by Joseph Sarrington Smith
As 2016 once again rears its severely deformed head, the world loses yet another brilliant songwriter. Leonard Cohen has died at the age of 82 and like Bob Dylan & Joni Mitchell, Cohen was one of the great poets of his generation. He wrote songs that explored themes which I’m sure most of us can relate to: religion, politics, isolation, sexuality and personal relationships. His voice was deep and melancholic, yet gentle. Listen to any Cohen song, and it’s like he’s speaking to you individually. It just feels so personal. Easy to see why so many people felt like they had a connection with him.
Originally from Canada, Cohen moved to the United States in 1967 to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, as he’d become disappointed with his lack of financial success as a writer; surprising given his way with words. By this point he was 33, so he had a late start in the music industry. Personally, I think his first three albums are his best: Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1967) featuring “So Long, Marianne”, Songs From A Room (1969) featuring “Bird On The Wire”, and Songs Of Love And Hate (1971). But it’s “Suzanne”, featured on his first album which is my favourite. First recorded by Judy Collins in 1966, the song was inspired by Cohen’s platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal, the then-girlfriend of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, and remains one of the most touching songs I’ve heard.
But perhaps his most famous song is “Hallelujah”. Apparently, Cohen wrote around 80 draft verses for “Hallelujah”, with one writing session at the Royalton Hotel in New York where he was reduced to sitting on the floor in his underwear, banging his head on the floor. The lyrics are incredible enough, but then you’ve got that gorgeous melody. Since Cohen first released the song in 1984, it’s been covered by pretty much everyone and their dog. Among the most famous versions are the ones recorded by John Cale, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright.
I recommend you check out his most recent album, “You Want It Darker”, released just a few weeks ago. It’s a fantastic album. A testament to his longevity that he could still make such a powerful record in his early eighties, when so many other artists would’ve long ago reached their sell-by date. Hey, that’s some way to say goodbye.