By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – November 11, 2016) — Esteemed singer, songwriter, Leonard Cohen — best known for his much-covered song, Hallelujah, has passed away at age 82.
Cohen’s Facebook page stated, “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.”
Born in 1934 in Westmount, Quebec, Canada, Cohen rose in literary circles in 1956 with his book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies. As a graduate of McGill University, later doing graduate work at Columbia University in New York (but didn’t finish his graduate degree, moving back to Canada), Cohen’s area of study was literature. His second book of poetry, The Spice-Box of Earth was released in 1961 and his third book of poetry, Flowers For Hitler in 1964. In the midst of his poetry releases, Cohen wrote two novels, The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).
In 1967 Cohen moved back to the United States to pursue a career in song-writing. Initially associated with the larger Andy Warhol entourage at The Factory (Warhol’s studio space), Cohen began shopping and recording his songs. Judy Collins was first to record a Cohen piece, Suzanne. Cohen’s first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen released in 1967. By 1969’s Songs From A Room, Cohen’s prestige as a song-writer rose, with artist such as James Taylor recording his material.
Throughout the 1970’s Cohen continued to record, perform, and write — expanding his notoriety as an original songwriter and poet, often blending Jewish mysticism with the topics of love and lust. By 1977, the esteemed, but eccentric producer, Phil Spector, produced Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man, expanding Cohen’s folk-based sound to include a larger musical palate. 1978 saw the release of a new book of poetry, The Death of a Lady’s Man (not a parallel work to the album).
Yet it was 1984’s Various Positions, that solidified Cohen’s permanence as an elite songwriter. On that album, Hallelujah, was first released, becoming a standard cover tune for countless of artists. One this song, Cohen’s blend of Jewish history and love converged using the of story David and Bathsheba intertwined with his own love interests. Cohen writes,
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Concerning his religious beliefs, Cohen was born in a Jewish household, but studied Buddhism throughout his adult years, stating in a New York Times interview, “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.” And in a recent interview with My Jewish Learning, Cohen clearly stated, “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.”
Like his friend Bob Dylan (who considered Cohen a better songwriter than himself), Cohen was interested in Jesus Christ. In the book, In His Own Words, Cohen states, “I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says, ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.”
As the recipient of countless of awards and honors, an appropriate account of Cohen’s work is best summarized at his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008: “For six decades, Leonard Cohen revealed his soul to the world through poetry and song — his deep and timeless humanity touching our very core. Simply brilliant. His music and words will resonate forever.”
Cohen is survived by his two children and two grandchildren.
You can hear Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah in London by going to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q. It’s pretty amazing.
Photo captions: 1) Leonard Cohen singing. 2) Another picture of Leonard Cohen. (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty). 3) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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