Born in Canada and based in Los Angeles, where he enjoyed picking up coffee at the Starbucks at Highland and Wilshire, singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen has died at age 82, per his Facebook page, after suffering various illnesses.
Many baby boomers grew up on Cohen, advertised as “the master of erotic despair,” whose 60s songs like “Suzanne” and “The Sisters of Mercy” and later entries “Calling All Angels” and especially, “Hallelujah,” were performed by many other top recording artists, from Judy Collins, U2 and Bob Dylan to Rufus Wainwright and K.D. Lang.
Over 45 years Cohen carefully produced about a dozen albums (his most recent, “You Want it Darker,” was released last month), but more than 2000 recordings were made of his songs. The incantatory sacred/profane “Hallelujah,” which took Cohen five years to write, appeared in many television shows and movies, from “Shrek” and “American Idol” to Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing.”
In David Remnick’s recent New Yorker profile, Cohen said he was “ready to die.” He was discovered in 1966 by the same producer who found Bob Dylan, John Hammond, when the poet was 32, living at the Chelsea Hotel and hanging with pal Patti Smith. Dylan, who considered Cohen his nearest rival, wrote to Remnick about the fellow balladeer’s musicality:
“When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius. Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like ‘The Law,’ which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines.”
Cohen never stopped making music that audiences embraced, and kept touring into his late 70s, finally stopping in 2013.
Recently Cohen’s moving letter to his old love Marianne, the subject of one of his best songs, who was dying of cancer, went viral. Cohen wrote:
Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
Now they are together.