- Category : Musician - Popular
- Type : ME
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Split - Small (13,16,20,31,54)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX The Plane 2
Leonard Norman Cohen, CC GOQ (born 21 September 1934) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist. His work often explores religion, isolation, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. Cohen has been inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011 Cohen received Prince of Asturias Award for literature.
In a speech at Cohen's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 10 March 2008, Lou Reed described Cohen as belonging to the "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters."
The critic Bruce Eder wrote an assessment of Cohen's overall career in popular music, writing, "Cohen is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic … singer/songwriters of the late '60s … and has retained an audience across four decades of music-making … Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon) [in terms of influence], he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is still working at the outset of the 21st century."
The Academy of American Poets has commented more broadly on Cohen's overall career in the arts, including his work as a poet, novelist, and songwriter, stating that " Cohen's successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, published in 1993, which gathered more than two hundred of Cohen's poems … several novel excerpts, and almost sixty song lyrics … While it may seem to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, his fans continue to embrace him as a Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines."
Cohen was born on 21 September 1934 in Westmount, an English-speaking area of Montreal, Quebec, into a middle-class Jewish family. His mother, Marsha (Masha) Klonitsky, was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. His paternal grandfather, whose family had emigrated from Poland, was Lyon Cohen, founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. His father, Nathan Cohen, who owned a substantial clothing store, died when Cohen was nine years old. On the topic of being a Kohen, Cohen has said that, "I had a very Messianic childhood." He told Richard Goldstein in 1967, "I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest."
Cohen attended Roslyn Elementary School and, from 1948, Westmount High School, where he was involved with the student council and studied music and poetry. He became especially interested in the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. As a teenager, he learned to play the guitar, and formed a country-folk group called the Buckskin Boys. Although he initially played a regular acoustic guitar, he soon switched to playing a classical guitar after meeting a young Spanish flamenco guitar player who taught him "a few chords and some flamenco."
Cohen frequented Saint-Laurent Boulevard where he went for fun and eat at places such as the Main Deli Steak House. According to journalist David Sax, the Main deli was where Cohen and one of his cousins would go to "...watch the gangsters, pimps, and wrestlers dance around the night." Cohen also enjoyed visiting the previously raucous bars of Old Montreal as well as Saint Joseph's Oratory, which had the closest restaurant near Westmont where he and his friend Mort Rosengarten could go for coffee and a smoke. After moving out of Westmount, Cohen purchased a place in the previous working-class neighborhood of Montreal's Little Portugal on Saint-Laurent Boulevard where he read his poetry at various surrounding clubs. It is also during his time there in the small neighborhood that he wrote the lyrics to what would become some of his most famous songs.
Poetry and novels
In 1951, Cohen enrolled at McGill University, where he became president of the McGill Debating Union and won the Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition for the poems "Sparrows" and "Thoughts of a Landsman." Cohen published his first poems in March 1954 in the magazine CIV/n. The issue also included poems by Cohen's poet-professors (who were also on the editorial board), Irving Layton and Louis Dudek. Cohen graduated from McGill the following year with a B.A. degree. His literary influences during this time included William Butler Yeats, Irving Layton (who taught political science at McGill and became both Cohen's mentor and friend), Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca and Henry Miller. His first published book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), was published by Louis Dudek (who taught poetry at McGill and was also a mentor to Cohen) as the first book in the McGill Poetry Series the year after Cohen's graduation. The book contained "poems written largely when Cohen was between the ages of fifteen and twenty," and Cohen dedicated the book to his late father. The famous and influential Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye wrote a review of the book in which he gave Cohen "restrained praise."
After completing his undergraduate degree, Cohen spent a term in McGill's law school and then a year (1956-7) at the School of General Studies at Columbia University. Cohen described his graduate school experience as "passion without flesh, love without climax." Consequently, Cohen left New York and returned to Montreal in 1957, working various odd jobs and focusing on the writing of fiction and poetry, including the poems for his next book, The Spice-Box of Earth (1961), which was the first book that Cohen published through the Canadian publishing company McClelland & Stewart. Fortunately for Cohen, his father's will provided him with a modest trust income, sufficient to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions for the time, and The Spice-Box of Earth was successful in helping to expand the audience for Cohen's poetry, helping him reach out to the poetry scene in Canada, outside the confines of McGill University. The book also helped Cohen gain critical recognition as an important new voice in Canadian poetry. One of Cohen's biographers, Ira Nadel, stated that "reaction to the finished book was enthusiastic and admiring...the critic Robert Weaver found it powerful and declared that Cohen was 'probably the best young poet in English Canada right now.'"
Cohen continued to write poetry and fiction throughout much of the 1960s and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive circumstances after he bought a house on Hydra, a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf. While living and writing on Hydra, Cohen published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964), and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). His novel The Favourite Game was an autobiographical bildungsroman about a young man who discovers his identity through writing. Beautiful Losers received a good deal of attention from the Canadian press and stirred up controversy because of a number of sexually graphic passages. In 1966 Cohen also published Parasites of Heaven, a book of poems. Both Beautiful Losers and Parasites of Heaven received mixed reviews and sold few copies.
Subsequently, Cohen published less, with major gaps, concentrating more on recording songs. In 1978, he published his first book of poetry in many years, Death of a Lady's Man (not to be confused with the album he released the previous year with the similar title, Death of a Ladies' Man). It wasn't until 1984 that Cohen published his next book of poems, Book of Mercy, which won him the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry. The book contains 50 prose-poems, influenced by the Hebrew Bible and Zen writings. Cohen himself referred to the pieces as "prayers". In 1993, Cohen published Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, and in 2006, after 10 years of delays, additions and rewritings, Book of Longing. The Book of Longing is dedicated to the poet Irving Layton. Also, during the late 1990s and 2000s, many of Cohen's new poems and lyrics were first published on the fan website The Leonard Cohen Files, including the original version of the poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep" (which Cohen later adapted for a song).
