Leonard Cohen, singer-songwriter and poet, dies at 82

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - As­so­ci­ated Press mu­sic writer Mes­fin Fekadu con­trib­uted to this re­port from New York.

Leonard Cohen, the bari­tonevoiced Canadian singer­song­writer who seam­lessly blended spir­i­tu­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity in songs like “Hal­lelu­jah,” ‘’Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire,” has died at age 82.

Cohen passed away and a memo­rial will take place in Los An­ge­les at a later date, Cather­ine McNelly, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from his record la­bel, said Thurs­day. No fur­ther de­tails on his death 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 se­ri­ously grav­elly depths. He toured as re­cently as ear­lier this year and re­leased a new al­bum, “You Want it Darker,” just last month.

His “Hal­lelu­jah” went from cult hit to mod­ern stan­dard, now an un­end­ing sta­ple on movies, TV shows, 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 younger artists like Dy­lan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and oth­ers.

His con­tem­po­rary Kris Kristof­fer­son once said 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.”

“Hamil­ton” star and cre­ator Lin-Manuel Mi­randa quoted those lines on Twit­ter Thurs­day night as one of many pay­ing trib­ute to Cohen.

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.

Judy Collins, who had a hit with Cohen’s song “Suzanne,” once re­called he was so shy that he quit half­way through his first pub­lic per­for­mance of it and she had to coax him back on­stage.

Like Dy­lan, his voice lacked pol­ish but rang with emo­tion.

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

“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.”

It was Dy­lan who first rec­og­nized the po­ten­tial of 1984’s “Hal­lelu­jah, per­form­ing it twice in con­cert dur­ing the mid-1980s, once in Cohen’s na­tive Canada.

It had gone un­no­ticed when it came out on an in­de­pen­dent-la­bel al­bum that had been re­jected by Cohen’s la­bel. He had filled a note­book with some 80 verses be­fore record­ing the song, which he said de­spite its re­li­gious ref­er­ences to David, Bath­seba and Sam­son was an at­tempt to give a non­re­li­gious con­text to hal­lelu­jah, an ex­pres­sion of praise.

Cohen recorded four verses, but he sent sev­eral more to John Cale, a found­ing Vel­vet Un­der­ground mem­ber who recorded “Hal­lelu­jah” for a 1991 trib­ute al­bum.

It’s the Cale ver­sion that has be­come the stan­dard and was used by its most cel­e­brated singer, the late Jeff Buck­ley, whose 1994 record­ing re­ally be­gan the launch of the song as cul­tural phe­nom­e­non.

Cohen 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.”

In songs such as “Sis­ters of Mercy,” Cohen melded ro­man­tic im­agery with min­i­mal or­ches­tra­tion to pro­duce mu­sic that rang with the au­then­tic­ity of tra­di­tional folk songs. Many had a dark mood, fea­tur­ing black hu­mor or sar­donic so­cial commentary.

“De­stroy an­other fe­tus now, We don’t like chil­dren any­how,” was one of the lines from his song “The Fu­ture.”

Once asked if he was a pes­simist, he re­sponded with typ­i­cal dark hu­mor.

“I don’t con­sider my­self a pes­simist at all,’ he told the Lon­don Daily Tele­graph in 1993. “I think of a pes­simist as some­one who is wait­ing for it to rain. And I feel com­pletely soaked to the skin.”

Cohen suf­fered bouts of de­pres­sion through­out his life that he some­times tried to mit­i­gate with al­co­hol and drugs.

When he gave his first U.S. con­cert in 15 years in early 2009, the 74-year-old re­ceived count­less stand­ing ova­tions from the sold-out crowd at New York’s Bea­con The­atre.

“It’s been a long time since I stood up on this stage in New York City,” Cohen said. “I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I’ve taken a lot of Prozac.”

Born Sept. 21, 1934, 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. It was fol­lowed by “The SpiceBox of Earth” in 1961. His first novel, “The Favourite Game,” came out in 1963.

He pub­lished sev­eral more po­etry col­lec­tions while liv­ing on the Greek is­land of Hy­dra in the 1960s and be­gan to get wide no­tice with his ex­per­i­men­tal novel “Beau­ti­ful Losers” in 1966 and his first al­bum, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” in 1968.

“Leonard Cohen seems on the verge of be­com­ing a ma­jor spokesman for the ag­ing pil­grims of his gen­er­a­tion,” The New York Times wrote in 1968. He told the Times in­ter­viewer: “I don’t even think of my­self as a writer, singer or what­ever. The oc­cu­pa­tion of be­ing a man is so much more.”

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

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

For decades, Cohen was a stu­dent and friend of Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a Zen Bud­dhist monk, and from 1994 to 1999 he lived as a dis­ci­ple of Roshi’s at the Mount Baldy Zen Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les.

He claimed not to fully un­der­stand Bud­dhist con­cepts, but he said the re­treat and its hard work gave him a bet­ter sense of him­self.

“I was the cook up there,” he told Mag­a­zine. “My life was filled with great dis­or­der, with chaos, and I achieved a lit­tle dis­ci­pline there. So I de­cided to re­turn to mu­sic.”

He con­tin­ued to write and pro­duce al­bums and books.

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

He never won a Grammy, but he won count­less other awards, in­clud­ing be­ing named a com­pan­ion of the Or­der of Canada in 1991, his na­tive coun­try’s high­est civil­ian honor.

“No other artist’s mu­sic felt or sounded like Leonard Cohen’s,” Canadian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau tweeted Thurs­day. “Yet his work res­onated across gen­er­a­tions. Canada and the world will miss him.”

One of Cohen’s most beloved hits was 1967’s “So Long Mar­i­anne,” writ­ten for a for­mer girl­friend and long­time friend Mar­i­anne Ihlen, who also in­spired his song “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Good­bye.”


Leonard Cohen per­forms dur­ing the first day of the Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic & Arts Fes­ti­val in In­dio, Calif. Cohen, the grav­elly-voiced Canadian singer-songwriter of hits like, “Hal­lelu­jah, “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire,” has died, his man­age­ment said in a state­ment Thurs­day. He was 82.

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