Leonard Cohen dies at 82

Truth be told, I was never a big fan of Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen. Nor did I dislike him—I was pretty much indifferent. His music simply didn’t turn me on, I didn’t care for his voice, and the only song I really enjoyed (and that to a limited extent) was “Suzanne”—but only the Judy Collins version.

That said, I recognize that many readers here (and many of my friends) were huge fans of Cohen, and that he was enormously influential as a musician. So it’s with sadness I report, as noted on his Facebook page only an hour before I’m writing this, Cohen has died at age 82:

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His last album was released only three weeks ago, and he was touring (largely to recoup money taken by an embezzling manager) into his late seventies.  There will be more obituaries as the new day dawns in Canada and America, but for now there’s just the BBC and Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone has this poignant ending to his hastily-written obituary:

When the Grand Tour ended in December 2013, Cohen largely vanished from the public eye. In October 2016, he released You Want It Darker, produced by his son Adam. Severe back issues made it difficult for Cohen to leave his home, so Adam placed a microphone on his dining room table and recorded him on a laptop. The album was met with rave reviews, though a New Yorker article timed to its release revealed that he was in very poor health. “I am ready to die,” he said. “I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

And so it was, to the sadness of his many fans. Here’s perhaps his most famous song, “Hallelujah,” and a photo of an aging Cohen with my favorite mammal:

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Leonard Cohen at home in Los Angeles in September, 2016. Photograph by Graeme Mitchell for The New Yorker 

Do read David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Cohen published only a month ago.

 

45 Comments

  1. Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I loved Leonard Cohen and am crying and shaking. I wrote a poem about the election Wednesday morning when I awoke and saw the results. I didn’t know Cohen had died!!! It was written in his style and mirroring his song, “The Future.”

    There are no tragic poets tragic enough
    And the comedians are dead
    We need Leonard Cohen, but his pen has been trump-broken
    We will turn off the news, wash a tyrant’s words from our minds (or try)
    We will turn to fiction and activism and fight hard for Reason

  2. dabertini
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    RIP Lenny!! Thanks to my high school teachers for introducing me to the man and his poetry.

  3. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Only a month and a half of this unprecedentedly shitty year to go.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Whither 1968?

  4. Billy Bl.
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Most (older) Canadians knew of him first as a poet. His early music, to me, was OK, but nothing special. His later music, though, became special. You have to listen to the lyrics – he never stopped being a poet. RIP.

  5. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Oh dear, very sad to her this. Even my atrocious hearing and near total lack of interest in music could be captivated by “Laughing Leonard.”
    Oh well, at least he won’t have to put up with Trump.

  6. mfdempsey1946
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Leonard Cohen — words, music, and voice — have always hit me where I live.

    Listening to the posted performance of “Hallelujah” by Cohen and his musicians made me notice more than ever that this is not a simple inspirational song.

    Rather, it describes the profound, painful struggle that is necessary to find the strength and the conviction to sing out a genuine hallelujah in the face of all the desolation that this wonderful thing called life is so often pleased to fling at us.

    The song also gathers heart-piercing sorrow from current events and the proximity of Cohen’s death to their horrible arrival.

    “That’s about it for me,” indeed.

    Maybe the possibilities for real hallelujas have been sharply reduced or even snuffed out for the foreseeable future.

    • ploubere
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that’s my take on it too, and it’s what I like about his music, it is deeply personal and about those moments in life, often painful, that shape our emotional core. That is why they are so moving.

  7. Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I think all of Leonard Cohen’s music (with the exception of his album Death of a Ladies’ Man) was very special indeed. He was one of a very small handful of songwriters/musicians who can put all the sorrow and all the sweetness and all the seriousness and all the comedy of life into a single song – and he did it again and again.

  8. GBJames
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I’m listening to some right now. It is making me feel terribly sad at the end of this terribly sad week.

    Dance Me to the End of Love

    • Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      +1 Yes

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      His song The Future seems to capture what we are all living through post election.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      One of my favourites of his songs. Going to put it on too. Seems particularly appropriate, yes, “at the end of a terribly sad week”.