Cohen's writing process, as he told an interviewer in 1998, is "like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I'm stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it's delicious and it's horrible and I'm in it and it's not very graceful and it's very awkward and it's very painful and yet there's something inevitable about it."
In 2011, Cohen was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for literature.
1960s and 1970s
In 1967, disappointed with his lack of financial success as a writer, Cohen moved to the United States to pursue a career as a folk music singer-songwriter. During the 1960s, he was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol's "Factory" crowd. Warhol speculated that Cohen had spent time listening to Nico in clubs and that this had influenced his musical style. His song "Suzanne" became a hit for Judy Collins and was for many years his most covered song. After performing at a few folk festivals, he came to the attention of Columbia Records representative John H. Hammond who signed Cohen to a record deal.
Cohen's first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967). Although Hammond was originally supposed to produce the record, he was ill and was replaced by the producer John Simon. Simon and Cohen clashed over instrumentation and mixing; Cohen wanted the album to have a spare sound, while Simon felt the songs could benefit from arrangements that included strings and horns. According to biographer Ira Nadel, although Cohen was able to make changes to the mix, some of Simon's additions "couldn't be removed from the four-track master tape." Nevertheless, the album became a cult favorite in the US, as well as in the UK, where it spent over a year on the album charts. Several of the songs on that first album were covered by other popular folk artists, including James Taylor and Judy Collins.
Cohen followed up that first album with Songs from a Room (1969) (featuring the often-recorded "Bird on the Wire") and Songs of Love and Hate (1970). Both of these albums were produced in Nashville by producer Bob Johnston, who helped Cohen achieve the sparer sound that he'd been after on his first album; Johnston also joined Cohen on two subsequent live tours, playing organ and piano.
In 1970, Cohen toured for the first time, with dates in the United States, Canada and Europe, and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. He toured again in Europe and Israel in 1972 with some of the same band-mates, including Charlie Daniels and his producer, Bob Johnston; the band was nicknamed "The Army". Both tours were represented on the Live Songs LP. Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 was released in 2009. The 1972 tour was also filmed by Tony Palmer under the title Bird on a Wire which was shown re-cut under Cohen's guidance in 1974 but only released to the public in 2010, reconstructed according to Palmer's original version.
In 1971, the film director Robert Altman featured the songs "The Stranger Song," "Winter Lady," and "Sisters of Mercy" (all from Cohen's debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen) on the soundtrack for his Western film McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Beginning around 1974, Cohen's collaboration with pianist and arranger John Lissauer created a live sound praised by the critics. They toured together in 1974 in Europe, and in US and Canada in late 1974 and early 1975, in support of Cohen's record New Skin for the Old Ceremony, which was produced and arranged by Lissauer. In late 1975 Cohen and Lissauer performed a short series of shows in the US and Canada with a new band, in support of Cohen's Best Of release. The tour included new songs from an album in progress, co-written by Cohen and Lissauer and entitled Songs for Rebecca. However, none of the recordings from these live tours with Lissauer were ever officially released, and the album was abandoned in 1976 (however, some of the songs that were meant for Songs for Rebecca were later rewritten by Cohen with Phil Spector for Cohen's 1977 album Death of a Ladies' Man).
In 1976 Cohen, without Lissauer, embarked on a new major European tour with a new band and changes in his sound and arrangements, again, in support of his The Best of Leonard Cohen release (in Europe retitled as Greatest Hits). Laura Branigan was one of his back-up singers during the tour, and the set-list included the unreleased songs "Everybody's Child" (a.k.a. "Blessed Is the Memory") and "Storeroom" (both released as bonus tracks to 2007 reissue of Songs of Leonard Cohen), and the new song "Do I Have to Dance All Night?" (which was released as a single with the song "The Butcher" in a single available in Europe only). From April to July, Cohen gave 55 shows, including his first appearance at the famous Montreux Jazz Festival.
After the European tour of 1976, Cohen again attempted a new change in his style and arrangements; his new 1977 record, Death of a Ladies' Man (one year later, in 1978, Cohen also released a volume of poetry with the coyly revised title, Death of a Lady's Man), was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, known as the inventor of the "Wall of Sound" technique, which backs up pop music with many layers of instrumentation, an approach very different from Cohen's usually minimalist instrumentation. The recording of the album was fraught with difficulty—Spector reportedly mixed the album in secret studio sessions, and Cohen said Spector once threatened him with a crossbow. Cohen thought the end result "grotesque," but also "semi-virtuous." The record was released by Spector's label, Warner, and was returned to Columbia's Cohen catalogue in the late 1980s. Cohen did not take part in the album's promotion, but in his tours of 1979, 1980 and 1985, he performed two songs from the album, "Memories" and "Iodine". However, Cohen chose not to include any of the album's songs on his later compilations More Best of Leonard Cohen and The Essential Leonard Cohen.
In 1979, Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. Beginning with this record, praised in 2001 by Cohen as his favourite, Cohen began to co-produce his albums. Produced by Cohen and Henry Lewy (Joni Mitchell's sound engineer), Recent Songs included performances by Passenger, an Austin-based jazz-fusion band that met Cohen through Mitchell. The band helped Cohen create a new sound by featuring instruments like the oud, the Gypsy violin and the mandolin. The album was supported by Cohen's major tour with the new band, and Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson on the backing vocals, in Europe in late 1979, and again in Australia, Israel and Europe in 1980. The tour was filmed by Harry Rasky as The Song of Leonard Cohen, and the film was broadcast on television in 1980. Cohen also gave a couple of major TV appearances in 1979, including German's ZDF television. In 2000 Columbia released an album of live recordings of songs from the 1979 tour, entitled Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979; the album (with a different track list) was originally rejected by the label in 1980.
