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Artist: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Bio

Leonard Cohen, (Leonard Norman Cohen, CC GOQ, 21 September 1934 – 7 November 2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships. Cohen was inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize. Cohen's first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), featuring "Suzanne" and "So Long Marianne", followed by Songs from a Room (1969), featuring "Bird on the Wire", and Songs of Love and Hate (1971), featuring "Avalanche" and "Famous Blue Raincoat". His 1977 record Death of a Ladies' Man was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, which was a move away from Cohen's previous minimalist sound. In 1979 Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. "Hallelujah" was first released on Cohen's studio album Various Positions in 1984. I'm Your Man in 1988 marked Cohen's turn to synthesized productions and remains his most popular album. In 1992 Cohen released its follow-up, The Future, which had dark lyrics and references to political and social unrest. Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, which was a major hit in Canada and Europe. His eleventh album, Dear Heather, followed in 2004. After a successful string of tours between 2008 and 2010, Cohen released three albums in the final four years of his life: Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014) and You Want It Darker (2016), the last of which was released three weeks before his death. The critic Bruce Eder assessed Cohen's overall career in popular music by asserting that "he is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic … singer/songwriters of the late '60s … and has retained an audience across four decades of music-making.... Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), in terms of influence, he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is still working at the outset of the
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Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems - Exclaim! (Reviews)

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Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems

These days, it's become increasingly rare to see a "legendary" musical artist truly improve with age. With a few notable exceptions (Nick Cave chief amongst them), the heroes of yesteryear are either trotted out on comeback tours solely to revisit their hits, or they choose to write new material that is more often than not greeted with a lukewarm reception, plagued by the spectre of their aging back catalogue. Leonard Cohen exists in a different category; whether you see him as an elder statesman, a shaman, an artist poet, a sexy grandpa or a charity case, his latter-day albums are...Read More

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Articles

Leonard Cohen: The Future Rock CD, Dec 1992

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THE CRITICAL REHABILITATION of the man they used to call Captain Mandrax is one of rock's more unexpected twists in recent years.

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Through the seventies and the eighties, our Len was hugely popular among recently jilted lovers and manic depressives in student halls of residence, while anyone else with a weakness for his lugubrious charms kept mum about it. Then came 1988's I'm Your Man, where synthesised drum patterns elbowed out his traditional acoustic arrangements and, suddenly, Cohen was all the flaming rage. A recent tribute album, I'm Your Fan, featuring the likes of Nick Cave, Jimmy Jewel, Pixies and John Cale, served to pour a jug of paraffin on a reputation that was already burning like billio.

This excellent new album continues the stylistic experiments inaugurated with I'm Your Man, with only a few nods to the jaundice folkiness that made him so popular with hypochondriacs and raving paranoiacs in the first place. Likewise, his lyrical concerns have broadened beyond familiar themes of seduction and betrayal, with numerous forays into the political amphitheatre and committed stabs into the belly of the cynical, hard-boiled nineties.

'Waiting For A Miracle', 'Anthem' and 'Light As The Breeze' wouldn't sound out of place on albums like Songs From A Room and Various Positions were it not for the slightly eerie syncopated backbeats and state-of-the-art (i.e. posh) production. The gospel-flavoured 'Be For Real' succeeds in spite of Cohen sounding like a cross between The Honey Monster and Fozzy Bear. The searing mutant blues of 'Closing Time' owes more to Tom Waits than just the title. At its best though, particularly the gorgeous lilting melodies of the title track and the blistering bar-room blues of 'Always', this album cements Cohen's reputation as wry nineties ironist and all-round spokesman for the human condition. Little short of a bloody marvel.

Leonard Cohen: Cohen's New Skin Melody Maker, Mar 1975

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LOS ANGELES: "For a while, I didn't think there was going to be another album. I pretty well felt that I was washed up as a songwriter because it wasn't coming anymore.

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"Actually, I should have known better, it takes me a long time to compose a song," reflected songwriter/poet/performer Leonard Cohen in between sets of a sell-out engagment at Los Angeles' Troubadour club.

Over the last few years, Cohen has been engmatic in public, attempting to shy away from interviews and only leaving his music and poetry to speak for himself. However, in the warm environment of Southern California, he had a change of heart and decided to talk to the press and reveal the true side of his personality.

"I used to be petrified with the idea of going on the road and presenting my work. I often felt that the risks of humiliation were too wide. But with the help of my last producer, Bob Johnston, I gained the self-confidence I felt was necessary. My music now is much more highly refined.

"When you are again in touch with yourself and you feel a certain sense of health, you feel somehow that the prison bars are lifted, and you start hearing new possibilities in your work. The previous album Live Songs represented a very confused and directionless time. The thing I like about it is that it documents this phase very clearly. I'm very interested in documentation and often feel that I want to produce a whole body of work that will cover a wide range of topics and themes.

