Beauty can come in many forms. Some see it in nature, surrounding us yet somewhat hidden in sight. Some see it in people, their happiness and hopefulness seeping through to everyone they come in contact with, their actions changing the lives of others for the better and allowing for freedom and peacefulness to spread through the world. Others see it through the incredible works of some of the world’s greatest artists, through the imagery created by oil on canvas that causes us to create our own type of world the painting is attempting to represent and others see in through the lens of spirituality and religion. Leonard Cohen was all of these things and through his vision of beauty he created his own. The beauty of song.
Leonard Cohen was born in 1934, years before even Elvis. He entered a world that was going through one of the most difficult times in human history, but from his home in Montreal, Canada, he was safe from the hardship and bloodshed World War Two caused and somehow came out of it seeing the good in people. He began to play guitar and write poetry as a young boy, and was immersed in the Jewish faith and spirituality by his family. As he grew up he began writing folk songs but he found his true calling on the words of a page rather than the notes on a score. He progressed through life, becoming infatuated with the female body and spirit and used his poetry in order to get close to the opposite sex. His poetic idol was Federico García Lorca and he was one of the many reason he went to McGill University to study English in 1951. Following his graduation he released his first book of poetry, entitled “Let us Compare Mythologies” which was impressive but failed to sell. This was followed by “A Spice Box of The Earth”, which was a much better seller, so much so that when combined with a Canadian grant he received, it was enough to buy him a house on the Greek Island of Hydra. He stayed there for the majority of a seven year period and during this time he wrote two more books of poetry and two novels. He was beginning ti make a name for himself in the literary world.
Cohen returned back to New York and made company with the singer Judy Collins, who began performing his songs. Realizing he had a talent for songwriting, Cohen pursued itas he knew that the life of a writer was not well paid. He had his first ever live performance, well into his 30’s, at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival and was soon signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond, the same man who had also signed Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. His first album was called “Songs of Leonard Cohen” and was released in 1967. The album was a critical success but similar to his poetry failed to sell a lot. However, it did earn him a devoted fan base and one that would stick with him throughout his entire Forty-Nine year careers. Throughout his career, Cohen released thirteen more albums, played concerts around the World, wrote beautiful songs such as “Bird On A Wire”, “So Long Marianne”, “First We Take Manhattan” and “Take This Waltz” as well as writing the greatest and most covered song of all time in “Hallelujah”. His topics of choice spawned from religion, to drug use, to alcoholism to sexuality and he touched on every focal point in human existence in a very delicate way and cared for all who listened.
His personal life was not easy during his long career. He has spoken in the past about fighting periods of depression. Despite being in numerous relationships and fathering two children he never married. During the 1970’s Cohen became very interested in the Buddhism and was ordained as Buddhist monk in 1996. He became a recluse in the 1990’s, spending most of that decade in a monastery in the San Gabriel Mountains in California. In 2006, Cohen discovered that his ex-lover and manager was stealing from him. It was revealed in a lawsuit that she stole $9 Million and as she was unable to pay it back Cohen was never properly reimbursed. That money was due to be his retirement fund but with that gone he was forced to continue touring in order to make up money for his family. He toured up right until his death today.
Listening to Leonard Cohen’s music it’s clear to tell that the years in monasteries and studying faith and spirituality have given him a deeper understanding of life than any of us can ever dream of grasping. His lyrical output never dropped below a level of sublime, even in his most recent album released this year. He has been called boring and people have described his music as music to “Slit your wrists to”, but to say that would be an insult to not only him but the art form that is music. Throughout his career Cohen knew exactly what he wanted to say and the most beautiful and provoking way to say it. It stirs up emotions within many that no other artist can, emotions of loss when there is nothing gone, moments of hope when there may seem there is none and most of all, moments of contemplation when it feels like everything is piling up. If you ever need to relax, put on a Leonard Cohen album and relax and you will do just that, and though you may sleep, it will be one of the calmest sleeps you could possibly have.
Cohen knew his final goodbye was on its way, as he wrote in a letter to an ex-lover who was on her death bed in July of this year “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine”. In a time when the world needs to sit still and contemplate what the future holds, it’s fitting that he bid his last goodbye. He left the world and calmer and gentler place, and his music, his songs and his stories will live on forever, just the way he would have wanted.