Leonard's Legacy: A Look at the Life and Times of Leonard Cohen

Updated on October 13, 2017
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The biographies of the literary greats tells us many things about these authors and the times in which they wrote.

A Lyrical Master Passes Away

Leonard performing with trademark fedora hat
Leonard performing with trademark fedora hat

Death of Leonard Cohen

On November 7, 2016 Leonard Cohen died in his sleep at his Los Angeles home after experiencing a fall shortly before he died. The Canadian recording artist and poet is survived by two children and three grandchildren. Cohen was buried in Montreal, Canada in a family burial plot. Despite declining health, the 82 year old performer had just released a new album, titled You Want It Darker in which he seems to accept his oncoming death.

News of Leonard's Death

News crews gather in front of Leonard's Cohen's home in Montreal, following the announcement that the popular poet-singer had just passed away.
News crews gather in front of Leonard's Cohen's home in Montreal, following the announcement that the popular poet-singer had just passed away.

Not a Fast Starter

Leonard Cohen was born, raised and educated in Montreal, Canada, where his father owned and ran a clothing store. Though his father died when Leonard was nine, the successful merchant left an inheritance, which in some ways helped the struggling writer through his early years.

Leonard pursued his education through four years of college at McGill University, where he received a B.A. degree in 1955. After Cohen graduated from the prestigious Canadian university, he had several collections of poetry published. Following the minor literary success, as a poet, Leonard wrote two novels. They were titled The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. The books weren't widely read, but the second book, Beautiful Losers, did get a few favorable reviews.

Finally, at age 33, Leonard seemed to have found his muse, when he released his first album, simply titled Songs of Leonard Cohen. Featured on this recording were two of his biggest hits, Suzanne and So long, Marianne. Leonard continued to release more albums and also performed many times in public, but he did not begin to sell out concert halls until he was in his seventies. Furthermore, five of his fourteen studio albums weren't released until the twent-first century after Leonard had turned sixty-five.

Since his death, one of his landmark songs, Hallelujah, has experienced a musical rebirth and is now back on the Billboard charts.

A Picturesque Aegean Island

Donkeys at the Hydra seafront, photo from wikipedia
Donkeys at the Hydra seafront, photo from wikipedia

Living In Greece

Just after he turned twenty-six in 1960, Leonard Cohen bought a rundown house on the Greek isle of Hydra, located on the western edge of the Aegean Sea. For a tidy sum of $1500, Leonard acquired a three-story, white-washed residence with no running water, plumbing or electricity. The island was a remote place where automobiles were not allowed and donkeys were.

During the next decade, the fledgling writer used his a home as a place where he could write and ponder the turbulent world away from the island. While a resident of the island, Leonard published both his novels and released his first two studio albums. Life on the island was also an inspiration for two of his most popular songs, Bird on a Wire and So Long, Marianne.

On the Greek Isle of Hydra

Hallelujah

Without a doubt, Hallelujah is one of Leonard Cohen's most iconic songs. First released in 1984, on Various Positions, Hallelujah has gone on to become one of Cohen's most covered songs. Artists, who have released their recordings of this song include, Bon Jovi, J.J. Cale, Jeff Buckley, Willie Nelson and K.D. Lang. Interesting to note, one of the first persons other than Leonard Cohen, to publicly perform, Hallelujah was Bob Dylan.

Surprisingly, Leonard wrote 80 drafts of the song before settling on the version that was released on Various Positions. Interpretation of the song varies slightly, but according to K.D. Lang, the tale delves into "the struggle between having human desire and searching for spiritual wisdom."

The Band

Leonard Cohen rarely played as a one-man act
Leonard Cohen rarely played as a one-man act

Always Well-Dressed on Stage

In the above picture, Leonard performs on stage wearing a suit and tie along with his trademark fedora hat. Not only does this attire set the singer apart from most of his contemporary songwriters/performers, but also it highlights his early youth, when his father was still living and ran a popular Montreal haberdashery.

Montreal Deli Restaurant

Schwartz's Deli Restaurant is a popular Montreal restaurant, located close to this home of Leonard Cohen.
Schwartz's Deli Restaurant is a popular Montreal restaurant, located close to this home of Leonard Cohen.

One Last Hurrah

Leonard's not quite done, just yet, even though he passed away last November. He still has one more book of poetry, which should be released to the general public in October of next year. The poetry book will be called The Flame and it contains much new material that Leonard was working on before his death. Not also will the book contain many poems, but there will also be included some prose, illustrations, notebook entries and some lyrics to a few songs.

So Long

Leonard Cohen pictured towards the end of his life
Leonard Cohen pictured towards the end of his life

My Take

I have visited Montreal many times often staying at Hosteling International, one of many hostels in the bustling Canadian city. During my last two stays, my trip included a trip to the very popular Deli Restaurant, simply called Schwartz's. On each occasion I went to the restaurant with a large group and both times we walked pass Cohen's row house on our way to the restaurant,

Upon his death, several things that I learned about Leonard Cohen surprised me. The first was the location of his death. I was very surprised to hear that he dwelt in Los Angeles. That's the last place I would expect a world traveler, like Cohen, to live. Also, I felt it was fascinating that Leonard grew up on the English-speaking west side of Montreal and not the International neighborhood, where his row house now stands.

All in all, Leonard Cohen was a remarkable artistic voice, whose words will be remembered for a long time.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Harry Nielsen

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