During the 1970s, Cohen toured twice with Jennifer Warnes as a back-up singer (in 1972 and 1979). Warnes would become a fixture on Cohen's future albums, receiving full co-vocals credit on Cohen's 1985 album Various Positions (although the record was released under Cohen's name, the inside credits say "Vocals by Leonard Cohen and Jennifer Warnes"). In 1987, she recorded an album of Cohen songs, Famous Blue Raincoat.
In the early 1980s, Cohen co-wrote the rock musical film Night Magic with Lewis Furey, starring Carole Laure and Nick Mancuso (voice-over by Furey); the LP was released in 1985. Lissauer produced Cohen's next record Various Positions, which was released in December 1984 (and in January and February 1985 in various European countries). The LP included "Dance Me to the End of Love", which was promoted by Cohen's first video clip, directed by French photographer Dominique Issermann, and the frequently covered "Hallelujah". Cohen supported the release of the album with his biggest tour to date, in Europe and Australia, and with his first tour in Canada and United States since 1975, although Columbia declined to release the album in the United States where it was pressed in small number of copies by the independent Passport Records. Anjani Thomas, who would become Cohen's partner, and a regular member of Cohen's recording team, joined his touring band. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the Roskilde Festival. They also gave a series of highly emotional and politically controversial concerts in Poland, which was under martial law and performed the song "The Partisan," regarded as the hymn of the Polish Solidarity movement. During the 80s, almost all of Cohen's songs were performed in Polish language by Maciej Zembaty.
In 1986, Cohen appeared in the episode "French Twist" of the TV series Miami Vice. In 1987, Jennifer Warnes's tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat helped restore Cohen's career in the US. The following year he released I'm Your Man, which marked a drastic change in his music. Synthesizers ruled the album and Cohen's lyrics included more social commentary and dark humor. The album, self-produced by Cohen, remains one of Cohen's most acclaimed albums, and was promoted by iconic black and white video shot by Dominique Issermann at the beach of Normandy. Cohen supported the record with series of television interviews, and an extensive tour of Europe, Canada and US. Many shows were broadcast on European and US television and radio stations, while Cohen performed for the first time in his career on PBS's Austin City Limits show; he also performed at the Roskilde Festival again, among other dates. The tour gave the basic structure to typical Cohen's three-hours two-acts concert which he used in his tours in 1993, 2008–10 and 2012. The selection of performances from the late 1980s was released in 1994 on Cohen Live. None of the concerts was released in its entirety, although some were bootlegged. Parts of one of three Royal Albert Hall concerts were used in BBC documentary The Songs from the Life of Leonard Cohen, which was released on laser disc and video tape.
The use of the album track "Everybody Knows" from I'm Your Man in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume helped expose Cohen's music to a younger audience. The song also featured prominently in fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan's 1994 film, Exotica. In 1992, Cohen released The Future, which urges (often in terms of biblical prophecy) perseverance, reformation, and hope in the face of grim prospects. Three tracks from the album - "Waiting for the Miracle", "The Future" and "Anthem" - were featured in the movie Natural Born Killers, which helped Cohen reach a younger audience in the United States.
As with I'm Your Man, the lyrics on the The Future were dark, and made references to political and social unrest. The title track is reportedly a response to the L.A. unrest of 1992. Cohen promoted the album with two music videos, for "Closing Time" and "The Future", and supported the release with the major tour through Europe, United States and Canada, with the same band as in his 1988 tour, including a second appearance at the PBS's Austin City Limits. Some of the Scandinavian shows were broadcast live on the radio. The selection of performances, mostly recorded on the Canadian leg of the tour, was released on 1994 Cohen Live album, but none of the new songs from the album itself were included in the live album.
In 1993 Cohen also published his book of selected poems and songs, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, on which he had worked since 1989. It includes a number of new poems from the late 1980s and early 1990s and major revision of his 1978 book Death of a Lady's Man.
In 1997, Cohen oversaw the selection and release of More Best of Leonard Cohen album, which included a previously unreleased track, "Never Any Good", and an experimental piece "The Great Event". The first was left over from Cohen's unfinished mid-1990s album, which was announced to include songs like "In My Secret Life" (already recited as song-in-progress in 1988) and "A Thousand Kisses Deep", both later re-worked with Sharon Robinson for 2001 album Ten New Songs.
In 1994, Cohen retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles, beginning what became five years of seclusion at the center. In 1996, Cohen was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name Jikan, meaning "silence". He served as personal assistant to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
Although around 2000 there was a public impression that Cohen would not resume recording or publishing, he returned to Los Angeles in May 1999. He began to contribute regularly to The Leonard Cohen Files fan website, emailing new poems and drawings from Book of Longing and early versions of new songs, like "A Thousand Kisses Deep" in September 1998 and Anjani Thomas's story sent on 6 May 1999, the day they were recording "Villanelle for our Time" (released on 2004 Dear Heather album). The section of The Leonard Cohen Files with Cohen's online writings has been titled "The Blackening Pages".
Post-monastery records: Ten New Songs, Dear Heather and Anjani's Blue Alert
After two years of production, Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, featuring a heavy influence from producer and co-composer Sharon Robinson. The album, recorded at Cohen's and Robinson's home studios, includes the song "Alexandra Leaving", a transformation of the poem "The God Abandons Antony", by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. The album was a major hit for Cohen in Canada and Europe, and he supported it with the hit single "In My Secret Life" and accompanying video shot by Floria Sigismondi.
