Here are three articles about his life and death. The first is a NYT editorial and the second is his official obit and the third is an appraisal of his work:
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
Leonard Cohen, Vital to the End
News of the death of Leonard Cohen, musical poet and great Canadian, hit on Thursday like a punch to the gut, an early blast of winter. We can do the Leonard Cohen thing and brood. Or we can heed this spontaneous eulogy from another of our most admired songwriters, Rosanne Cash. “Rolling through Iowa,” she said on Twitter on Friday afternoon, “in wonder and awe that we had such a man.”
Wonder and awe is right. The handsome figure in the fedora and the funeral suits, the lugubrious voice that got darker with age — how wondrous to have known a singer so literate, a writer so musical. He sold not a lot of records, given his stature, but he spent decades mining a seam of melodies and words that somehow was never depleted. Many people place Mr. Cohen in a musical trinity, with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon: writers who sail in deeper waters, beyond the chop and slop of the usual pop, filling their notebooks with words and our heads with songs — cryptic, surreal, original, unforgettable.
There’s no space here to dive too deeply into Mr. Cohen’s life and art, his many loves, his spiritual journeying and influences, the “celestial character” and “melodic lift” of his counterpoint lines — that’s what The New Yorker is for. It’s enough for those of us here who love his work, who find it funny and sexy and bracingly dark, to say: We miss Leonard Cohen. We love his songs. “Paper-Thin Hotel,” with its charge of erotic memory. “Tower of Song,” witty and grimly hilarious. “Dance Me to the End of Love.”
And it’s enough to simply marvel at a musician who remained creatively vital to the end of his long life. Mr. Cohen’s new album, “You Want It Darker,” was released just last month, when he was 82. He belongs to a club of musicians who kept it lit until the very end. David Bowie’s “Lazarus” was a greeting from the grave. An ailing Johnny Cash said a long goodbye in his brilliant American Recordings sessions. One of his last songs was “Aloha Oe,” the old Hawaiian farewell — the Man in Black, heading to the light.
Science may some day explain the age-defying vigor that comes from making brilliant popular music. Mr. Dylan, age 75, just won the Nobel Prize. Paul Simon, who released his latest album in June, only recently said he was hanging it up. Brian Wilson, Ry Cooder, Paul McCartney, Loretta Lynn, Wayne Shorter, Chuck Berry — Chuck Berry! — keep on keeping on, not with oldies tours, but with new stuff. Randy Newman just released a new song about Vladimir Putin.
“You Want It Darker,” said Mr. Cohen’s last album and title song. Well, you got it:
If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game. If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame. If thine is the glory, then mine must be the shame. You want it darker. We kill the flame. Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name. Vilified, crucified in the human frame. A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker. Hineni, hineni, I’m ready, my Lord.
Leonard Cohen, Epic and Enigmatic Songwriter, Is Dead at 82
Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and novelist who abandoned a promising literary career to become one of the foremost songwriters of the contemporary era, died on Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 82.
Mr. Cohen’s record label, Sony Music, confirmed the death on Thursday night but provided no details on the cause.
Adam Cohen, his son and producer, said Mr. Cohen had died “with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records.” His final studio album, “You Want It Darker,” was released in October.
“He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor,” his son said.
Over a musical career that spanned nearly five decades, Mr. Cohen wrote songs that addressed — in spare language that could be both oblique and telling — themes of love and faith, despair and exaltation, solitude and connection, war and politics. More than 2,000 recordings of his songs have been made, initially by the folk-pop singers who were his first champions, like Judy Collins and Tim Hardin, and later by performers from across the spectrum of popular music, among them U2, Aretha Franklin, R.E.M., Jeff Buckley, Trisha Yearwood and Elton John.
Mr. Cohen’s best-known song may well be “Hallelujah,” a majestic, meditative ballad infused with both religiosity and earthiness. It was written for a 1984 album that his record company rejected as insufficiently commercial; it was popularized a decade later by Jeff Buckley.
Since then, some 200 artists, from Bob Dylan to Justin Timberlake, have sung or recorded it. A book has been written about it, and it has been featured on the soundtracks of movies and television shows and sung at the Olympics and other public events. At the 2016 Emmy Awards, Tori Kelly sang “Hallelujah” for the annual “In Memoriam” segment recognizing recent deaths.
Asceticism, Not Excess
Mr. Cohen was an unlikely and reluctant pop star, if in fact he ever was one. He was 33 when his first record was released in 1967. He sang in an increasingly gravelly baritone. He played simple chords on acoustic guitar or a cheap keyboard. And he maintained a private, sometime ascetic image at odds with the Dionysian excesses associated with rock.