"Not necessarily personal reflections, but a sort of look at the last two decades. My first book was published at 20, and that was 20 years ago."

Since Cohen is a perfectionist, many have felt that he compromised his artistry by moving into music to reach a broader base of people than his books. Leonard looks at it differently.

"I don't have any reservations about anything I do. I always played music. When I was 17, I was in a country music group called the Buckskin Boys. Writing came later, after music. I put my guitar away for a few years, but I always made up songs. I never wanted my work to get too far away from music. Ezra Pound said something very interesting, 'When poetry strays too far from music, it atrophies. When music strays too far from the dance it atrophies'."

In America, Cohen still remains a cultist figure, with fans lining up for hours and hours in advance of ticket sales. But still his audience is a mere fraction compared with the kind of widespread appeal that he's enjoying throughout Europe and Great Britain. "I have occasionally thought about the differences in my audiences. I think that maybe my music fits into the European tradition.

"America has its own version of the blues. What I do is the European blues. That is, the soul music of that sensibility – White Soul. Even though Europe has its own version of bubblegum."

In his latest work Cohen has seemed to take on a less personal tone, even though some of the works were started years ago; some are even five years old. "I work very slowly and abandoned hope for many of them. However, last summer I went to Ethiopia looking for a suntan. It rained, including in the Sinai desert, but through this whole period I had my little guitar with me, and it was then I felt the songs emerging – at least, the conclusions that I had been carrying in manuscript form for the last four or five years, from hotel room to hotel room.

"I must say I'm pleased with the album. It's good. I'm not ashamed of it and am ready to stand by it. Rather than think of it as a masterpiece, I prefer to look at it as a little gem.

"The original cover was a 16th century picture from an alchemical text depicting two angels in an embrace. Columbia felt unclothed angels were too much for the American public. A quarter of a million copies have been sold in Europe with this cover and there was not a single reference made to it. Since I designed it, I finally won the battle with Columbia, and they are reinstating the old album cover with a modesty jacket.

"With the exception of these minor problems, I've been very happy with the album and my present tour. I am surprised though to see so many young faces in the audience. Maybe it's a sign of a growing awareness, and I'm pleased, to say the least, that these individuals are taking an interest in my work."

Between sets, Leonard was happily interrupted with the appearance of old friends such as Phil Spector and Bob Dylan, who wanted to wish Cohen well during the hectic booking. What does Cohen think of his old heroes and the contemporary music scene today?

"In the early days I was trained as a poet by reading English poets like Lorca and Brecht, and by the invigorating exchange between other writers in Montreal at the time. Now I admire Dylan's work tremendously, especially the later work. I also like Van Morrison very much, including his superb Veedon Fleece effort. I'm always interested in what Joni Mitchell is doing."

Much of Cohen's work deals with such themes as betrayal, dealing with emotional hardships, or the re-establishment of a sense of identity that is fading in this impersonated world. He often seems to like to deal with biblical references whenever possible to add a majestic quality to his tunes.

"My tunes often deal with a moral crisis. I often feel myself a part of such a crisis and try to relate it in song. There's a line in a poem I wrote that sums this up perfectly: 'My betrayals are so fresh they still come with explanations.' As far as the use of Biblical characters in such tunes as 'Story Of Issac', and 'Joan Of Arc', it was not a matter of choice. These are the books that were placed in my hand when I was developing my literary tastes."

Another interesting use of Cohen's music appeared in Robert Altman's film McCabe And Mrs Miller. "There's an interesting story regarding that piece of work. Director Robert Altman actually built the film around my music. The music was already written, and when he heard it he wanted to ask me to let him use it. I was in Nashville at the time and had just gone to the movies to see a film called. Brewster McCloud.

"I thought it was a fine movie. That night I was in the studio and received a call from Hollywood. It was from Bob Altman saying he would like to use my music in a film. Quite honestly, I said, 'I don't know your work, could you tell me some of the films you've done?' He said Mash, and I said that's fine, I understand that's quite popular, but I'm really not familiar with it. Then he said there was a film I've probably never seen called Brewster McCloud. I told him I just came out of the movie and thought it was an extraordinary film, use any music of mine."

Top Albums

Songs of Leonard Cohen cover art

Songs of Leonard Cohen

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I'm Your Man cover art

I'm Your Man

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Songs of Love and Hate cover art

Songs of Love and Hate

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Songs from a Room cover art

Songs from a Room

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The Best of Leonard Cohen cover art

The Best of Leonard Cohen

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Top Songs

Suzanne cover art

Suzanne

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Hallelujah cover art

Hallelujah

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Famous Blue Raincoat cover art

Famous Blue Raincoat

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So Long, Marianne cover art

So Long, Marianne

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Sisters of Mercy cover art

Sisters of Mercy

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I'm Your Man cover art

I'm Your Man

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