Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008; during the course of that evening Lou Reed described Cohen as “the highest and most influential echelon of songwriters”. Such diverse artists as Jeff Buckley, REM, Pixies, Johhny Cash, Nick Cave and Willie Nelson have covered his songs. More than 1000 artists have recorded his compositions. He has recently issued a new album called‘Songs From the Road’, but it may easily have been called ‘Songs From A Life Well-Lived’. The album contains live performances of many of his greatest songs; these are not necessarily his “greatest hits’, since an artist like Cohen doesn’t really have hits.
Over the course of his many-colored career Cohen has not only equaled his heroes Hank Williams and Ray Charles; he has never gone out of favor in more than 40 years of recording. Not that he was a superstar at any time, but his work has earned him the devotion of millions of fans. And as he recently stated off the cuff at one of his concerts, “Most of my detractors have died.” Leonard survives and prevails, perhaps more so in 2010 than at any time in the past four decades.
He suffered a major disappointment a few years ago when he discovered his business manager had stolen and spent most of his life savings. Consequently Leonard decided to go out on tour one last time to see if there was still an audience for him. He opened the tour in New York and went on to play to large crowds in Paris, Berlin, Tel Aviv and many other centres. That was almost two years ago. The tour goes on: he recently played concerts in Victoria, Vancouver, Portland and Las Vegas. ‘Songs From The Road’ is taken from that tour, his first in 15 years.
Cohen published his first book of poetry in 1956 and his first novel in 1963. He released his first album, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’, in 1967. The reception to that album was electrifying in certain folk music quarters. Canadians welcomed the album as though he were the Second Coming, the first coming notably being that of Bob Dylan. From the beginning his material was unlike anything anyone else was doing: literate, poetic, religious, sensual, and – sacreligious.
Some people said he couldn’t sing at all, that he did nothing but drone on and on. When Judy Collins took a turn at ‘Suzanne’ they realized the power of his writing. When Jennifer Warnes much later devoted an entire album to his songs entitled “Famous Blue Raincoat’ she produced a work of such surpassing beauty that pretty well everyone had to admit that maybe there was something to his songwriting after all. And when the full extent of his worldwide audience became obvious with such tributes as ‘I’m Your Fan’ there was a rush to jump on the bandwagon and pronounce Leonard “a legend”.
There are forums these days devoted to Leonard’s songs and his concerts. Leonard travels with beautiful women who sing in the background at his concerts, and with accomplished musicians who serve only to bring a burnished diamond shine to every song he cares to sing. His gravelly voice is somewhat the worse for wear, but he is more than 70 years old, and we should only wish for ourselves what he has at 70 – a commanding but modest presence on the stage, an overflowing catalogue of great material, and an air of elegance and peace that makes women of all ages yearn to spend a night with him.
Here is what The Decider had to say about his opening show in New York:
“Cohen spent a lot of time singing on his knees, crouched down with his lanky shoulders drawn in and his hands holding the microphone with something like tranquil desperation; it wasn’t clear that Cohen even realized there were thousands of other people in the room with him… The whole show was a triumph for a kind of earned wisdom and slow, creeping staying-power that’s easy to forget the value of these days.”
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high-end audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: email@example.com