So Long: Legendary Singer Leonard Cohen Dies Aged 82

Credit: Reuters

Tributes have poured in from around the world for Leonard Cohen, legendary singer-songwriter, author and poet, who died at the age of 82 on Monday, November 7.

He was laid to rest with traditional Jewish rites in a family plot in Mount Royal cemetary in Montreal on November 10. A memorial is planned to take place at a later date.

The news came through a post on his official Facebook page on November 10, Deadline reported. The cause of death is as yet undisclosed. The singer’s son Adam wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records”.

Cohen’s prolific output, full of haunting depth, wit, charm and humour, has made him an idol to generations.

Cohen was born in Montreal, Canada in 1934. His father died when Cohen was nine, leaving him a modest trust fund which later enabled him to pursue his literary leanings.

Always a ladies man, Cohen learned to play guitar as a teenager because, he said, “Guitars impress girls”.

His first volume of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies ,1956, was critically acclaimed, but didn’t sell. His second volume, The Spice-Box Of Earth, published in 1961, was enthusiastically received by critics, and slightly more of a commercial success.

In the early 1960’s Cohen moved first to London, then on to the Greek island of Hydra, where he met his first real love, and muse, Marianne Ihlen. She was the inspiration for songs including So Long, Marianne. While on Hydra he published novels and books of poetry, but despite critical appreciation, none sold well. So, in 1967 he moved to the US intending to make a better living from music.

Already into his thirties, he was older than his musical contemporaries. When he met singer Judy Collins, he played her Suzanne and she decided to cover the song, which was a hit. Suzanne has since had close to 300 released covers worldwide.

Judy encouraged him to sing at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival, where he was seen by Columbia Records A&R rep John Hammond, who signed him. So Cohen got his first album release, Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1967.

He continued to write poetry right up until his death, and received awards for his works, but it is his music that brought him to the wider attention of the world.

His musical career spanned more than 50 years and made him one of the most iconic and influential singer-songwriters ever. His songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Nick Cave, Justin Timberlake, Willie Nelson and Alexandra Burke. His work has also been heard in film soundtracks.

One of his best known songs, Hallelujah was largely ignored on its initial airing on the album Various Positions in 1984. However, after a cover by John Cale in 1991 it gained momentum and has since been covered by nearly 300 artists in numerous languages. In December 2008 covers by Alexandra Burke and Jeff Buckley held the top two slots at the same time in the Official UK Singles Chart.

In his excellent article in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, David Remnick related that when Cohen heard his first love Marianne Ihlen was dying, in July of this year, he immediately wrote her a poignant and prophetic letter. It included the lines “Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”

Cohen’s acclaimed last album You Want It Darker, released in October, was recorded mainly at home with the help of his son Adam. Cohen was in poor health and suffered with back pain which made it difficult to leave his home, but was as determined as ever to release the flood of words and music inside him.

His appeal was broad, not restricted to any one set of followers. His vision, his humour, his humility, the world he revealed, the spirituality, the dark and the light, the love found and lost, the profundity and the tiny details that filled his works and made them alive and real. Those will form the legacy of this astonishing artist.

To paraphrase – So Long, Leonard….