Artist News Obituaries

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016

By | Published on Friday 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen died at his LA home on Monday, 7 Nov, it has been confirmed.

Born in Quebec, Canada in 1934, Cohen was already a celebrated author and poet before he moved to New York aged 31, in 1966, to pursue a career in music, deeming this to be a more financially sustainable creative endeavour long term. Known for his dark lyrics, frequently laced with religious imagery and often quite funny too, it proved to be a wise decision, and he went on to become an extremely acclaimed and influential artist.

After his move to New York, Cohen quickly came to the attention of Columbia Records’ John H Hammond, who deemed him a rival to Bob Dylan (something also noted by many others at the time), leading to the release of his debut album, ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’, in 1967. Columbia’s enthusiasm wasn’t always so strong though. The label refused to release his 1984 album ‘Various Positions’, with the company’s then boss Walter Yetnikoff reportedly telling him: “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good”.

Yet that album, which was released by independent label Passport Records, contained what has become Cohen’s most famous song, ‘Hallelujah’. Although probably best remembered for Jeff Buckley’s 1994 reworking of the song (itself more a cover of John Cale’s 1991 version), it was a song that Cohen agonised over. When asked by Bob Dylan how long it took him to write, he lied and told him two years. It had been more like five, and he continued to work on it long after its original recording.

In 2009, a year after it had been used as Alexandra Burke’s ‘X-Factor’ winner’s single, Cohen said that he felt the song had become over-played, telling the Guardian: “I was reading a review of a movie called ‘Watchmen’ that uses it, and the reviewer said, ‘Can we please have a moratorium on ‘Hallelujah’ in movies and television shows?’ and I kind of feel the same way. I think it’s a good song, but too many people sing it”.

In recent years, Cohen returned to touring prolifically, performing almost 400 shows between 2008 and 2013. This decision was mainly taken in order to boost his finances, after it was discovered that his former manager Kelly Lynch had stolen more than $5 million from him. No criminal charges were ever brought against her in relation to the lost monies, but she was later jailed on harassment charges against the musician.

He continued to write and record at an increasing rate also, with new albums ‘Old Ideas’ released in 2012, ‘Popular Problems’ put out the day after his 80th birthday in 2014, and his fourteenth and final album, ‘You Want It Darker’, put on sale just last month.

Speaking about the new album to The New Yorker, Cohen said: “I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not … You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do'”.

Cohen is survived by his son Adam and daughter Lorca.