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Leonard Cohen Lyrics

Leonard Cohen Lyrics, Poetry and Music

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Leonard Cohen is probably one of the most unique singer song writer artists in modern times. He was born in Canada in 1934, which makes him 80 years old at the time of writing this (2014). Many of his song lyrics are deeply spiritual and explore a number of life issues that we have all thought about from time to time – including religion, personal relationships, sexuality, politics, loneliness and isolation.

Leonard Cohen’s songs have a deep and reflective mood to them and his lyrics are enigmatic enough to inspire more than one interpretation – one of the reasons why they are so popular and he has stirred such a following around the world for four decades.

The first album that Leonard Cohen produced was “Songs on Leonard Cohen” in 1967 followed by “Songs From a Room” in 1969 which featured one of his signature songs “Bird on the Wire”.

Leonard was born into a middle class Jewish family in the English speaking part of Montreal, Canada. His father died when he was only 9 years old. As far as being a “Cohen” is concerned, Leonard told Richard Goldstein in 1967 that “I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.” His early studies led him to music and poetry and he learned to play the guitar while a teenager.

In 1967, disappointed with his lack of financial success as a writer, Cohen moved to the United States to pursue a career as a folk music singer-songwriter. In 1970, Leonard Cohen toured for the first time, with dates in the United States, Canada and Europe, and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. He toured again in Europe and Israel in 1972 with some of the same band-mates. During the 1970s, Leonard toured twice with Jennifer Warnes as a back-up singer (1972 and 1979). Jennifer Warnes would become a fixture on Cohen’s future albums, receiving full co-vocals credit on Cohen’s 1985 album Various Positions.

In the early 1980s, Lissauer produced Cohen’s next record “Various Positions”, which was released in December 1984. The LP included “Dance Me to the End of Love”, and one of his more famous songs, “Hallelujah” which a number of other artists have since covered with their own renditions.

Being also a poet, in 1993, Leonard Cohen also published his book of selected poems and songs, “Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs”, which he had worked on since 1989. In 1994, he retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, beginning what became five years of seclusion at the center. In 1996, he was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name “Jikan”, meaning “silence”.

Although around 2000 there was a public impression that Cohen would not resume recording or publishing, he returned to Los Angeles in May 1999. He began to contribute regularly to The Leonard Cohen Files fan website.

Having suffered from depression during much of his life (although less so in recent years), Leonard Cohen’s early works often included themes of depression, self-harm and suicide.

Themes of political and social justice also recur in Cohen’s work, especially in later albums. In “Democracy”, he both acknowledges political problems and celebrates the hopes of reformers: “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.”

War is an enduring theme of Cohen’s work that – in his earlier songs and early life – he approached ambivalently. Challenged in 1974 over his serious demeanor in concerts and the military salutes he ended them with, Cohen remarked, “I sing serious songs, and I’m serious onstage because I couldn’t do it any other way…I don’t consider myself a civilian. I consider myself a soldier, and that’s the way soldiers salute.”

Deeply moved by encounters with Israeli and Arab soldiers, he left the country to write “Lover Lover Lover”. This song has been interpreted as a personal renunciation of armed conflict, and ends with the hope his song will serve a listener as “a shield against the enemy”. He would later remark, “‘Lover, Lover, Lover’ was born over there; the whole world has its eyes riveted on this tragic and complex conflict.

Romantic Relationships

Leonard Cohen lived at Hydra, Greece in 1960 with Norwegian Marianne C. Stang Jensen Ihlen, and the song “So Long, Marianne” was written to and about her. Their relationship lasted for most of the 1960s. He then had a relationship beginning in the 1970s with the Los Angeles artist Suzanne Elrod, with whom he has two children. Cohen has said that “cowardice” and “fear” prevented him from ever actually marrying Elrod – they split up in 1979. His song “Suzanne”, one of his best-known songs, refers to Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of his friend, the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, rather than Elrod.

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