In October 2004, Cohen released Dear Heather, largely a musical collaboration with jazz chanteuse (and current romantic partner) Anjani Thomas, although Sharon Robinson returned to collaborate on three tracks (including a duet). As light as the previous album was dark, Dear Heather reflects Cohen's own change of mood - he has said in a number of interviews that his depression has lifted in recent years, which he attributed to Zen Buddhism. In an interview following his induction into the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame, Cohen explained that the album was intended to be a kind of notebook or scrapbook of themes, and that a more formal record had been planned for release shortly afterwards, but that this was put on ice by his legal battles with his ex-manager. He decided not to promote the album at all, but in 2005 he released a home video accompanying the song "Because Of", shot by his daughter Lorca Cohen, while there were no official album singles.
Blue Alert, an album of songs co-written by Anjani and Cohen, was released on 23 May 2006 to positive reviews. Sung by Anjani, who according to one reviewer "...sounds like Cohen reincarnated as woman...though Cohen doesn't sing a note on the album, his voice permeates it like smoke." The album includes a recent musical setting of Cohen's "As the mist leaves no scar", a poem originally published in The Spice-Box of Earth in 1961 and adapted by Phil Spector as "True Love Leaves No Traces" on Death of a Ladies' Man album. Blue Alert also included Anjani's own version of "Nightingale", performed by her and Cohen on his Dear Heather, as well the country song "Never Got to Love You", apparently made after an early demo version of Cohen's own 1992 song "Closing Time". During the 2010 tour, Cohen was closing his live shows with the performance of "Closing Time" which included the recitation of verses from "Never Got to Love You". The title song, "Blue Alert", and "Half the Perfect World" were covered by Madeleine Peyroux on her 2006 album Half the Perfect World, while the third covered song, "Crazy To Love You", was included in the album's Japanese edition.
Before embarking on his 2008-2010 world tour, and without finishing the new album which has been in work since 2006 (new song, "The Street", was recited by Cohen in 2006 on KCRW radio, and he also played two new songs from a demo tape, "Book of Longing" and "Puppets"), Cohen contributed few tracks to other artists' albums - new version of his own "Tower of Song" was performed by him, Anjani Thomas and U2 in 2006 tribute film Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man (the video and track were included on the film's soundtrack and released as B-side of U2's single "Window in the Skies", reaching No 1 in Canadian Singles Chart), in 2007 he recited "The Sound of Silence" on album Tribute to Paul Simon: Take Me to the Mardi Gras and "The Jungle Line" by Joni Mitchell, accompanied by Herbie Hancock on piano, on Hancock's Grammy-winning album River: The Joni Letters, while in 2008 he recited the poem "Since You've Asked" on album Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins. According to the press release for his 2012 album Old Ideas, song "Amen" was recorded in 2007.
Lawsuits and financial troubles
Sylvie Simmons explains, in her 2012 biography on Cohen that Kelley Lynch, Cohen's longtime manager, "took care of Leonard's business affairs … [and was] not simply his manager but a close friend, almost part of the family." However, Simmons notes that in late 2004, Cohen's daughter Lorca began to suspect Lynch of financial impropriety, and when Cohen checked his bank accounts, he noticed that he had unknowingly paid a credit card bill of Lynch's for $75,000 and also found that most of the money in his accounts was gone (including money from his retirement accounts and charitable trust funds). Cohen would discover that this theft had actually begun as early as 1996 when Lynch started selling Cohen's music publishing rights despite the fact that Cohen had no financial incentive to do so at the time.
On 8 October 2005, Cohen sued Kelley Lynch, alleging that she had misappropriated over US $5 million from Cohen's retirement fund leaving only $150,000. Cohen was sued in turn by other former business associates. These events placed him in the public spotlight, including a cover feature on him with the headline "Devastated!" in Canada's Maclean's magazine. In March 2006, Cohen won a civil suit and was awarded US $9 million by a Los Angeles County superior court. Lynch, however, ignored the suit and did not respond to a subpoena issued for her financial records. As a result it has been widely reported that Cohen may never be able to collect the awarded amount.
In 2007, US. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock dismissed a claim by Cohen for more than US $4.5 million against Colorado investment firm Agile Group, and in 2008 he dismissed a defamation suit that Agile Group filed against Cohen. Cohen has been under new management since April 2005.
On 1 March 2012, Sylvie Simmons notes that Kelley Lynch was arrested in Los Angeles for "violating a permanent protective order that forbade her from contacting Leonard, which she had ignored repeatedly. On April 13, the jury found her guilty on all charges. On April 18 she was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and five years’ probation." Cohen told that court, "It gives me no pleasure to see my onetime friend shackled to a chair in a court of law, her considerable gifts bend to the services of darkness, deceit, and revenge. It is my prayer that Ms. Lynch will take refuge in the wisdom of her religion, that a spirit of understanding will convert her heart from hatred to remorse."
Book of Longing
Cohen's book of poetry and drawings, Book of Longing, was published in May 2006; in March a Toronto-based retailer offered signed copies to the first 1500 orders placed online. All 1500 sold within hours. The book quickly topped bestseller lists in Canada. On 13 May 2006, Cohen made his first public appearance in thirteen years, at an in-store event at a bookstore in Toronto. Approximately 3000 people turned up for the event, causing the streets surrounding the bookstore to be closed. He sang two of his earliest and best-known songs: "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye", accompanied by the Barenaked Ladies and Ron Sexsmith. Also appearing with him was Anjani, the two promoting her new CD along with his book.