At some points, he was anything but prolific. He struggled for years to write some of his most celebrated songs, and he recorded just 14 studio albums. Only the first qualified as a gold record in the United States for sales of 500,000 copies.
But Mr. Cohen’s sophisticated, magnificently succinct lyrics, with their meditations on love sacred and profane, were widely admired by other artists and gave him a reputation as, to use the phrase his record company concocted for an advertising campaign in the early 1970s, “the master of erotic despair.”
Early in his career, enigmatic songs like “Suzanne” and “Bird on the Wire” — quickly covered by better-known performers — gave him visibility. “Suzanne” begins and ends as a portrait of a mysterious, fragile woman “wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters,” but pauses in the middle verse to offer a melancholy view of the spiritual:
And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water,
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower,
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him,
He said “All men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them.”
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open,
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.
Mr. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
A Poet in the Beginning
Wearing a bolo tie and his trademark fedora, Mr. Cohen, in his acceptance speech, dryly made light of the fact that none of his records had ever been honored at the Grammys. “As we make our way toward the finish line that some of us have already crossed, I never thought I’d get a Grammy Award,” he said. “In fact, I was always touched by the modesty of their interest.”
Leonard Norman Cohen was born in Montreal on Sept. 21, 1934, and grew up in the prosperous suburb of Westmount. His father, Nathan, whose family had emigrated to Canada from Poland, owned a successful clothing store; he died when Leonard was 9, but his will included a provision for a small trust fund, which later allowed his son to pursue his literary and musical ambitions. His mother, the former Masha Klonitzky, a nurse, was the daughter of a Talmudic scholar and rabbi. “I had a very messianic childhood,” Mr. Cohen would later say.
In 1951, he was admitted to McGill University, Canada’s premier institution of higher learning, where he studied English. His first book of poetry, “Let Us Compare Mythologies,” was published in May 1956, while he was still an undergraduate. It was followed by “The Spice-Box of Earth” in 1961 and “Flowers for Hitler” in 1964. Other collections would appear sporadically throughout Mr. Cohen’s life, including the omnibus “Poems and Songs” in 2011.
A period of drift followed Mr. Cohen’s graduation from college. He enrolled in law school at McGill, then dropped out and moved to New York City, where he studied literature at Columbia University for a year before returning to Montreal. Eventually, after a sojourn in London, he ended up living in a house on the Greek island of Hydra, where he wrote a pair of novels: “The Favorite Game,” published in 1963, and “Beautiful Losers,” published in 1966.
“Beautiful Losers,” about a love triangle whose members are devotees of a 17th-century Mohawk Indian Roman Catholic saint, gained a cult following, which it retains, and eventually sold more than three million copies worldwide. But Mr. Cohen’s initial lack of commercial success was discouraging, and he turned to songwriting in hopes of expanding the audience for his poetry.
“I found it was very difficult to pay my grocery bill,” Mr. Cohen said in 1971, looking back at his situation just a few years earlier. “I’ve got beautiful reviews for all my books, and I’m very well thought of in the tiny circles that know me, but I’m really starving.”
Within months, Mr. Cohen had placed two songs, “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” on Ms. Collins’s album “In My Life,” which also included the Lennon-McCartney title song and compositions by Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Donovan. But he was extremely reluctant to take the next step and sing his songs himself.
“Leonard was naturally reserved and afraid to sing in public,” Ms. Collins wrote in her autobiography, “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music” (2011). She recalled his telling her: “I can’t sing. I wouldn’t know what to do out there. I am not a performer.” He was “terrified,” she wrote, the first time she brought him onstage to sing with her, in 1967.
Mr. Cohen released his first album later that year, after being signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond, the celebrated talent scout who also signed Mr. Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
The record began with “Suzanne,” which was already being performed by folk singers everywhere thanks to the popularity of Ms. Collins’s version. It also included three other songs of great impact that would become staples of Mr. Cohen’s live shows, and that numerous other artists would record over the years: “Sisters of Mercy,” “So Long Marianne” and “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”
His second album, “Songs From a Room,” released early in 1969, cemented his growing reputation as a songwriter. “The Story of Isaac,” a retelling of the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, became an anthem of opposition to the war in Vietnam, and “Bird on the Wire” went on to be recorded by Joe Cocker, Aaron Neville, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
In 1971, Mr. Cohen released “Songs of Love and Hate,” which contained the cryptic and frequently covered “Famous Blue Raincoat,” but after that his production began to tail off, and his live performances became less frequent. He released three more albums during the 1970s but, amid bouts of depression, only two in the 1980s and one in the 1990s.
The quality of his songs remained high, however: In addition to “Hallelujah,” future standards like “Dance Me to the End of Love,” “First We Take Manhattan,” “Everybody Knows” and “Tower of Song” date from that era.
