When skimming the Entertainment Section of the Times this weekend, I noticed that Leonard Cohen has two shows coming up at arenas in the New York market. His career is truly remarkable. Leonard is 78 years old and going strong. To call him a “rock star” doesn’t do him justice. He is just as renowned for being a poet and an author. He was also one of the first artists to use the internet to reach his audience.
Calling Leonard a great singer would be incorrect. Most of his recordings are more along the lines of a poetry recital put to music than most artists. He is one of the great stylists of all-time and has written some of the greatest songs and lyrics of all time. Yet he has never had anything resembling a hit single.
His original recording of “Hallejulah” was first released in 1984. John Cage covered it in 1991 and that version was the basis of Jeff Buckley’s version, which in my opinion is the ultimate version of this great song. The song has been covered over 200 times in many languages, but again has never been a chart hit in the U.S.
Leonard gives new meaning to the word enigma. He has often gone long stretches (sometimes well over ten years) without touring. He is Canadian, but seems more English. He has gotten the image, deserved or not, as a “lady’s man”, yet his private life is a well-guarded secret. I worked at Columbia for over 20 years and never remember meeting Leonard once.
Despite his lack of hit records, long absences from the road, financial problems and low profile public personna, he has managed to have a total re-emergence of his career. From his start as a 60’s folk-singer and poet with classic songs such as “Suzanne”, “So Long Marianne”, “Bird On A Wire” up to his latest album “Old Ideas” everything from Cohen just oozes credibility and class.
As a performer he is among the most charismatic that I have ever seen, yet he barely moves a muscle on stage. I may be wrong, but I doubt that anyone has guided Leonard’s career. Oh sure, he must have had managers over the years. But they did little but answer the phone. I find it impossible to believe that anyone but Leonard has called the shots. Everything about him seems to have been handled with a delicacy rarely seen. It just feels totally organic and real. You can count the number of times you have seen Leonard on TV on one hand. The few radio interviews he has done in recent years were carefully chosen and limited to stations like KCRW and other public outlets.
It would be impossible to plan a career like this. It is almost impossible to describe his accomplishments. Once again, a singer/songwriter, who has never recorded a hit single is in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. But somehow, even if you are not a music fan, you know who he is. You probably know one of his songs. Even if he didn’t sing the version you are most familiar with. The word legendary is over used, but it definitely applies to Leonard Cohen.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, make sure you do. He may not be touring much longer, don’t miss seeing Canada’s great export.