In 2006, Philip Glass composed music to Cohen's 2006 book of poetry Book of Longing. Following the series of live performances which included Glass on keyboards, Cohen's recorded spoken text, four voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass-baritone), and other instruments, and as well the screenings of Cohen's artworks and drawings, Glass' label Orange Mountain Music released a double CD with the recording of the work, entitled Book of Longing. A Song Cycle based on the Poetry and Artwork of Leonard Cohen.
2008-2010 World Tour
2008 concert tour
13 January 2008, Cohen quietly announced a long-anticipated concert tour. The tour, Cohen's first in 15 years, began 11 May in Fredericton, New Brunswick to wide critical acclaim, and was extended until Winter of 2010. The schedule of the first leg in Summer of 2008 encompassed Canada and Europe, including performances at The Big Chill, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and on the Pyramid Stage at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival on 29 June 2008. His performance at Glastonbury was hailed by many as the highlight of the festival, and his performance of "Hallelujah" as the sun went down received a rapturous reception and a lengthy ovation from a packed Pyramid Stage field. He also played two shows in London's O2 Arena, and in Dublin he gave a "milestone concert", while in Dublin he was the first performer to play an open air concert at IMMA (Royal Hospital Kilmainham) ground, performing there on 13, 14 and 15 June 2008. In 2009, the performances were awarded Ireland's Meteor Music Award as the best international performance of the year.
In September, October and November 2008, Cohen gave a marathon tour of Europe, including stops in Austria, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia. In London, he played two more shows at the O2 Arena and two additional shows at the Royal Albert Hall.
Live in London
On 21 March 2009, Cohen released Live in London, recorded on 17 July 2008 at London's O2 Arena and released on DVD and as a two-CD set. The album contains 25 songs and is over two-and-a-half hours long. It was the first official DVD in Cohen's recording career. The quotation on the album referred to one hundred five-star reviews the tour gained in the international press in 2008.
The third leg of Cohen's World Tour 2008-2009 encompassed New Zealand and Australia from 20 January to 10 February 2009. In January 2009, The Pacific Tour first came to New Zealand. Simon Sweetman in The Dominion Post (Wellington) of 21 January wrote "It is hard work having to put this concert in to words so I'll just say something I have never said in a review before and will never say again: this was the best show I have ever seen." The Sydney Entertainment Centre show on 28 January sold out rapidly, which motivated promoters to announce a second show at the venue. The first performance was well-received, and the audience of 12,000 responded with five standing ovations. In response to hearing about the devastation to the Yarra Valley region of Victoria in Australia, Cohen donated $200,000 to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal in support of those affected by the extensive Black Saturday bushfires that razed the area just weeks after his performance at the Rochford Winery in the A Day on the Green concert. Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper reported: "Tour promoter Frontier Touring said $200,000 would be donated on behalf of Cohen, fellow performer Paul Kelly and Frontier to aid victims of the bushfires."
On 19 February 2009, Cohen played his first American concert in fifteen years at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The show, showcased as the special performance for fans, Leonard Cohen Forum members and press, was the only show in the whole three-year tour which was broadcast on the radio (NPR) and available as the free podcast.
The North American Tour of 2009 opened on 1 April and included the performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Friday, 17 April 2009, in front of one of the largest outdoor theatre crowds in the history of the festival. His performance of Hallelujah was widely regarded as one of the highlights of the festival, thus repeating the major success of the 2008 Glastonbury appearance. The performance has been included on 2010 Songs from the Road live release. During this leg, Cohen regularly performed new song, "Lullaby".
On 1 July 2009, Cohen started his marathon European tour, his third in two years. The itinerary mostly included sport arenas and open air Summer festivals in Germany, UK, France, Spain, Ireland (the show at O2 in Dublin won him the second Meteor Music Award in a row), but also performances in Serbia in the Belgrade Arena, in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, and again in Romania. On 3 August, Cohen gave an open air show at the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
On 18 September 2009, on the stage at a concert in Valencia, Spain, Cohen suddenly fainted halfway through performing his song "Bird on the Wire", the fourth in the two-act set list; Cohen was brought down backstage by his band members and then admitted to local hospital, while the concert was suspended. It was reported that Cohen had stomach problems, and possibly food poisoning. Three days later, on 21 September, on his 75th birthday, he performed in Barcelona. The show, last in Europe in 2009 and rumoured to be the last European concert ever, attracted many international fans, who lighted the green candles honouring Cohen's birthday, leading Cohen to give a special speech of thanks for the fans and Leonard Cohen Forum.
The last concert of this leg was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 24 September, three days after Cohen's 75th birthday, at Ramat Gan Stadium. The event was surrounded by public discussion due to a cultural boycott of Israel proposed by a number of musicians. Nevertheless, tickets for the Tel Aviv concert, Cohen's first performance in Israel since 1980, sold out in less than 24 hours. It was announced that the proceeds from the sale of the 47,000 tickets would go into a charitable fund in partnership with Amnesty International and would be used by Israeli and Palestinian peace groups for projects providing health services to children and bringing together Israeli veterans and former Palestinian fighters and the families of those killed in the conflict. However, on 17 August 2009, Amnesty International released a statement saying they were withdrawing from any involvement with the concert and its proceeds. Amnesty International later stated that its withdrawal was not due to the boycott but "the lack of support from Israeli and Palestinian NGOs." The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) led the call for the boycott, claiming that Cohen was "intent on whitewashing Israel's colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel." On 24 September at the Ramat Gan concert, Cohen was highly emotional about the Israeli-Palestinian NGO Bereaved Families for Peace. He mentioned the organization twice, saying "It was a while ago that I first heard of the work of the 'Bereaved Parents for Peace'. That there was this coalition of Palestinian and Israeli families who had lost so much in the conflict and whose depth of suffering had compelled them to reach across the border into the houses of the enemy. Into the houses of those, to locate them who had suffered as much as they had, and then to stand with them in aching confraternity, a witness to an understanding that is beyond peace and that is beyond confrontation. So, this is not about forgiving and forgetting, this is not about laying down one's arms in a time of war, this is not even about peace, although, God willing, it could be a beginning. This is about a response to human grief. A radical, unique and holy, holy, holy response to human suffering. Baruch Hashem, thank God, I bow my head in respect to the nobility of this enterprise." At the end of the show he blessed the crowd by the Priestly Blessing, a Jewish blessing offered by Kohanim. Cohen's surname derives from this Hebrew word for priest, thus identifying him as a Kohen.