A Buddhist Monk
Mr. Cohen, raised Jewish and observant throughout his life, became interested in Zen Buddhism in the late 1970s and often visited the Mount Baldy monastery, east of Los Angeles. Around 1994, he abandoned his music career altogether and moved to the monastery, where he was ordained a Buddhist monk and became the personal assistant of Joshu Sasaki, the Rinzai Zen master who led the center.
During the remainder of the decade, there was much speculation that Mr. Cohen, rather than merely taking a sabbatical, had stopped writing songs and would never record again. But in 2001, he released “Ten New Songs,” whose title suggests he wrote it while in the monastery. It was followed in 2004 by “Dear Heather,” an unusually upbeat album.
In 2005, Mr. Cohen sued his former manager, Kelley Lynch, accusing her of defrauding him of millions of dollars that he had set aside as a retirement fund, leaving him with only $150,000 and a huge tax bill and forcing him to take out a new mortgage on his home to cover his legal costs. The next year, after Ms. Lynch countersued, a judge awarded Mr. Cohen $9.5 million, but he was unable to collect any of the money.
The legal battles may have soured Mr. Cohen’s mood, but they did not seem to damage his creativity. In 2006, he published a new collection of poems, “Book of Longing,” which the composer Philip Glass set to music and then took on tour, with Mr. Cohen’s recorded voice reciting the words and Mr. Glass’s ensemble performing the music.
2008, Mr. Cohen hit the road for the first time in 15 years for a
grueling world tour, which would continue, with a few short breaks,
through 2010. He was driven, he acknowledged, at least in part by
“It was a long, ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation,” he told The New York Times in 2009. “I didn’t even know where the bank was.”
Combined with a pair of CDs and accompanying DVDs recorded in concert, “Live in London” and “Songs From the Road,” the constant touring, before audiences often larger than those he had enjoyed in the past, clearly eased Mr. Cohen’s financial problems. Billboard magazine estimated that the 2009 leg of the tour alone earned him nearly $10 million.
Over that three-year period, Mr. Cohen performed nearly 250 shows, many of them lasting more than three hours. He seemed remarkably fit and limber, skipping across the stage, doing deep-knee bends and occasionally dropping to his knees to sing.
The shows were not without incident: During a show in Valencia, Spain, in 2009, he fainted, and early in 2010 one segment of the tour had to be postponed when he suffered a lower back injury. He recovered, however, and in 2012 he released “Old Ideas,” his first CD of new songs in more than seven years, and embarked on another marathon tour.
That pattern of extensive touring and recording continued into the decade. In 2014, for instance, Mr. Cohen released a CD of mostly new material, “Popular Problems,” as well as a three-CD, one-DVD set called “Live in Dublin.”
Mr. Cohen never married, though he had numerous liaisons and several long-term relationships, some of which he wrote about. In addition to his son, Adam, his survivors include a daughter, Lorca, who like Adam is from his relationship with Suzanne Elrod, a photographer and artist who shot the cover of his 1973 album, “Live Songs,” and is pictured on the cover of his critically derided album “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (1977); and three grandchildren. Mr. Cohen was buried in Westmount on Thursday after a traditional Jewish memorial service.To the end, Mr. Cohen took a sardonic view of both his craft and the human condition. In “Tower of Song,” a staple of live shows in his later years, he brought the two together, making fun of being “born with the gift of a golden voice” and striking the same biblical tone apparent on his first album.
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter, but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices in the tower of song.
“The changeless is what he’s been about since the beginning,” the writer Pico Iyer argued in the liner notes for the anthology “The Essential Leonard Cohen.” “Some of the other great pilgrims of song pass through philosophies and selves as if through the stations of the cross. With Cohen, one feels he knew who he was and where he was going from the beginning, and only digs deeper, deeper, deeper.”
Leonard Cohen, who was 82 when he died on Monday, was young once. That can be hard to remember after his years of public, silver-haired eminence: touring arenas while he was in his 70s and playing leisurely three-hour-plus shows that seemed to slow down time itself. He intoned his songs with serene gravity, revealing once again how carefully chiseled every one of his quatrains is. And with every line he shared, implicitly and in his lyrics, there was a humbling knowledge of mortality: one that grows even more significant on Mr. Cohen’s final studio album, “You Want It Darker,” which was released less than a month ago.
In “Who By Fire,” from 1974, one of his many songs that is both a list and an incantation, he itemized causes and sites of death, getting morbid while keeping a hint of puckishness:
Who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the nighttime,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry, merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay.
Mr. Cohen was aware, always, of every option.
