LEONARD COHEN - BIOGRAPHY

ImageLeonard Norman Cohen was born in Montreal in 1934. He went on to attend McGill University, where at 17, he formed a country-western trio called the Buckskin Boys. He also began writing poetry and became part of the local boho- literary scene, a scene so "underground" that it was bereft of "subversive intentions because even that would be beneath it". His first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956, while he was still an undergraduate.The Spice Box of Earth (1961), his second collection, catapulted Leonard Cohen to internaonal recognition.

After a brief stint at Columbia University in New York, Leonard Cohen obtained a grant and was able to escape the confines of North America. He travelled throughout Europe and eventually settled on the Greek island of Hydra, where he shared his life with Marianne Jenson, and her son Axel. 

Cohen stayed in Greece on and off for seven years. He wrote another collection of poetry, the controversial Flowers For Hitler (1964); and two highly acclaimed novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).Cohen returned to America, intent on settling and pursuing a musical career; he was championed by Judy Collins, who recorded both Suzanne,Dress Rehearsal Rag on her 1966 album, In My Life. In 1967, Cohen appeared at the Newport Folk Festival where he came to attention of legendary Columbia A&R man John Hammond . By Christmas, Columbia had released his first album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen.

It was a remarkable debut, as songs like Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye, So Long, Marianne and Sisters of Mercy propelled Cohen to the top of the pop-confessional pantheon.The songs had such power that Robert Altman's 1971 film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller became, in effect, the first long-form video for Cohen's soundtrack.

Songs From a Room (1969), his second album, and Songs of Love and Hate (1971 ) further reinforced Cohen's standing as the master of mortification and the sentry of solitude. With Bird On a Wire, The Story of Isaac, Joan of Arc and Famous Blue Raincoat he continued to stretch the borders of the pop song landscape.

1972 marked the release of Live Songs, Cohen's first live album, which teatured an amazing 14-minute improvisation, Please Don't Pass Me By, along with live versions of songs from his second album. New Skin For the Old Ceremony (1973), was a bit of a stylistic departure. Featuring a more orchestrated sound, Cohen continued his investigations into the hottest crucible of the human spirit-the muffled battles in the boudoirs.

In the 1975 was releas Best of Leonard Cohen with only a greatest hits; and 1977, Death of a Ladies' Man,his most curious album.Recent Songs (1979), the next album, was another stylistic departure from its predecessor. The songs continued Cohen's dissections of the vicissitudes of the male-female union, but also began to reflect his longstanding explorations into the religious arena.

Various Positions (1984) was the full flowering of these religious concerns. Songs like Hallelujah, The Law, Heart With No Companion and If It Be Your Will are contemporary psalms, born of an undoubtedly long and difficult spiritual odyssey, so difficult that its conclusion left Cohen literally "wiped out."

"I had a lot of versions of myself that I had used religion to support," Cohen told L.A. Style in 1988. "If you deal with this material you can't put God on. I thought I could spread light and I could enlighten my world and those around me and I could take the Bodhisattva path which is the path of service, of help to others. I thought I could, but I was unable to. This is a landscape in which men far stronger than you, far braver, nobler, kinder, more generous, men of extremely high achievements have burnt to a crisp on this road. Once you start dealing with sacred material you're gonna get creamed."

I'm Your Man (1988) was the culmination of Cohen's professional and personal reintegration, an amazingly crafted work that speaks eloquently to the experience of one of our musical elders. Bouyed by now-classic songs like First We Take Manhatten, Tower of Song and Ain't No Cure For Love, it was no surprise that the album went to No.1 in several European countries.

While Cohen's painstaking meticulousness has led to many long passages of time between albums, artists as diverse as Neil Diamond, Nick Cave, Diana Ross, Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge, and Joe Cocker have kept Cohen's music on the airwaves with their own interpretations of his songs. Long-time musical colleague Jennifer Warnes released the critically acclaimed Famous Blue Raincoat in 1986, an entire album of Cohen's work.

In 1992, a number of contemporary recording artists collaborated on an evocative tribute to Leonard Cohen. I'm Your Fan was the brainchild of Christian Fevret, the editor of Les Inrockuptibles, the most popular rock magazine in France. Originally intended for release on the magazine's small offshoot label Oscar, the project mushroomed into an 18-song cover collection releasecl by Atlantic, featuring such prominent musicians as REM, John Cale, Nick Cave (Tower of Song and Avalanche), lan McCulloch, The Pixies, House of Love and Lloyd Cole.

For a man who only "aspired to be a minor poet" early in his career, Leonard Cohen has produced a body of work that has withstood the passage of time. With the release of The Future, his eleventh album, he continues to bring to us, through the musical idiom, a documentation of maturity and survival. He has become an elder.

Cohen told L.A. Style. "That's what I became. I became a writer and as my friend Layton always said, a writer is deeply conflicted and it's in his work that he reconciles those deep conflicts".
 

Special thanks to The Leonard Cohen Files