Folk leg­end, poet wrote clas­sic song ‘Hal­lelu­jah’

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Robert Jablon and Mes­fin Fekadu

LOS AN­GE­LES — Leonard Co­hen, the bari­tonevoiced Cana­dian singer­song­writer who seam­lessly blended spir­i­tu­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity in hits like “Hal­lelu­jah,” “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire,” died. He was 82.

Co­hen’s la­bel con­firmed on his Face­book page Thurs­day that he had died, and a memo­rial will take place at a later date in Los An­ge­les.

No fur­ther de­tails were given.

Co­hen, also renowned as a poet, nov­el­ist and as­pir­ing Zen monk, blended folk mu­sic with a darker, sex­ual edge that won him fans around the world and among fel­low mu­si­cians like Bob Dy­lan and R.E.M.

He re­mained wildly pop­u­lar into his 80s, when his deep voice plunged to grav­elly depths. He toured as re­cently as this year and re­leased a new al­bum last month.

His “Hal­lelu­jah” be­came a cult hit when it was cov­ered by mu­si­cian Jeff Buck­ley in 1994, singing an ar­range­ment by John Cale, and has be­come a mod­ern stan­dard since, an un­end­ing sta­ple on YouTube videos, re­al­ity shows and high school choir con­certs.

Co­hen, who once said he got into mu­sic be­cause he couldn’t make a liv­ing as a poet, rose to promi­nence dur­ing the folk mu­sic re­vival of the 1960s.

Dur­ing those years, he trav­eled the folk cir­cuit with the likes of Bob Dy­lan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and oth­ers as they were mov­ing pop­u­lar mu­sic away from a re­liance on lightweight pop lyrics to songs that con­tained per­sonal mean­ings.

Kris Kristof­fer­son, a con­tem­po­rary, once said Singer Leonard Co­hen, who was born in Mon­treal, was in­ducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. that he wanted the open­ing lines to Co­hen’s “Bird on a Wire,” on his tomb­stone.

They would be a per­fect epi­taph for Co­hen him­self: “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a mid­night choir, I have tried in my way to be free.”

The Mon­treal-born Co­hen never seemed quite as com­fort­able on stage, how­ever, and he chalked it up in part to be­ing the old man among the group.

“I was at least 10 years older than the rest of them,” he told Mag­a­zine, a sup­ple­ment to the Span­ish news­pa­per El Mundo, in 2001.

Like Dy­lan, his voice lacked pol­ish but rang with emo­tion, and as he aged its grav­elly bass tone took on more power.

In 1992, he won the Juno Award for vo­cal­ist of the year — the Cana­dian equiv­a­lent of a Grammy. While he never won a Grammy, Co­hen re­ceived nu­mer­ous other hon­ors, in­clud­ing be­ing named a com­pan­ion of the Or­der of Canada in 1991, his na­tive coun­try’s high­est civil­ian honor.

In 2016, Dy­lan told The New Yorker that Co­hen’s best work was “deep and truth­ful, “mul­ti­di­men­sional” and “sur­pris­ingly melodic.”

“He was in­ducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, telling the au­di­ence: “This is a very un­likely oc­ca­sion for me. It is not a dis­tinc­tion that I cov­eted or even dared dream about.”

Born Sept. 21, 1934, in Mon­treal, he formed a coun­try mu­sic group called the Buck­skin Boys while still in his teens.

He was at­tend­ing McGill Univer­sity when his po­etry book, “Let Us Com­pare Mytholo­gies,” was pub­lished in 1956 to crit­i­cal ac­claim. His first novel, “The Favourite Game,” came out in 1963.

In all, he pub­lished over a dozen nov­els and books of po­etry and recorded nearly two dozen al­bums.

Born to a Jewish fam­ily, Co­hen con­sid­ered him­self a Jew and a Bud­dhist.

Bib­li­cal im­agery ap­pears in many of his songs.

“Suzanne,” for in­stance, con­tains the lyric: “And Je­sus was a sailor when he walked upon the wa­ters.” The love song “Hal­lelu­jah,” which was used in the an­i­mated Dis­ney movie “Shrek,” makes ref­er­ences to the bib­li­cal sto­ries of Sam­son and King David and Bathsheba.

Co­hen never mar­ried but he had two chil­dren, Adam and Lorca, with artist Suzanne El­rod.

DIEGO TUSON/GETTY-AFP 2008

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