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LEONARD COHEN,
1934-2016

Leonard Cohen, the poet, songwriter and singer who rose to prominence in the 1960s in folk-rock circles and saw his music revived for another generation decades later thanks largely to versions of his “Hallelujah,” has died. He was 82.

The news was confirmed Thursday on his Facebook page with a note that read: “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 died on Monday, four days before the announcement, and was buried in Montreal on Thursday.

Cohen, who lived in Los Angeles near the Miracle Mile, had recently told Rolling Stone he is "confined to barracks" due to severe mobility issues. It did not stop him from recording his album, You Want It Darker, which Columbia Records released on 10/21.

Cohen was known as the “troubadour of sadness,” an inspiration for musicians as varied as Joni Mitchell, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, Judy Collins, Patti Smith, Lou Reed and Nick Cave; his songs were covered by Joe Cocker, Tom Rush, the Neville Brothers, American Idol contestants, Madeleine Peyroux, k.d. lang and Pentatonix. The band Sisters of Mercy took their name from one of songs; his friend and labelmate Bob Dylan once said his songs are like prayers and praised their melodic content as being as strong as the lyrics.

As Cohen told New Yorker editor David Remnick in a piece published in October, he was not that interested in examining where he fits in the songwriting canon. “As I approach the end of my life, I have even less and less interest in examining what have got to be very superficial evaluations or opinions about the significance of one’s life or one’s work,” he said. “I was never given to it when I was healthy, and I am less given to it now.”

Cohen's publisher issue a statement: “Sony/ATV is deeply saddened by the passing of Leonard Cohen, a poet in the truest sense and someone whose treasure of songs we are proud to have represented over many years. He has been a unique and positive influence for six decades and it says everything about the enduring power of his music that just weeks before his death a brand new album by him was topping charts around on the world”

A Montreal native, his interest in music started with Hank Williams, rural blues musicians and French singers such as Edith Piaf. He loved Ray Charles and ‘50s vocal groups such as The Platters.

Although he had learned to play guitar, he first tried his hand as a poet, living in London and then Greece in the early 1960s where he would meet a Norweigian woman, Marianne Ihlen, who would become the muse for songs such as  “So Long. Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire.” he was published but not successful.

In New York, where he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, he turned to songwriting after poetry was not paying the bills. He started singing in clubs in the mid-1960s, securing an audition with the man who signed Dylan to Columbia, John Hammond. Hammond signed him and in 1967, he released his first of 18 albums for the label, Songs of Leonard Cohen.

In its 10 songs, Cohen introduced a new way to write about love, framing relationships as a battle between equals, alternating between kindness and cruelty  in a soft-spoken yet direct manner that had not been captured on record previously. The album, which needed 22 years to be certified gold, included songs that would cement his reputation: “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne’ and “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”

Compared to his peers, Cohen took his time between records, releasing only five more albums between 1968 and 1979. His 1977 collection Death of a Ladies Man  gained notoriety for its production by Phil Spector, leading to Cohen slowed his pace even further once he entered the 1980s.

In 1984, Cohen released Various Positions, which included a song that propped him up for new listeners at the time, “Dance Me to the End of Love” and the song that would endear him more than a decade later, “Hallelujah,” which took him five years to complete.  It proved to be a career revival: Cohen, who had not toured the U.S. since 1975, embarked on the largest tour of his career at that time.

He followed it up in 1987 with I’m Your Man, an album that saw him start to do TV interviews and performances such as Austin City Limits. Ensuing albums took longer to complete and release, yet his career was buoyed by significant song placements such as “Everybody Knows” in Pump Up The Volume.

In 1994, Cohen left the business completely to move to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center about 50 miles east of Los Angeles where he became a Buddhist monk. He returned quietly to L.A. five years later, emerging in 2001 with Ten New Songs and, three years after that, Dear Heather. The albums did well in Europe and Canada.

In late 2004, Cohen and his daughter Lorca realized that most of the money in his bank and retirement accounts was missing, and he resumed touring extensively to rebuild his coffers in 2008, his first world tour in 15 years. He had a revelatory performances at Glastonbury, Royal Albert Hall and in Dublin in ’08; Columbia released his Live in London in 2009, one of many heralded shows from the tour.

Coachella, an NPR-broadcast show from New York’s Beacon and Tel Aviv would follow in 2009. He started the 2010 leg in Croatia and in Sweden played a marathon four-hour show; the two-year tour featured 246 concerts, ending 12/12/10 in Las Vegas.

Over the last four years, Cohen released Stranger Music, Old Ideas, Popular Problems and You Want It Darker and toured with each. He attended listening sessions and release parties, and at one of those, at a residence in Hancock Park, he said “I’m not and never have been on a spiritual journey. I recognize there is a greater power. However, I’m just the secretary taking down notes.”

He received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. He received an Album of the Year Grammy, his only one, for his participation on Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters; his three most recent albums charted in the Top 20 upon their release, but nothing prior had topped #63 which Songs From a Room hit in 1969.

“During an influential career that spanned more than five decades, Leonard became one of the most revered pop poets and a musical touchstone for many songwriters,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “His extraordinary talent had a profound impact on countless singers and songwriters, as well as the wider culture. We have lost a cherished artist and our sincerest condolences go out to Leonard’s family, friends, and collaborators.”

For his Cohen piece in the New Yorker, Remnick interviewed Dylan about Cohen’s importance. “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said. “Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like ‘The Law,’ which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines.

“His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres. “In the song ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ for instance, the verses are four elemental lines which change and move at predictable intervals . . . but the tune is anything but predictable. The song just comes in and states a fact. And after that anything can happen and it does, and Leonard allows it to happen. His tone is far from condescending or mocking. He is a tough-minded lover who doesn’t recognize the brush-off. Leonard’s always above it all. ‘Sisters of Mercy’ is verse after verse of four distinctive lines, in perfect meter, with no chorus, quivering with drama. The first line begins in a minor key. The second line goes from minor to major and steps up, and changes melody and variation. The third line steps up even higher than that to a different degree, and then the fourth line comes back to the beginning. This is a deceptively unusual musical theme, with or without lyrics. But it’s so subtle a listener doesn’t realize he’s been taken on a musical journey and dropped off somewhere, with or without lyrics.”

 

 

 

 

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