Leonard Cohen: The singer started out as a not very successful writer

“Born in Montreal on September 21, 1934. He studied at the University of McGill and Columbia. He lived in London as a lord. In Cuba, as the only tourist in Havana and perhaps in the world, I destroyed my beard on the beaches of Varadero and burned it in nostalgia and anger for Fidel, whom I knew. style – influenced by desolate mountains and a friend, a foreigner who loved simple English. “The last businessmen who take their blood seriously. At the same time, I accept money from governments, from women, from the sale of poems, and, if forced, from employers. I have no hobbies.”

Cohen’s text, which appeared in a newspaper on the occasion of the publication of his first novel The Favourite Game (1963)

Aaron’s successor

Leonard’s grandfather Lyon Cohen was a founding member and president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “You are the successor of Aaron, the high priest,” he once told his grandson.

Cohen started going to school in 1948, then went to high school (Westmount High School), where he joined the circle of music and poetry. At that time, he especially loved poems Federica Garcia Lorca. He also began to break his fingers on six strings – from three chords he soon worked his way up to classical music and flamenco.

The rest of the time he hung out just after Saint Laurent Boulevardu and held portions of his beloved steaks. In cafes (just coffee and cigars) he looked around for gangsters, beatniks and whores. When he left Westmount, he wandered around Montreal, where he read his poetry in various clubs, ie lyrics that were to become his greatest song hits after years.

Poet and writer

In the 51st, Cohen joined McGill University, where he celebrated his first literary success at the outset. He graduated as a bachelor. His literary role models were at the time William Butler Yeats, Irving Layton (Cohen’s school mentor), Walt Whitman, still Federico Garcia Lorca a Henry Miller. His first printed collection of poems was called Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) and Cohen dedicated it to his father. After another college, Columbia University, he returned from New York to Montreal in 1957, where he published another book of poems.

In the 1960s, he bought a house on the island of Hydra in Greece under very special circumstances. It was here that he wrote his next collection of poems, Flowers for Hitler (1964), the first (and still best known) biographical novel The Favourite Game (1963) and three years later another gem, a somewhat boldly sexually oriented novel Beautiful Losers (1966). Both circulated in the 1970s in intermediate translations in Czechoslovakia, while they were barely sold worldwide to cover costs. The books that followed a break of more than twenty years (Death of a Lady’s Man, The Book of Mercy, influenced by the Zen religion that Cohen professed at the time) were remarkable, but not to reviewers. Perhaps that is why Leonard received the award in 2011 Prince of Asturias Award for literature.

It seems much more important that Leonard Cohen “fell in love” with Norway on the Greek island in 1960. Marianne C. Stang Jensen Ihlenovou (and dated her most of the sixties), for which he composed his first serious song, So Long, Marianne. It was his first song hit, true, performed by singer Judy Collins.


In 1967, Leonard moved to New York. He was somewhat disgusted by his not-so-successful writing career. He began to sway around the people of Warhol’s famous Factory. Above all, he was enchanted by a German with an incredibly deep voice, Christa Päffgen, like Nico. Then he wrote another hit for Judy Collins, today’s famous song Suzanne. He also performed several concerts at folk festivals, where he was noticed by an enlightened producer of the publishing house Columbia Records. He immediately offered him a recording contract.

The first album Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) under the production supervision of John Simon, decently decorated with strings and winds, amazed not only the listeners, but above all the critics. Not that it scored significantly in the charts, but it contained a few crucial songs: Cohen realized that he could accompany his earlier poems with simple guitar chords. A deep-seated, half-narrative voice thrilled the audience not only in the aforementioned Suzanne, but also in other immortal songs (for example, Sisters of Mercy, So Long, Marianne, Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye plays at concerts to this day). The songs recorded on a four-track tape recorder sounded very authentic: they performed their versions James Taylor and again Judy Collins.

It should be mentioned here that of the songwriters who could be equal to him (Paul Simon and Bob Dylan), he was not only the oldest, but also completely different from them. After a few months, his debut in America and England became a cult record.

Two more albums – Songs from a Room with a huge hit Bird on the Wire (e.g. Joe Cocker) a Songs of Love and Hate – It was filmed in Nashville. The producer this time was Bob Johnston. Before we take a closer look at them, it is important to mention Cohen’s concert at the famous British Isle of Wight Festival (1970), whose live recording released in 2009 proves the uniqueness of Cohen’s talent. But back to the albums: the song The Partisan, or its last verse, was sung by Cohen in Greek, Story of Isaac has its meaning and significance thanks to the author’s alignment with Judaism. And let’s mention The Butcher or Tonight Will Be Fine.

