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Leonard Cohen

singer-songwriter folk blues Canadian rock

    Leonard Cohen, (Leonard Norman Cohen, CC GOQ, 21 September 1934 – 7 November 2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships. Cohen was inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.

    Cohen's first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), featuring "Suzanne" and "So Long Marianne", followed by Songs from a Room (1969), featuring "Bird on the Wire", and Songs of Love and Hate (1971), featuring "Avalanche" and "Famous Blue Raincoat".
    His 1977 record Death of a Ladies' Man was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, which was a move away from Cohen's previous minimalist sound. In 1979 Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. "Hallelujah" was first released on Cohen's studio album Various Positions in 1984. I'm Your Man in 1988 marked Cohen's turn to synthesized productions and remains his most popular album. In 1992 Cohen released its follow-up, The Future, which had dark lyrics and references to political and social unrest.
    Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, which was a major hit in Canada and Europe. His eleventh album, Dear Heather, followed in 2004. After a successful string of tours between 2008 and 2010, Cohen released three albums in the final four years of his life: Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014) and You Want It Darker (2016), the last of which was released three weeks before his death.

    The critic Bruce Eder assessed Cohen's overall career in popular music by asserting that "he is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic … singer/songwriters of the late '60s … and has retained an audience across four decades of music-making…. Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), in terms of influence, he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is still working at the outset of the 21st century."

    The Academy of American Poets has commented more broadly on Cohen's overall career in the arts, including his work as a poet, novelist, and songwriter, stating that "Cohen's successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, published in 1993, which gathered more than 200 of Cohen's poems … several novel excerpts, and almost 60 song lyrics… while it may seem to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, his fans continue to embrace him as a Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines."

    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. During the 1960s, he was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol's "Factory" crowd. Warhol speculated that Cohen had spent time listening to Nico in clubs and that this had influenced his musical style. His song "Suzanne" became a hit for Judy Collins and was for many years his most covered song. After performing at a few folk festivals, he came to the attention of Columbia Records representative John H. Hammond who signed Cohen to a record deal.

    Musically, Cohen's early songs are based in folk music, in terms of both melody and instrumentation; from the 1970s, though, his work begins to show the influence of various types of popular and cabaret music. Since the 1980s he has typically sung in a deep bass register, accompanied by synthesisers and female backing vocals.

    Despite not embarking on a tour since 1993, Cohen was forced to go on the road in 2008, following the alleged misappropriation of over five million U.S. dollars from his retirement by his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch. This left him close to bankruptcy, and Cohen's mammoth world tour lasted two and a half years and included 246 shows.

    Cohen's songs are often emotionally heavy and lyrically complex, owing more to the metaphoric word play of poetry than to established conventions of songcraft. His work often explores the themes of religion, isolation, and complex interpersonal relationships.

    Cohen's music has greatly influenced other singer-songwriters, and more than a thousand cover versions of his works have been recorded. He is also popular in his native land, having been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and awarded the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour.

    Cohen released 14 studio albums and eight live albums during the course of a recording career lasting almost 50 years, throughout which he remained an active poet. His entire catalogue is available on Columbia Records. His 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen earned an RIAA gold record; he followed up with three more highly acclaimed albums: Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), before allowing Phil Spector to produce Death of a Ladies' Man for Warner Bros. Records in 1977. Cohen returned to Columbia in 1979 for Recent Songs, but the label declined to release his next album, Various Positions (1984) in the US, leaving it to American shops to import it from CBS Canada. In 1988, Columbia got behind Cohen again and gave full support to I'm Your Man, which brought his career to new heights, and Cohen followed it with 1992's The Future. Cohen then took a nine-year hiatus, and returned with Ten New Songs in 2001, which he made with Sharon Robinson, following this with Dear Heather (2004). In 2008 Cohen began touring for the first time in 15 years and, as well as the release of several live albums, he released Old Ideas (2012), which peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 albums chart. This was the highest ranking ever for a Leonard Cohen album, and it became his first to top the Canadian Albums Chart, a feat he repeated with his followup, Popular Problems, released in 2014. His live albums included Live Songs (1973), Cohen Live: Leonard Cohen in Concert (1994), Live in London (2009), Songs from the Road (2010), from his 2008–2009 world tour, and Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (2009).
    You Want It Darker is the fourteenth and final studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released on 21 October 2016, by Columbia Records. Cohen died three weeks after its commercial release, on 7 November 2016.


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