Leonard Cohen Was An Everyman Genius



leonardcohen2There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen spent one day under the new world order that was established this week, took a look around and decided this was a good time to check out of this beautiful, shopworn earthly motel. I’d like to think so, anyway. It helps ease the pain of his loss today.

Leonard was a man of the world. He spent many years in London, Los Angeles, and the Greek island of Hydra, and constantly traveled and toured and was loved around the globe. But he was born in Canada, kept a home in Montreal his entire life, and maintained a Canadian sensibility and passport his entire life. He was the Canadian Bob Dylan – not as big, not as bold, not as brash, a little more self-effacing.

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Dylan helped create a mythology around himself by putting on the mask of the outlaw or the jester. Leonard Cohen was more of a mensch, an everyman poet genius whose characters grappled with questions of love and spirituality like we all do. Writer Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) wrote that the prototypical Cohen character was “a wounded man yearning for the glorious death that is sainthood”. Nobody ever accused Cohen’s songs of being flip and frivolous, that’s for sure.

What an amazing career arc this man had. He started off as a poet, publishing two well-received volumes of poetry in the early Sixties before deciding he could make more money as a songwriter. He released his first album Songs Of Leonard Cohen in 1967 at age of 33. The album featured the classic songs “Suzanne”, “Sisters Of Mercy” and “So Long, Marianne”, and his music career was off and running.

He had some setbacks in the 1970s, including a disastrous 1976 album recorded with Phil Spector – how could anyone have thought that was going to be a good idea? – but then he bounced back in the 1980s. First with the hit album Famous Blue Raincoat by Jennifer Warnes covering his songs, then his own albums Various Positions (“Hallelujah”) and perhaps my favorite Cohen album, 1988’s I’m Your Man.

In 1994 Leonard checked into a Buddhist monastery on Mt. Baldy in California and lived a completely monastic life for five years. Show me another celebrity with the discipline and the resolve to live as an ascetic for so long. Incredible. In the last 15 years of his life Cohen experienced a creative revival issuing seven new studio albums including this months’ You Want It Darker.

Cohen’s late-life creativity was inspired party out of need. When he returned to civilization after his monastic period, he discovered an old business manager had stole millions from him, and he was broke. And yet from that setback came triumph through a massively successful world tour in 2014. This guy was a true warrior.

And so we are left with the recordings that have inspired millions and will continue to do so for a long time. By the latter stage of his career his deep baritone had evolved into a sonorous croak that ended up giving an unearthly power to his lyrics. When the Canadian music industry gave him the male vocalist of the year awards a few years back, he joked that Canada was the only country in the world that would give a voice like his such an award, and he was right. Leonard Cohen was not only a genius, he was a true gentleman in every sense of the word, and that alone is something worth celebrating in this day and age. May the wind be at his back forever.

All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them
 

 

Photo credit: By Takahiro Kyono [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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