Cohen, Leonard

Cohen, Leonard

▪ Canadian musician and author
in full  Leonard Norman Cohen 
born Sept. 21, 1934, Montreal, Que., Can.
 Canadian singer-songwriter (singer-songwriters) whose spare songs carried an existential bite and established him as one of the most distinctive voices of 1970s pop music.

      Already established as a poet and novelist (his first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956), Cohen became interested in the folk scene while living in New York City during the mid-1960s, and he began setting his poems to music. In 1967 Judy Collins (Collins, Judy) recorded two of his songs, “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” and that same year Cohen began performing in public, including an appearance at the Newport (Rhode Island) Folk Festival. By the end of the year, he had recorded The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which included the melancholy “Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye.” That album was followed by Songs from a Room (1969), featuring the now often-covered “Bird on a Wire,” and Songs of Love and Hate (1971), containing “Famous Blue Raincoat,” a ballad (pop ballad) in the form of a letter from a cuckold to his wife's lover.

      Though some did not care for Cohen's baritone voice and deadpan delivery, he mostly enjoyed critical and commercial success. Leonard Cohen: Live Songs (1973) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), which included “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” a frank recollection of a brief sexual encounter with Janis Joplin (Joplin, Janis), further deepened Cohen's standing as a songwriter of exceptional emotional power. His career then took a decided turn for the worse with the disappointing Death of a Ladies' Man (1977), a collaboration with legendary producer Phil Spector (Spector, Phil), whose grandiose style was ill-suited to Cohen's understated songs. For most of the 1980s Cohen was out of favour, but his 1988 album, I'm Your Man, included the club hits “First We Take Manhattan” and “Everybody Knows” and introduced his songwriting to a new generation. After releasing The Future (1992), he retired to a Buddhist monastery outside Los Angeles. He emerged in 1999 and returned to the studio, producing Ten New Songs (2001) and Dear Heather (2004). The critically acclaimed documentary Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005) blended interview and archival footage with performances of Cohen's songs by a variety of musicians. In 2008 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Universalium. 2010.

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