiguous in the song) by his wife's infidelity with his close friend, and is written in the form of a letter to that friend, to whom he writes, "I guess that I miss you/ I guess I forgive you … Know your enemy is sleeping/ And his woman is free", while "Everybody Knows " deals in part with the harsh reality of AIDS : "… the naked man and woman/ Are just a shining artifact of the past."
"Sisters of Mercy" evokes genuine love (agape more than Eros ) found in a hotel room encounter with two Edmonton women, whereas "Chelsea Hotel #2" treats his Janis Joplin one-night stand rather unsentimentally, and the title of "Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On" speaks for itself.
Cohen comes from a Jewish background, most obviously reflected in his song "Story of Isaac ", and also in "Who by Fire," whose words and melody echo the Unetaneh Tokef , an 11th century liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashanah . Broader Judeo-Christian themes are sounded 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."
In his early career as a novelist, Beautiful Losers grappled with the mysticism of the Catholic/Iroquois Catherine Tekakwitha. Cohen has also been involved with Buddhism at least since the 1970s and in 1996 he was ordained a Buddhist monk. However, he still considers himself also a Jew: "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one, with Judaism."
Having suffered from psychological depression during much of his life (although less so with the onset of old age), Cohen has written much (especially in his early work) about depression and suicide . The wife of the protagonist of Beautiful Losers commits a gory suicide; "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" is about a suicide; suicide is mentioned in the darkly comic "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong"; "Dress Rehearsal Rag" is about a last-minute decision not to kill oneself; a general atmosphere of depression pervades such songs as "Please Don't Pass Me By" and "Tonight Will Be Fine." As in the aforementioned "Hallelujah", music itself is the subject of many songs, including "Tower of Song", "A Singer Must Die", and "Jazz Police".
Social justice often shows up as a theme in his work, where he seems, especially in later albums, to expound a leftist politics, albeit with culturally conservative elements. In "Democracy" lamenting "the wars against disorder/ … the sirens night and day/ … the fires of the homeless/ … the ashes of the gay," he concludes that the United States is actually not a democracy: A specifically (and classically) leftist position, as is his 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."
In "The Land of Plenty," he characterizes the United States (if not the opulent West in general) of benightedness: "May the lights in The Land of Plenty/ Shine on the truth some day." And in "On That Day," in a sincere and genuine lament for the 9-11 tragedy , he nevertheless, startlingly, raises (and takes an agnostic position on) the question of whether "It's what we deserve/ For sins against God/ For crimes in the world."
War is an enduring theme of Cohen's work which in his earlier songs, as indeed in his early life, he approached ambivalently. In "Field Commander Cohen" he (perhaps metaphorically) imagines himself as a soldier/spy socializing with Fidel Castro in Cuba -where he had actually lived at the height of US-Cuba tensions in 1961-allegedly sporting Che Guevara -style beard and military fatigues. This song was actually written immediately following Cohen's front-line stint with the Israeli air force, the "fighting in Egypt" documented in an (again perhaps metaphorical) passage of "Night Comes On:"
In 1973, Cohen, who had traveled to Jerusalem to sign up on the Israeli side in the 1973 war with Egypt, had instead been assigned to a USO -style entertainer tour of front-line tank emplacements in the Sinai Desert , at one of which he both came under fire and reportedly shared cognac with an unlikely self-professed fan, then-General Ariel Sharon . Disillusioned by encounters with captured and wounded enemy troops, and having expressed ambivalence from the start about the causes of the conflict, he eventually left, but not before beginning to write his song "Lover Lover Lover," as he later claimed, "for the soldiers of both sides."
His recent politics continue a lifelong predilection for the underdog, the "beautiful loser." Whether covering "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 through his music expressed his sympathy and support for the oppressed. Although Cohen's fascination with war is often as metaphor for more explicitly cultural and personal issues, as in New Skin for the Old Ceremony, by this measure his most "militant" album.
Cohen blends a good deal of pessimism about political/cultural issues with a great deal of humor and (especially in his later work) gentle acceptance. His wit contends with his stark analyses, as his songs are often verbally playful and even cheerful: In "Tower of Song," the famously raw-voiced Cohen sings ironically that he was "… born with the gift/ Of a golden voice"; the generally dark "Is This What You Wanted?" nonetheless contains playful lines "You were the whore and the Beast of Babylon / I was Rin Tin Tin "; in concert, he often plays around with his lyrics (for example, "If you want a doctor/ I'll examine every inch of you" from "I'm Your Man" will become "If you want a Jewish doctor …"); and he will introduce one song by using a phrase from another song or poem (for example, introducing "Leaving Green Sleeves" by paraphrasing his own "Queen Victoria": "This is a song for those who are not nourished by modern love").
Some of his songs, such as "Ballad of the Absent Mare" and "Hallelujah " are simply beautiful, and "Democracy" looks at a future as hopeful as that of "The Future" is bleak. Cohen has also covered such love songs as Irving Berlin 's "Always" or the more obscure soul number "Be for Real" (originally sung by Marlena Shaw ), chosen in part for their unlikely juxtaposition to his own work.
In 1968, Cohen refused Governor General's Award (in category for English language poetry or drama) for Selected Poems 1956-1968 .
In 1991, Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame .
In 1993, Cohen won the Juno Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.
In 1994, Cohen won another Juno Award this time for Songwriter of the Year.
In 1996, he was ordained a Rinzai Buddhist monk .
In 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada , Canada's highest civilian honour.
In 2004, Beautiful Losers was chosen for inclusion in Canada Reads 2005 . It was selected and originally to be championed by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright ; however, tour commitments meant that Wainwright had to be replaced by singer Molly Johnson .
In 2006, Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame .