Don’t want to be remiss in posting about the recent inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Colette, once again, provides a wonderful dossier on the legendary Leonard Cohen. I have a few comments on the other inductees following Colette’s post…
Leonard Cohen: A Hall of Famer at last…..
The great Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was just inducted into the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame, an honor well-earned. And the 74-year old troubadour just announced he’ll be embarking on his first tour in many years, with dates announced in Canada and Europe. None, unfortunately, announced yet for the U.S., but a fan can hope — can’t she?
Leonard Cohen, Canada’s great troubadour, has a songbag that’s deep, varied and stuffed with gems. Many other brilliant musical artists adore his songs and eagerly cover them. And his own recordings and live versions of his odes are husky, conversational, yet uniquely moving.
Born into a Jewish Montreal family in 1934, Cohen was a Canadian star as a gifted poet, fiction author and composer before his American popularity began, thanks to Judy Collins’ famous interpretation of his dreamy love song, “Suzanne.” In 1967, Columbia Records brought out “The Songs of Leonard Cohen.” More albums followed, and the use of some of his songs in popular movies (starting with Robert Altman‘s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”) brought his brilliantly tunes to more listeners. Every wave of new singer-songwriters since has re-discovered him, and cherished his songs.
To me, Cohen’s wit, lyricism, his ability to celebrate humanity’s angels and demons, and his miraculous turns of phrase and “humanitarian cynicism,” as someone put it, give his work a European flavor and tone. But his songs are globally admired and performed, as they should be. They speak to the mind, the heart and the intellect at the same time. A recent documentary about him, featuring a concert in Australia of his songs sung by Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave and others, is worth a look: it’s called “I’m Your Man.”
I was fortunate to meet Cohen in the early 1990s, during his last U.S. tour. I had one of those “six degrees of…” connections to him: we shared a wonderful friend, who had died a few years earlier. Leonard and I talked about her, about music, and about his devotion to Zen Buddhism. (He spent five years in a Zen monastary in California, and was ordained as a Buddhist monk there.)
Sometimes when you meet a hero of yours, you are disappointed. The absolute opposite occured for me in this instance. Leonard was warm, kind, funny, and open. As our hour together ended, I asked him to sign a book I had of his lyrics and poems. He took a beautiful little ink stamp out of a special case, telling me it spelled out his name in Japanese characters. He stamped my book, and then wrote a dedication, saying it was for “a member of the family.” How thrilled I was to be part of that extended “family,” and I still am.
Congratulations, Leonard, for the good things coming to you — all deserved. And here is a small tribute to your genius:
The beautiful ballad that started off Cohen’s American popularity:
Suzanne — Leonard Cohen & Judy Collins, during the 1960s —
One of Cohen’s best known, most recorded tunes, “Bird on the Wire” (a 1979 performance):
A very cool cover of the same song, by New Orleans’ fab Neville Brothers:
== “Bird on a Wire” — The Neville Brothers
One of my favorite Cohen tunes, written to a former friend of his who became a Scientologist (clip also from the 1970s):
— “Famous Blue Raincoat” — Leonard Cohen
In recent years a cult has developed around this moody, soaring anthem. Here’s Cohen performing it:
— “Hallelujah” — Leonard Cohen
And here is a rendition of it that has its own fervent cult, by the late Jeff Buckley:
— Jeff Buckley — “Hallelujah”
In the 1990s, Cohen put out some terrific, scarey new songs — sensuous, mordant, darkly prescient. Here’s one of my favorites, “The Future” —
— “The Future” — Leonard Cohen
Here’s his great “ladie’s man” anthem, in a hit version by fellow Canadian Michael Buble — you’d think his style wouldn’t mesh with Cohen’s but give a listen:
— Michael Buble, “I’m Your Man”
Finally, a marvelous song about getting older, but being a musician at heart forever:
— “Tower of Song” — Leonard Cohen
And here is a 10-minute clip of his induction ceremony for the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame, featuring a mini-documentary and Lou Reed’s little speech: “We’re so lucky to be alive at the same time Leonard Cohen is….” Yes, Lou, I agree!
— Leonard Cohen‘s hall of fame tribute, March 2008
Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff who were architects of the “Philly Soul Sound” and who wrote for and worked with the likes of Lou Rawls, The O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass were also inducted, but I think that warrants an individual post.