  9. Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Sorry to hear this. My reaction to Cohen’s music is the same as yours.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    The first time I heard Suzanne was when it was sung by a different male singer. I was very taken by that version, which was done at a faster tempo than all other versions I have heard which to me seem painfully slow. I had recorded it on cassette (now long gone), and I cannot find who did that version.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Neil Diamond perhaps?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmP5jXZV4kY

      If you follow that link, in the description there’s a lengthy quote on how Leonard Cohen came to write the song, and a link to a BBC interview with the Suzanne of the song.

      cr

  11. Gordon
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Always loved his music. My wife, who didn’t really like him, bought us tickets (my birthday present) to his Auckland show a few years back and came out loving him – she told me that she had suddenly realised that he was a poet, something that seemed to make all the difference.

  12. Paul Matthews
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Given that the Nobel committee was prepared to consider a singer/songwriter, I’m wondering whether Cohen, rather than Dylan, deserved the Literature prize. Dylan was much more prolific, but I think some of his stuff is pretty awful (some of it is great of course). Their lyrics are in very different styles, but in the end I would rate Cohen the superior lyricist.

    I once heard Cohen tell an amusing anecdote about Dylan on the radio. Apparently Dylan complimented him on one of his songs and asked him how long it took to write it. Cohen’s reply was: about a year, with the various changes, corrections, etc. Cohen then returned the compliment. He said he really liked one of Dylan’s new songs and he asked Bob how long it had taken him to write it. Answer: a few minutes.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      There’s a bit in Hitch’s compiled essays where he talks about how disappointed he was to hear that Dylan had written a particular, angry, monolithic and zeitgeist-capturing song(can’t remember which) not in response to some great world event, some political upheaval, but because he got bad service in a coffee shop.

  13. Karen Welsh
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    In honour of Remembrance Day and Cohen’s passing here’s the man reciting In Flanders Fields. His voice couldn’t be more perfect for this solemn poem that every Canadian school kid knows.

    • Karen Welsh
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Oops. Here’s the link:

  14. bluemaas
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    For me, could my week possibly get any worse ?! It DID ! With this news late yesterday evening.

    Fitting = this of Mr Cohen’s: “Closing Time” of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-0lV5qs1Qw and http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/closingtime.html.

    And, too this week, “Democracy” of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHI9BTpGkp8 and http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/democracy.html.

    As Dr Coyne stated here yesterday, I as well intend .not. to take this. I will not “unify,” I shall not “reconcile” around nor with such ideologues. I have literally faced down mounted and fully riot – garbed police upon the streets of New York City in late y1969, over US President Nixon, right then, inside the Waldorf Astoria espousing my nation’s need to have its children BE inside Viet Nam maiming and killing other mothers’ kiddos.

    I shall go to the streets one more time yet again. Cuz when my closing time comes as well, I wanna be able to whisper to my three sons, “I, your Mama, did the Right Thing.”

    Blue

  15. jwthomas
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    A more approprate song for the times:

    • ploubere
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Nice sentiment. Unfortunately democracy appears to be heading the other way.

  16. Posted November 11, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    There are too many abysmal events happening to process at once.

  17. George
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I think he decided he did not want to stick around for the Trump era. Interesting thing about Hallelujah is that Cohen’s original version was a mess. It was rearranged by John Cale (of Velvet Underground fame). The most popular version was Jeff Buckley’s version of Cale’s interpretation. Cohen also used Cale’s version instead of what he had originally done.

    I like Cale’s version the most. Anything that can be sung is always improved when sung by a Welshman.

    • Andy
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Have you seen/heard KD Lang’s rendition? Gives me chills every time. Here’s a concert Youtube:

      • Billy Bl.
        Posted November 11, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        I have her rendition at the Vancouver Olympics on YouTube bookmarked. The crowd and venue really added to the mood.

      • George
        Posted November 11, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        Many great versions of Hallelujah out there – including Willie Nelson. k.d. lang’s is great. I am still partial to Cale.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Buckley and Lang versions were both much more moving, but I am biased and surely Cohen stands as a great, even if he never resonated with me.