In his concerts, Mr. Cohen played the venerable sage, dapper in his suits and precisely angled hats. He was also sly and avuncular, making droll, deadpan comments in his sepulchral voice. He had aged to match the perspective he had brought to his lyrics since the late 1960s: a long view that stretched back to biblical and psychological archetypes and envisioned myth and history — and the mind-twisting economy of Zen koans — far more often than the everyday. Perhaps because he was already in his 30s when he set aside novels and poetry for songwriting, he was a grown-up from the start.
Mr. Cohen was a monumentally painstaking songwriter who described, in interviews, a process of endless writing and rewriting for his lyrics. By his accounts, he tinkered with some of his songs for years on end. That meticulousness was obvious in the songs he did release, which he did in no great hurry: 14 studio albums in 49 years.
Bob Dylan’s semi-free associations were sometimes a too-obvious influence, particularly on Mr. Cohen’s early-1970s albums, but the Cohen trademark was the knife-edged paradox, the finely balanced lyrics that can be deliberately heard (and read) in contradictory ways: reverence or blasphemy, affection or animosity, reportage or mockery, tragedy or comedy.
“Everybody Knows,” a dark masterpiece of bitter cynicism from 1988 that Mr. Cohen wrote with the singer Sharon Robinson, opens with politics that still ring unfortunately true:
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Then, because political battles are not always physically felt, the song’s catalog of betrayals veers toward the personal:
“Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful/Ah, give or take a night or two.”
As serious as he was, Mr. Cohen was always frisky too. His first albums, especially, are suffused with appreciative eroticism and sensuality: describing a lover with “your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm” in “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” or recalling, with explicit details, a tryst with Janis Joplin in “Chelsea Hotel #2,” which has her declaring, “We are ugly but we have the music.” The Cohen song that became an unlikely pop perennial, “Hallelujah,” veers between biblical allusions and ecstatic sex.
In its melody and chord progression, “Hallelujah,” which has been subjected to renditions both humble and bombastic, points to something Mr. Cohen’s countless literary admirers don’t mention: He understood tunes, and he knew they were more than just backdrops to his words. It’s one thing — a complicated, prodigious thing — to write such fastidious lyrics, and then to mock that fastidiousness by rhyming “Hallelujah” with “what’s it to ya.” It’s another to carry them in a melody that, once created, seems to sing itself. “Hallelujah” is a near-perfect succession of tensions and releases, which stay no less magical despite the way Mr. Cohen analyzes them in the first verse of his lyrics: “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift.”
Mr. Cohen had to cope with the limitations of his vocal cords. That’s why his first exposure, with songs like the infidelity-friendship-intimacy conundrums of “Famous Blue Raincoat,” came via the prettier voices of singers like Judy Collins. In Mr. Cohen’s early years he was a low tenor, decent enough technically and smart enough as a melody writer to keep his songs where he could sing them. On his debut album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” the producer John Simon gave Mr. Cohen exactly as much counterpoint as he needed, although Mr. Cohen complained, in a 1967 interview with The Village Voice, “They tried to make my songs into music.” Later, as his voice plummeted down to a near-monotone bass register, he used the voices of women — as angels, consorts, muses, ghosts — to provide melodies around him.
Mr. Cohen was clearly aware of how many of his album titles insisted that his work was music above all: “Songs from a Room,” “Songs of Love and Hate,” “Recent Songs,” “Ten New Songs.” Sometimes, he tried to be palatable to pop radio. He delved widely across idioms, writing not just three-chord folk and pop but tunes that hinted at rock, blues, country, klezmer, Viennese waltzes and Greek rebetika — even disco on the hard-nosed, trenchant “I’m Your Man” in 1988. And in one of the most improbable (and mismatched) collaborations in pop history, Mr. Cohen made his 1977 album “Death of a Ladies’ Man” with Phil Spector.
Mr. Cohen could frustrate his listeners by treating some albums, like the 2004 record “Dear Heather,” merely as skeletal demos. One of the benefits of his latter-day touring was that he rescued some songs from misbegotten studio arrangements. On his final studio albums — in 2012, 2014 and 2016 — he collaborated with an unexpected and adept fan: the producer Patrick Leonard, who wrote and produced “Like a Prayer,” among many other songs, with Madonna.
Yet it’s inevitable that Mr. Cohen will be remembered above all for his lyrics. They are terse and acrobatic, scriptural and bawdy, vividly descriptive and enduringly ambiguous, never far from either a riddle or a punch line. “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in,” he advised in “Anthem.”
His final ruminations on his last album, “You Want It Darker,” were on mortality, love and a divinity that he faced and questioned to the very end. “Steer your way through the pain that is far more real than you/That’s smashed the cosmic model, that blinded every view/And please don’t make me go there, though there be a God or not,” he intoned in “Steer Your Way.” In his last songs, as always, he sought stark truth before comfort.