I consider the album Cohen’s best album ever Songs of Love and Hate, which was published two years later (1971). Perhaps it was because it was my first meeting with Leonard: Jiří Černý was playing the song Famous Blue Raincoat on his Anti-Discos at that time. The famous blue raincoat, perhaps Cohen’s greatest privatissimo: “And Jane came with a strand of your hair / She said you gave it to her that night / What you wanted to disappear / When she returned, she was no longer a woman / And if you ever came back, my brother, my killer / Know that your enemy is asleep and his wife is free / Your Leonard Cohen. ”And then other memorable songs: Avalanche, Last Year’s Man or Joan of Arc.

Another album with pianist and arranger John Lissauer was not bad, only less significant. Without two hits – Chelsea Hotel No.2 a Who by Fire – as if it didn’t bring anything remarkable anymore and Cohen (with a few exceptions) looked like a tired man – after all, after a very exhausting tour, it was no wonder. But then he got the urge to try something new: change the style, arrangement, expression. He teamed up with renowned producer Phil Spector, the creator of a sound called Wall of Sounds, and in 1977 co-recorded Cohen’s probably weirdest album Death of a Ladies’ Man. Let’s note that the giant instrumentation somewhat obscured Cohen’s voice, that the song Memories more than inspired Petr Hapka to Lavender for Hana Hegerová, and we must not forget the “crazy” song Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On (translated after ten o’clock). ), where Cohen fooled around with Bob Dylan and Allenem Ginsbergem!

This was followed by a period when Cohen was dry – as if he didn’t know where to go next. The board follows Recent Songs. Only the album Various Positions (1984) brought at least a partial recovery. People could enjoy the great song Dance Me to the End of Love at Cohen’s concerts for many years and then… Hallelujah, a song that went through almost three hundred cover versions (Nick Cave, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, it is said that someone sang it in shame in our country as well – I didn’t hear it and I don’t want to hear it).

Second breath

Then Leonard inhaled only slowly. He mainly performed, but even appeared in an episode of the French Twist television series Miami Vice (1986). Two years later he released another record I’m Your Man, which (especially thanks to the title track or Everybody Knows) caused a dramatic change in his career. Suddenly, “art suddenly stops listening to him.” The fifty-three-year-old singer covered his songs with rough and gentle synthesizer riffs, and black humor often appeared in his songs with a social subtext.

Encouraged by the success, Cohen embarked on a “neverending tour” that practically continues to this day. Perhaps the fatigue of constant concerts caused the next three albums – The Future (1992), Ten New Songs (2001) a Dear Heather (2004) – was only intermediate to Cohen’s standard. He filled long delays with concert albums and various Best Of, as well as relatively complicated personal escapades, which is, of course, a different chapter.

Leonard Cohen – HallelujahVIDEO Youtube.com

Face to face

We had the honor together for the first time in 2008 at the Glastonbury festival. Then I wrote: “A seventy-four-year-old Montreal native comes to the stage of a pyramid-shaped stage in front of about a hundred thousand listeners, but a world citizen with a twelve-member (if I counted well) orchestra, which includes a harp, oboe, all possible wind instruments, double bass, hammonds, three charming and excellent back vocalists.

Leonard Cohen, dressed in a moderately gray suit with a hunting hat of the same color on his head, looks far from his age. With a slight, unreadable smile beyond his control, he smirked politely and said in a low voice: Good evening, friends. The sonic storm of the audience does not upset him, perhaps only at the end of the biggest and longest applause I have ever experienced in Glastonbury, as if shaking his head in disbelief and perhaps moved with disbelief.

How is this possible? Well, Cohen’s voice (over the years, mostly played, mostly songs from the first three albums, ie from the turn of the sixties and seventies) did not move an inch, which was admirable especially in the singing and tense choruses. Nothing sounded ordinary, the harmony with the orchestra was unique, and Cohen’s inner concentration was so special that I sometimes suspected he was singing to himself. But perhaps, without wanting, he sang for all, sang for me.

Old ideas and popular problems

And how was it going? In 2012, Cohen released Old Ideas. Apparently, thanks to his blessed age, he strongly showed a distance from his subjects in his songs, a sense of self-irony and in the lower bases of his lyrics there was pure humor, albeit with a touch of cynicism. A year later, Cohen performed the album live in Prague (it was his third stop in the Czech Republic) and the audience was thrilled.

Leonard Cohen died on November 7, 2016.

Leonard Cohen – SuzanneVIDEO Youtube.com

Source: Reflex.cz by www.reflex.cz.

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