  18. Mark R.
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    “Everybody Knows” seems to describe the feeling of many who voted for Trump. Too bad they weren’t keen enough to figure out that Trump is the type of person who supports the framework of society that the song admonishes.

    RIP Mr. Cohen.

  19. Robert Bray
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    ‘. . . and taking from his pocket an old schedule of trains. . . .’

  20. ploubere
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    He was able to conjure personal moods that resonated with me, emotions from the sadness and melancholy of life that get permanently entwined in one’s soul. I can understand how some people wouldn’t care for that, but I found it comforting that another human shared those feelings.

    I didn’t care for his Catholicism and didn’t understand why he stuck with it. But even his religious references, such as the second verse of Suzanne about Jesus, was about personal struggle and not about salvation. He was a good poet and songwriter.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      But even that verse about Jesus was – ambiguous. Certainly not the usual religious-salvation stuff.

      In fact his songs were even more cryptic (not quite the right word) than Bob Dylan’s. Also, his voice was even worse. With the result that most of the covers of Leonard Cohen, like those of Dylan, sound better than the original. IMO.

      cr

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 11, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      I quoted this from him yesterday from The Future: “Take the only tree that’s left
      and stuff it up the hole in your culture”

      I also liked the song that they used in the True Detectives, Nevermind:

      This was your heart
      This swarm of flies
      This was once your mouth
      This bowl of lies

      Perfect imagery – just so well expressed.

  21. keith cook +/-
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Leonard Cohen Live in London is a very good addition to a DVD collection.
    The concert in Auckland NZ he skipped onto the stage (Cohen was in his early 70’s) and was a concert that we all, dare i say it, became one, all 8,000 odd people and it was unique.
    From the sublime Webb sisters to his collaborator Sharon Robinson and for me, his band, especially the all so subtle drumming of one Rafael Bernardo Gayol was a treat.
    Leonard Cohen has made an impression in my world.

  22. keith cook +/-
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    One more for the road:
    The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say “Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!”

    Leonard Cohen

  23. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    What a week! Cohen often gives me the chills. (In *very* small doses, else I get bored.)

  24. Posted November 11, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks – The Judy Collins version is nice – I was never a follower of her music. I think my favorite version was Buffy St. Marie who sang it at a concert at the Opera House in Seattle in 1968 (I think). I kept looking at her discography afterwords, but don’t think she ever recorded it. Also like the Nina Simone version because Nina Simone.

    I came to Leonard Cohen’s music late, but fell in love with it. I DO like him and urge PCC to go to YouTube or Spotify and listen to his Greatest Hits album from 1976. Some brilliant songs contained therein.

    The poster formerly known as “Nick”

  25. Diane G.
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Please, no one ask, “what more can go wrong?”!

  26. phil
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Say a prayer for the cowboy
    His mare’s run away
    And he’ll walk til he finds her
    His darling, his stray
    But the river’s in flood
    And the roads are awash
    And the bridges break up
    In the panic of loss.

    The first Cohen song I remember hearing was Joe Cocker’s rendition of Bird on a Wire (from Mad Dogs and Englishment). The first Cohen album I was exposed to was probably Death of a Ladies Man. Then I was exposed to the wider range of his work by a workmate sometime around 1980, and we used to listen to Cohen’s albums most of our working days (to the annoyance of some other workmates I’m sure).

    I saw him twice in concert in Sydney, and they were without doubt the best concerts I have ever attended.

    Usually I found that if I was feeling blue listening to Cohen’s music would soothe me, but for some reason it isn’t working so well now.

    If I had to choose a favourite Cohen song it would probably be one of these:

    One of Us Cannot Be Wrong
    Bird On a Wire
    Avalanche
    Famous Blue Raincoat
    Memories
    Chelsea Hotel
    The Gypsy’s Wife
    The Smokey Life
    The Traitor
    The Captain
    First We Take Manhattan
    I’m Your Man
    The Tower of Song
    The Future
    Closing Time
    Light As the Breeze


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