The sixth leg of the 2008-2009 world tour went again to US, with fifteen shows in October and November, with the "final" show in San Jose. The final leg included two new songs, "Feels So Good" and "The Darkness". But at that point, Cohen's "World Tour 2010" was already announced with the European dates in March.
The 2009 world tour earned a reported $9.5 million, putting Cohen at number 39 on Billboard magazine's list of the year's top musical "money makers."
On 14 September 2010, Sony Music released a live CD/DVD album, Songs from the Road, showcasing Cohen's 2008 and 2009 live performances. The previous year, Cohen's performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Music Festival was released as a CD/DVD combo. The DVD version included interviews with Kris Kristofferson and others.
Cohen's 2008-2009 world tour was prolonged into 2010. Originally scheduled to start in March, the first dozen of the original European dates were postponed to September and October due to Cohen's lower-back injury. Officially billed as the "World Tour 2010", the tour started on 25 July 2010 in Arena Zagreb, Croatia, where in the week of the show 16 of Cohen's albums simultaneously entered the Croatian Top 40, while Cohen's work was presented by the translation of Book of Mercy, two of Cohen's biographies, and with selection of poems in major literary magazine Quorum, while there was also the translation of Linda Hutcheon's work on Cohen's literary output. In December 2010, the national daily newspaper Vjesnik ranked Cohen's show among the five most important cultural event in Croatia in 2010, in the poll among dozen of intellectuals and writers; it was the only event ranked which was not actually Croatian. The tour continued through August, with stops in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, and Ireland, where on 31 July 2010 Cohen performed at Lissadell House in County Sligo. It was Cohen’s eighth Irish concert in just two years after a hiatus of more than 20 years. On 12 August, Cohen played the 200th show of the tour in Scandinavium, Gothenburg, Sweden, where he had already played in October 2008; the show was four hours long.
The Fall leg of the European tour started in early September with an open-air show in Florence, Italy, and continued through Germany, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Austria, where Cohen performed at the famous open-air opera stage of Römersteinbruch bei St. Margarethen im Burgenland, and then continued with dates in France, Poland, Russia (Moscow's State Kremlin Palace), Slovenia and Slovakia. In Slovenia's brand new Arena Stožice, Cohen accepted Croatia's Porin music award for best foreign live video programme, which he won for his Live in London DVD. Cohen's last European show was held in Sibamac Arena, in Bratislava, Slovakia. The shows in late September and October were performed without Sharon Robinson, who left this tour leg due to heavy illness; the setlist omitted songs co-written by her, but old Cohen standards were added instead.
The third leg of the 2010 tour started on 28 October in New Zealand and continued in Australia, including an open-air concert at Hanging Rock near Melbourne. It was the first show ever organised at the site. The tour finished with seven special dates added in Vancouver, Portland, Victoria and Oakland, with two final shows in Las Vegas' The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on 10 and 11 December. The very last concert on 11 December was the 246th show on the world tour which started on 11 May 2008.
The world tour 2010 was covered daily on the Flickr photo blog which was edited by Cohen's road manager, entitled Notes from the Road.
In 2011, Cohen's poetical output was represented in Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, in a selection Poems and Songs edited by Robert Faggen. The collection included a selection from all Cohen's books, based on his 1993 books of selected works, Stranger Music, and as well from Book of Longing, with addition of six new song lyrics. Nevertheless, three of those songs, "A Street", recited in 2006, "Feels So Good", performed live in 2009 and 2010, and "Born in Chains", performed live in 2010, were not released on Cohen's 2012 album Old Ideas, with him being unhappy with the versions of the songs in the last moment; the song "Lullaby", as presented in the book and performed live in 2009, was completely re-recorded for the album, presenting new lyrics on the same melody. Cohen has announced that those songs will be included on the follow-up to Old Ideas, unofficially announcing very close release date, what was not confirmed as he embarked to the new world tour in August 2012.
A new biography, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, written by Sylvie Simmons, was published in October 2012. The book is the second major biography of Cohen (Ira Nadel's 1997 biography Various Positions was the first).
Leonard Cohen's 12th studio album, Old Ideas, was released worldwide on 31 January 2012, and it soon became the highest charting album of Cohen's entire career, reaching #1 positions in Canada, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, New Zealand, and top ten positions in United States, Australia, France, Portugal, UK, Scotland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland, competing for number one position with Lana Del Rey's debut album Born to Die, released the same day.
The album was produced by Cohen, Ed Sanders, and Patrick Leonard, who was credited for production, co-writing, engineering and programming of four songs off the album. Anjani Thomas and 2008-10 tour band member Dino Soldo produced one song retrospectively, with members of Cohen's 2008-10 tour band playing prominently on number of songs. Still, only one song was performed fully with the tour band, the leading single for the album, "Darkness", already played on 2009 and 2010 shows. Sharon Robinson, Dana Glover and Jennifer Warnes contributed most of the backing female vocals.
