Canadian Singer, Songwriter, and poet, Leonard Cohen has died at the age of 82. The news was announced on his official Facebook page; the statement said: “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away.”
Despite nicknames such as the High Priest of Pathos and Godfather of Gloom, his words connected with so many people. While frequently compared to Dylan for their similar backgrounds and love of language it’s been said that Dylan sang poetic songs while Cohen chose to sing his poems.
He started out as an author and poet, influenced by the likes of William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman, Federico García Lorca, and Henry Miller. He published his first poems in March 1954. After spending time in New York, he returned to Montreal in 1957 where he got by doing various jobs which allowed him the time to focus on his fiction and poetry including work for his next poetry book, The Spice-Box of Earth (1961).
In 1960 at the age of 25 he was living in London trying to get by on $3000 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. He was living the life of a bohemian, his first purchases on arrival in London were apparently an Olivetti typewriter and a blue raincoat at Burberry. It was a lack of money that would eventually lead him to music where he could make a living.
An early letter to his publisher was very revealing when he spoke of the audience he craved:
“inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”
His lyrics portrayed a man of wisdom and one who that felt very deeply. He was both humble and compassionate, a side that came into greater public focus in the nineties when he left the music business to retreat to Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles. This documentary revealed his experiences and routine at the time:
He returned to music in 2001, a move that would also introduce a new young generation to his music following the release of several albums, the latest being You Want It Darker released only last month.
It was while in London in 1960 that the decision to travel to sunnier climes was made…thanks to the dismal London weather. He headed to Greece, the island of Hydra. It was here that he would meet and fall in love with Marianne Ihlen, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’
Some of his most well-known songs were inspired by Marianne including Bird on a Wire and So Long Marianne.
Following the news last year that Marianne was dying of Leukemia, he wrote her a letter which was read to her on her deathbed by her friend Jan Christian Mollestad.
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.
And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
In her final moments, Mollestad hummed Bird on a Wire, revealing to Cohen in his letter of reply that this was the song she felt closest to. And then I kissed her on the head and left the room, and said “so long, Marianne.”
Leonard Cohen: 21 September 1934 – 7 November 2016