R.I.P. Leonard Cohen; November 7, 2016

Leonard Cohen photo by machine
Photo by machine; from the album cover of Songs of Leonard Cohen

As if he foresaw that he would not be able to tolerate a Trump presidency and had already decided not to move back to his native Canada, Leonard Cohen died in his sleep on November 7th, 2016, a day before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He was 82.

Leonard was truly one of my most important musical heroes. I was introduced to him in 1972 and my teenage spirit was immediately drawn to the existential angst and incense of teenage melancholy embodied in his songs. But moreover, it was his poetry that drew me in. I must have learned at least 40 of his songs on the guitar and I can still recite the lyrics for most of them from memory.

And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind,
You find he did not leave you very much,
not even laughter.
Like any dealer he was watching for a
card that was so high and wild,
He’d never need to deal another.
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.

– Leonard Cohen, The Stranger Song from the Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967

I was lucky enough to see Leonard at Carnegie Hall in 1989 which was his first concert in more than 20 years. Since he had been absent from any scene for so long,  at the time, it was a bit of struggle to find people  who even knew who Cohen was. But for fans, the Carnegie concert was a long awaited event. And an unusual crowd of fans donned their respective regalia as a mixture of  40 and 50 somethings in tuxedos and 20 somethings in punker gear gathered as one as if to both stand to bear witness as well has to pay tribute. Leonard performed a year later at Madison Square Garden and I also attended that show. It decent show in it’s own right, but not the spectacle that was the Carnegie Hall performance.

What Leonard lacked in the way of hit songs, he made up for with a very loyal fan base. Joe Cocker and Judy Collins did covers of Cohen’s song Bird on a Wire in the 70’s.  And Ms. Collins was also probably the most prolific artist in the interpretation of Leonard’s work. But for the most part, much of Cohen’s work was not widely performed or played. But still he influenced many. A tribute album called I’m Your Fan released in the early 90’s contained songs from a veritable who’s who of journeyman performers and alt-rock headliners.

Leonard’s music often found it’s way to film and his songs turned up in the soundtracks of over 50 films. McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971 uses three early songs, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers uses three of Cohen’s mid-career songs. But his cinematic breakthrough, so to speak, came in the form of a movie about a green ogre named Shrek which contained the song Hallelujah which went on to became Cohen’s best known and most loved song.

Cohen became much more active after 2001 when he released a new album Ten New Songs. And he subesequently began to perform regularly. Rumor had it that this resurgence was because his business partner had absconded with all of his money. But whatever the reason, Cohen’s late in life burst of activity has resulted in the public’s gain and his greater recognition as an artist. In the final four years of this life, he released three albums, including Old Ideas which became number one in many countries and placed number three on Billboards top 200. His final album, You Want It Darker, was released three weeks before his death.

So, goodbye Leonard. You will be missed. We will do our best to keep the poetry alive in your physical absence. And your music will certainly live on.

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