Leonard Cohen has died

Leonard Cohen in concert in Australia. Photo: Graham Denholm/WireImage

One of the greatest popular songwriters of the 20th Century, Canadian Leonard Cohen has died. He was 82.

This statement has just been posted on his Facebook page.

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.

His death ends a five-decade musical career. Cohen released his 14th album, ‘You Want It Darker’, just three weeks ago.

Many equally admired musicians considered Cohen, second only to Bob Dlyan as a song poet. His best known work is “Hallelujah”, released in 1984, which found a new audience in the 1990s thanks to the late Jeff Buckley’s album Grace. John Cale of the Velvet Underground, fellow Canadian k.d. lang, Bono, Justin Timberlake, and Rufus Wainwright are among an estimated 200-plus singers who’ve covered the song, which has been going viral once again in recent months thanks to the choral group Pentatonix.

There’s a delicious irony for Cohen in the success of that song because his record label, Sony, refused to release the album it came from because they didn’t think it was good enough. The royalties ever since went via an indie label.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Westmount, Quebec, on 21 September 1934, his father, Nathan, who ran a clothing store, died when Cohen was just a boy of nine. He went on to graduate in Montreal with Bachelor of Arts degree, heavily influenced by the poetry of WB Yeats, Walt Whitman and Federico García Lorca, reading his own poetry in clubs near his home in Montreal’s Little Portugal before moving to New York, back to Canada and then Hydra, Greece, publishing novels and poetry from there in the early 1960s.

Having learnt guitar as a teenager, including flamenco, he was also writing songs and in the mid ’60s headed to New York, where he met folk singer Judy Collins. Her 1966 album, “In My Life”, featured two Cohen songs, “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag” alongside tracks written by the likes of Dylan, Jacques Brel, Donovan and the Lennon–McCartney title track. Nearly three decades later, Collins released a tribute album, “Democracy”, of Cohen songs.

“Suzanne” introduced his talent to a wider audience and featured on his 1967 debut “Songs of Leonard Cohen”. It became a cult hit and spent a year in the charts, with Rolling Stone describing its 10 tracks as “three brilliant songs, one good one, three qualified bummers, and three flaming shits”. One song, Sisters of Mercy, would become the name of an ’80s British Goth band.

His bass vocal style was said to be influenced by the German songstress Nico, party of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, where Cohen was a bit-player. He would go become the Sixties Sia, writing songs for the Willie Nelson, James Taylor and his Canadian contemporary Buffy Saint-Marie.

His guitar-based songs spanned multiple genres, from folk to country and pop, consistently exploring the themes of sex, death, religion, and the light and darkness in life’s ordinary, intimate moments, with a touch of Old Testament thrown in for good measure. Cohen also developed his own style, delivering his words as poetry-crunching-on-gravel as female backing singers added an angelic note chiming in like gospel singers. The also often became muses and/or lovers. They included Laura Branigan (of “Gloria” fame) and Jennifer Warnes, who found success with Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”, and became a lifelong friend and collaborator.

His second album, 1969’s “Songs From a Room” featured another long-term hit, “Bird on a Wire”, and was followed by “Songs of Love and Hate” in 1971, recorded in Nashville. Their sound was spartan in nature.

Cohen started touring in the ’70s, habit he maintained until the near his end, when ill health forced him off the road. His last visit to Australia, aged 79, in 2013, as part of a world tour, was marathon 26-song set to sold out stadium audiences.

The seventies was also when he met Suzanne Elrod. They had two children, musician Adam, who produced his father’s final album, and daughter, Lorca, named after the poet (who had a child two years ago fathered by gay singer Rufus Wainwright).

His fourth album, 1977’s “Death of a Ladies’ Man”, was the odd one out, with Phil Spector of wall-of-sound fame as producer. It was notable for the song title “Don’t go home with your hard-on”.

Cohen’s purple patch began in 1984 “Various Positions”, which featured “Hallelujah”, released independently. The 1988 follow-up “I’m Your Man”, when Platinum and/or Gold in several countries, and the first of two major tribute albums, “I’m Your Fan” was released in 1991, featuring the likes of Nick Cave, REM and the Pixies. 1995’s Tower of Song featured Don Henley, Sting, Aaron Neville, Suzanne Vega, Elton John, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson and Peter Gabriel.

A 2005 Sydney Festival tribute, “Came So Far for Beauty”, at the Sydney Opera House, would subsequently inspire the film Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, about his life and career. It feature Cohen and U2 singing “Tower of Song” together

There was a nine year break between 1992’s “The Future” and 2001’s “Ten New Songs” that had many believing Cohen had retired, but the darkness of the latter suggested forces were in play. He spent part of the mid ’90s in an LA zen centre and was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1996, but still considered himself a Jew first and foremost.

“Dear Heather” in 2004, with jazz singer Anjani Thomas, his lover at the time, was much brighter, but it was at that point Cohen discovered his friend and long-term manager Kelley Lynch had been draining his bank accounts, including his retirement charity trust accounts, for nearly a decade. She has also been selling off his publishing rights without Cohen’s knowledge. He sued her for $5 million

It was the start of more than a decade of difficult litigation for the singer, including a number of counter-claims that lasted until May 2016, when a “patently frivolous” case against Cohen by Lynch was dismissed. The case came after Lynch had been jailed for essentially stalking Cohen, despite a court order preventing her from contacting him.

He spent two years on a world tour of nearly 250 shows between 2008 to 2010 in a bid to rebuild his depleted fortune.

Eight years passed before Cohen released his next studio album, Old Ideas, in 2012, and embarked on a world tour. Two years later, his penultimate album, “Popular Problems” emerged as he turned 80.

He told Rolling Stone upon its release that he called upon “a certain resilience that is not yours to command” to continue to work at his age.

“And if you can sense this resilience or sense this capacity to continue, it means a lot more at this age than it did when I was 30, when I took it for granted,” he said.

Leonard Cohen
Born 21 September, 1934
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
Died 10 November, 2016
Los Angeles, USA.

More to come.

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