Remembering Leonard Cohen

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A look back at the prolific life and career of musician Leonard Cohen

By Breanna Cooper

Few musicians reach the level of icon. Even fewer establish a career that spans decades, bringing with it songs that have been covered by hundreds of other artists.

Leonard Cohen, however, was one of those musicians. The Quebec native passed away on Nov. 7, and his death was announced on Nov. 10, shocking fans around the world.

Cohen is one of the many musical greats to leave us in 2016. Eerily similar the the death of David Bowie, Cohen released his last studio album “You Want it Darker,” just three weeks before his death. The album was met with praise from fans and critics alike, who had grown accustom to the haunting imagery and the lyrical sadness from the “godfather of gloom.”

Leonard Cohen was born on Sep. 21, 1934 in Westmount, Quebec. After learning the guitar and being exposed to poetry as a teenager, Cohen formed a folk band known as Buckskin Boys. After graduating from McGill University, Cohen moved to the Greek island of Hydra, where he published two books of poetry.  Throughout his career, Cohen combined his passion for poetry and his passion for music to write songs about the universal truths: sexuality, religion, and politics.

His musical conversations discussing these universal truths allowed Cohen to make music that stands the test of time. Cohen’s music, much of which was written decades ago, rings true to the uncertainties of today. In his 1992 song “Democracy,” Cohen speaks of his view of and his hopes for America.

“From the wars against disorder/from the sirens night and day/from the fires of the homeless/from the ashes of the gay/Democracy is coming to the USA.”

While much of Cohen’s work was shrouded with a sense of pessimism, there were also words of hope and peace. In his song “The Future,” Cohen makes an argument for pacifism, saying “Love’s the only engine of survival.”

Perhaps his most well-known song, “Hallelujah,” has not only stood the test of time, but has become a work independent of its creator. The track has been recorded by numerous artists since it’s release in 1984. To this date, over 300 cover versions of this song exist, with over 50 million copies of the song being sold in CD format.

Along with the 14 studio albums that Cohen released, he also lent his songwriting talents to several other musicians, including Diana RossJudy Collins, and R.E.M.

Despite his countless contributions to the world of music, Cohen found in 1995 that a departure from the music scene was the best way to handle the depression that was plaguing him at that time. He entered the Mt. Baldy Zen Center outside of Los Angeles, where he became a Buddhist monk.

In 2001, Cohen returned to the music world with his album Ten New Songs, a collaboration with Sharon Robinson. Three years later, he released his 11th studio album Dear Heather.

In 2008, the 74-year old musician embarked on a massive world tour to remake the over $5 million that was embezzled by him by manager Kelley Lynch. From 2008 to 2013, Cohen performed 387 shows to his fans around the globe.

On Oct. 21, You Want it Darker was released, an album that was produced by Cohen’s son, Adam. Due to difficulties leaving the house, the album was recorded on a laptop inside of Cohen’s home. Upon the release of the album, it was announced that Cohen was in failing health and that he was “ready to die.” Clarifying his statement to a group of fans, Cohen, who admitted to having a flair for the dramatic, reassured fans: “I intend to live forever.”

And he will.

With his extensive catalog and thought-provoking lyrics, Leonard Cohen left his mark on the music community and the world. Cohen left the musical world on a high note with his last album, a beautiful and haunting depiction of life and death.

What a way to say goodbye.

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