The album was announced with free online single and lyric video for "Show Me the Place". The lyrics for the song "Going Home" were published as a poem in The New Yorker magazine in January 2012, prior to the record's release. The entire album has been streamed online by NPR on 22 January and on 23 January by The Guardian.
The album received uniformly positive reviews from publications like Rolling Stone, the Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian. At a record release party for the album in January 2012, Cohen spoke with The New York Times reporter Jon Pareles who states that "mortality was very much on his mind and in his songs [on this album]." Pareles goes to characterize the album as "an autumnal album, musing on memories and final reckonings, but it also has a gleam in its eye. It grapples once again with topics Mr. Cohen has pondered throughout his career: love, desire, faith, betrayal, redemption. Some of the diction is biblical; some is drily sardonic."
On 12 August 2012, Cohen embarked on new European tour in support of Old Ideas, adding a violinist to his 2008-10 tour band, now nicknamed Unified Heart Touring Band, and following the same three-hours setlist structure as in 2008-12 tour, with addition of number of songs from Old Ideas. European leg ended on 7 October, after concerts in Belgium, Ireland (Royal Hospital), France (Olympia in Paris), England (Wembley Stadium in London), Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy (Arena in Verona), Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Romania and Turkey.
The second leg of the Old Ideas World Tour is taking place in the US and Canada in November and December, with 56 shows altogether on both legs.
Cohen is set to return to North America in the Spring of 2013 with dates in the USA and Canada. A Summer tour of Europe will commence shortly afterwards. Cohen is currently working on a follow up album with the Belgian producer Niels Luyten and his touring band and it's planned to be released in late 2013.
"Hallelujah" was first released on Cohen's studio album Various Positions in 1984. While the song initially had limited success it found greater popular acclaim through a cover by John Cale in 1991, which later formed the basis for a cover by Jeff Buckley. In recent years "Hallelujah" has been performed by almost 200 artists in various languages. Statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); the Canadian Recording Industry Association; the Australian Recording Industry Association; and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry show that, prior to late 2008, more than five million copies of the song sold in compact-disc format. It has been the subject of a BBC Radio documentary and been featured in the soundtracks of numerous films and television programs. The song is the subject of the full-length book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of 'Hallelujah' (2012) by Alan Light. In a New York Times review of the book, Janet Maslin praises the book and the song, noting that "Cohen spent years struggling with his song 'Hallelujah.' . . . He wrote perhaps as many as 80 verses before paring the song down and recording it on the 1984 album Various Positions. Then his label, CBS Records, refused to release Various Positions, not realizing that 'Hallelujah' would become one of the most haunting, mutable and oft-performed songs in American musical history."
Recurring themes in Cohen's work include love, sex, religion, depression, and music itself. He has also engaged with certain political themes, though sometimes ambiguously so.
Love and sex
"Suzanne" mixes a wistful type of love song with a religious meditation, themes that are also mixed in "Joan of Arc". "Famous Blue Raincoat" is from the point of view of a man whose marriage has been broken by his wife's infidelity with his close friend, and is written in the form of a letter to that friend. "Everybody Knows" is about sexual relationships during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s in which "the naked man and woman are just a shining artifact of the past."
Cohen is Jewish, and he has drawn from Jewish religious and cultural imagery throughout his career. Examples include "Story of Isaac", and "Who by Fire", the words and melody of which echo the Unetaneh Tokef, an 11th-century liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Broader Jewish themes sound throughout the album Various Positions. "Hallelujah," which has music as a secondary theme, begins by evoking the biblical King David composing a song that "pleased the Lord" and continues with references to Bathsheba and Samson. The lyrics of "Whither Thou Goest", performed by him and released in his album Live in London, are adapted from the Bible (Ruth 1:16-17, King James Version). "If It Be Your Will" also has a strong air of religious resignation.
Having suffered from depression during much of his life (although less so recently), Cohen has written much (especially in his early work) about depression, self-harm and suicide. "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag" are songs about suicidal characters (though another interpretation of "Dress Rehearsal Rag" suggests that the reference to cutting with a razor could be self-harm rather than suicide), and the darkly comic songs "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" and "Stories of the Street" mention suicide. The song "Teachers" mentions girls who use scalpels to harm themselves, and in "The Butcher", Cohen writes, "Well, I found a silver needle, I put it into my arm. It did some good, it did some harm." An atmosphere of depression pervades "Please Don't Pass Me By" and "Tonight Will Be Fine."
Themes of political and social justice also recur in Cohen's work, especially in later albums. In "Democracy," he both acknowledges political problems and celebrates the hopes of reformers: "from the wars against disorder/ from the sirens night and day/ from the fires of the homeless/ and the ashes of decay/ Democracy is coming to the USA." He has made the observation in "Tower of Song" that "the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor/ And there's a mighty judgment coming." In the title track of The Future he recasts this prophecy on a pacifist note: "I've seen the nations rise and fall/ .../ But love's the only engine of survival." In "Anthem", he promises that "the killers in high places who say their prayers out loud/ [are] gonna hear from me."
War is an enduring theme of Cohen's work that—in his earlier songs and early life—he approached ambivalently. Challenged in 1974 over his serious demeanor in concerts and the military salutes he ended them with, Cohen remarked, "I sing serious songs, and I'm serious onstage because I couldn't do it any other way...I don't consider myself a civilian. I consider myself a soldier, and that's the way soldiers salute." In "Field Commander Cohen" he imagines himself as a soldier of sorts, socializing with Fidel Castro in Cuba—where he had actually visited at the height of US-Cuba tensions in 1961, allegedly sporting a Che Guevara-style beard and military fatigues. This song was written immediately following Cohen's front-line stint with the Israeli air force, the "fighting in Egypt" documented in a passage of "Night Comes On." In 1973, Cohen, who had traveled to Jerusalem to sign up on the Israeli side in the Yom Kippur War, had instead been assigned to a USO-style entertainer tour of front-line tank emplacements in the Sinai Desert, coming under fire.
