Leonard Cohen – the poet, the fedora, the baritone

The man who explained ‘how the light gets in’ to the world


November 11, 2016

/ By and / Kolkata

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Leonard Cohen in one of his many live concerts.

Leonard Cohen in one of his many live concerts.

Music transcends all borders and the melancholy that has set in among music lovers worldwide proves the colossal void left by the demise of singer, songwriter Leonard Cohen.

He was 82, but his profound body of original work will continue to be a living treasure chest for song writers, music lovers and creative minds all over the world. The publicist of his social media pages informed the demise of Cohen on Facebook earlier this morning. “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.” The Facebook post goes on to say that a private memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date and the family requests privacy during their time of grief.

What remains a matter of allegories and further speculation is that Cohen released his final album called ‘You want it darker’ just a month ago. The album featured Cohen’s thoughts on his own mortality. The death of his partner Marianne Ihlen in July was probably another reason that made Leonard a loner in his last few days. The Norwegian woman lived with Cohen in Hydra, the Greek island and inspired songs such as ‘So Long, Marianne’.

In his last letter to Marianne, Cohen was certain that he will follow her very soon:

In 1966, a poet and a novelist from Quebec moved to New York. He was fairly popular as a writer but he wanted to make his way into the hearts of his readers with his music. Over the years, he was sometimes compared to Bob Dylan for his affinity to folk-rock and the strong statements about redemption, sexual desire and freedom. His songs, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Everybody Knows’ and ‘Joan of Arc’ still remain an epitome of spiritual prophecy.

Born into a Jewish family in 1934 and raised in an affluent English-speaking neighbourhood of Montreal, Cohen redefined song writing in America. His contribution in the rock movement had epoch making impact on the musical emancipation in India as well.  In his later life, until 2013, Cohen toured extensively from after being unable to recover USD 9 million against his former manager and lover, Kelley Lynch, whom he accused of draining his savings. Releasing his fourteenth and final album in 2016, and finding publications to his name, Cohen leaves behind the legacy of a poet who is loved and admired deeply, but more importantly sought to be shared and read extensively.

Cohen in India

Cohen inspired many who walked the boulevards of the independent music scene in India. Indian singers and song writers of the late seventies, eighties and the nineties have often quoted Cohen in many of their works, He still remains relevant for Bengali singer songwriter Anjan Dutt who says, “Leonard Cohen was perhaps the only other songwriter apart from Dylan who can be referred to as the Shakespeare or Brecht of song writing. Obviously his voice was the best voice in the history of rock.” Popular for his simple yet cohesive lyrics, Dutt as a contemporary of Cohen expresses his deep-seated love and respect for the one who wrote Joan of Arc. “He inspired me to compose my latest album Unoshaat. The reference is obvious if you hear it. I still remember the overwhelming impact of my first Cohen song…Like A bird On A Wire… one of the most romantic, spiritual and passionate songs ever written,” he added.

It was 1999, when he visited India, allured by the preaching of a Hindu guru called Ramesh Balsekar. He was on a spiritual mission in Mumbai, seeking to learn more of Vedanta philosophy. Although, his connection to the world was through his poems and songs, he believed that his trip to Mumbai changed his perspective towards life by adding to the knowledge that he had gained over the years also as a Zen monk. This chapter adds another layer to his character to say the least. A singer song writer who voiced for spiritual as well as sexual freedom gets mesmerised by a Hindu guru in the remote suburbs of western India.

Many have attempted to cover the music of the master over the years, with songs featured on TV shows as odes to him. Hallelujah, arguably Cohen’s most well known song, has seen a cover by MK Balaji on his YouTube channel. Electronic fusion musician Karsh Kale and classical Hindustani singer Shilpa Rao had also, earlier in 2012, performed a version of the song on the popular Indian TV show, Coke Studio. In a live music performance recorded in the studio, the musicians came together with Rao singing one of her songs alongside Kale’s take on Hallelujah which he has earlier worked on with Warren Mendonsa.

A large number of celebrities from India, including actress Soha Ali Khan, and musicians Vishal Dadlani and Papon expressed their anguish at Cohen’s passing away. Ehsan Noorani, from the popular music director trio Shankar-Ehsan-Loy, tweeted:

Leonard Cohen won’t be heard live again, but he will no doubt continue to enthrall us through his renditions. Like he asserted in one of his timeless songs, he indeed is the man.

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