In 1971, at just fourteen years old I went to see the latest Robert Altman film at Providence's Avon Cinema with my father and older sister. It was an unorthodox dream western set in Winter called McCabe & Mrs. Miller. I had never seen a western like it. The hero was a gambler (Warren Beatty), his love interest was a madam (Julie Christie), and the bad guy was the evil mining corporations. The film was captivating with its fascinating flawed characters, evocative cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, innovative overlapping dialogue, and the haunting use of Leonard Cohen songs.
That was my introduction to Mr. Cohen and his fifty year legacy of songwriting and tone poems. He was (to me) the Canadian Dylan.
Like Dylan, Cohen’s voice was assessable and raw yet with a delivery that had stature and could reach my soul. Also like Dylan, he came to the attention of his label and was signed by John Hammond Sr. However that’s where the comparisons end. Cohen would not become the voice of a generation or a rock superstar (although he did better than Dylan on MTV with his hit Everybody Knows) but he always remained vital and influential throughout his artistic endeavors.
I regret that I never saw him live, but there was plenty of live shows documented including two memorable appearances on PBS’ Austin City Limits that showed his prowess in performance parlance.
He completed fourteen studio recordings including the brand new You Want it Darker produced by his son Adam who stated recently that his father was very excited by what he considered to be one of his greatest releases. Mr. Cohen is also the author of two novels; 1963’s The Favorite Game and 1966’s Beautiful Losers.
One of his most famous songs, Hallelujah, has been performed by almost 200 artists in various languages. Besides a beautiful melody, the lyrics contain the prophetic stylings that will make his art endure:
"Maybe there's a God above,
But all I've ever learned from love,
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya,
And it's not a cry that you hear at night,
It's not somebody who's seen the light,
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah”
Leonard Cohen passed away peacefully on November 7th at age 82. His work will last much longer.
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