Deeply moved by encounters with Israeli and Arab soldiers, he left the country to write "Lover Lover Lover." This song has been interpreted as a personal renunciation of armed conflict, and ends with the hope his song will serve a listener as "a shield against the enemy." He would later remark, "'Lover, Lover, Lover' was born over there; the whole world has its eyes riveted on this tragic and complex conflict. Then again, I am faithful to certain ideas, inevitably. I hope that those of which I am in favour will gain." Asked which side he supported in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cohen responded, "I don't want to speak of wars or sides ... Personal process is one thing, it's blood, it's the identification one feels with their roots and their origins. The militarism I practice as a person and a writer is another thing.... I don't wish to speak about war."
His recent politics continue a lifelong predilection for the underdog, the "beautiful loser." Whether recording "The Partisan", a French Resistance song by Anna Marly and Emmanuel d'Astier, or singing his own "The Old Revolution," written from the point of view of a defeated royalist, he has throughout his career expressed in his music sympathy and support for the oppressed. Although Cohen's fascination with war is often as a metaphor for more general cultural and personal issues, as in "New Skin for the Old Ceremony," by this measure his most militant album.
Cohen blends pessimism about political/cultural issues with humour and, especially in his later work, with gentle acceptance.
Leonard Cohen lived at Hydra, Greece in 1960 with Marianne C. Stang Jensen Ihlen (born in Norway 1935), and the song "So long Marianne" was written to and about her. Their relationship lasted for most of the 1960s.
Cohen had a relationship beginning in the 1970s with the Los Angeles artist Suzanne Elrod, with whom he has two children: a son, Adam, born in 1972, and a daughter, Lorca, born in 1974 and named after poet Federico García Lorca. Adam Cohen began a career as a singer-songwriter in the mid-1990s and fronts a band called Low Millions, while Lorca took the part in her father's tour team during the 2008-2010 world tour as photographer and videographer. She also shot Cohen's video for the song "Because Of" in 2004, while her "Backstage Sketch" was included on Cohen's 2010 DVD Songs from the Road. She has directed and shot video clips for The Webb Sisters and Kamila Thompson. On 2 February 2011, Lorca gave birth to a daughter, Viva W. Cohen with biological father Rufus Wainwright. Lorca is raising the child.
Cohen has said that "cowardice" and "fear" prevented him from ever actually marrying Elrod. Elrod took the cover photograph on Cohen's Live Songs album and is pictured on the cover of the Death of a Ladies' Man album. She is also the "Dark Lady" of Cohen's 1978 book Death of a Lady's Man. Cohen and Elrod split up in 1979.
"Suzanne", one of his best-known songs, refers to Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of his friend, the Québécois sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, rather than Elrod.
In the 1980s, Cohen was in a relationship with the French photographer Dominique Issermann, who shot his first two music videos for the songs "Dance Me To The End Of Love" and "First We Take Manhattan." Today Issermann is most famous for her photo sessions with Carla Bruni and for her fashion photography for magazines like Elle; in 2010 she was the official photographer of Cohen's world tour. Her photographs were used for the covers of his 1993 book Stranger Music and his album More Best of Leonard Cohen and for the inside booklet of Cohen's 1988 record I'm Your Man (which is dedicated to Issermann with words: "All these songs are for you, D. I.").
In the 1990s, Cohen was romantically linked to actress Rebecca De Mornay. De Mornay co-produced Cohen's 1992 album The Future, which is also supposedly dedicated to her with an inscription which quotes Rebecca's coming to the well from the Book of Genesis chapter 24 and giving drink to Eliezer's camels, after he prayed for the help; Eliezer ("God is my help" in Hebrew) is Cohen's Hebrew name, and Cohen sometimes referred to himself as "Eliezer Cohen" or even "Jikan Eliezer."
Religious beliefs and practices
Cohen is described as an observant Jew in an article in The New York Times:
Mr. Cohen keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen? "Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago," he said. "Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I've practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief."
Cohen has been involved with Buddhism since the 1970s and was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996; however he is still Jewish: "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one, with Judaism."
In his concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, on 24 September 2009, Cohen spoke Jewish prayers and blessings to the audience in Hebrew. He opened the show with the first sentence of Ma Tovu. At the middle he used Baruch Hashem, and he ended the concert reciting the blessing of Birkat Cohanim.
Since the late 1970s Cohen has been associated with Buddhist monk and teacher Kyozan Joshu Sasaki roshi (venerable teacher), regularly visiting him at Mount Baldy Zen Center and serving him as personal assistant during Cohen's own reclusion into Mt. Baldy monastery in the 1990s. Sasaki roshi appears as a regular motif or addressee in Cohen's poetry, especially in the Book of Longing, and also took part in 1997 documentary about Cohen's monastery years, Leonard Cohen: Spring 1996. Cohen's 2001 album Ten New Songs is dedicated to Joshu Sasaki.
Cohen is mentioned in the Nirvana song "Pennyroyal Tea" from the band's 1993 release, In Utero. Kurt Cobain wrote, "Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/ So I can sigh eternally." Cohen, after Cobain's suicide, was quoted as saying "I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him."
Cohen is also referenced in the songs "A Drop in Time" by Mercury Rev, "Now I Am Here" by The Black, and "Illusions in G Major" by Electric Light Orchestra.