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Canada Loses Leonard Cohen, Songwriter, Poet

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Image: Roland Godefroy
Image: Roland Godefroy

Leonard Cohen, one of Canada’s best-known songwriters and poets, has died at the age of 82.

He wasn’t “born with the gift of a golden voice,” as one of his songs famously put it. In fact, his voice was deep, gravelly and could even said to be tuneless. But that was part of his charm.

Every song he wrote was a poem. That is one of the things that made his lyrics memorable. (Lyrics are the words to a song, as opposed to the music.)

He was loved in Canada, and especially his native Montreal. But he also influenced poets and songwriters around the world. In the 1960s, now-famous musicians like James Taylor and Judy Collins, and artist Andy Warhol, hung out with him and were influenced by his lyrics and poems. In the 60s, Cohen also published several books of poetry including Flowers for Hitler (1964) and Beautiful Losers (1966). Cohen had a famous friendship with another Canadian poet, Irving Layton.

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
-from Anthem, by Leonard Cohen

One of Cohen’s most famous and best-loved songs, Hallelujah, was recorded and performed so many times that he eventually grew sick of hearing it and asked people to stop singing it. Not that they listened. Hallelujah is a hauntingly beautiful and moving song. Other famous Leonard Cohen songs include Suzanne, I’m Your Man and Tower of Song.

Cohen wrote and performed his songs for more than 50 years. In fact, just before he died, he released an album called You Want It Darker, with the help of his son, Adam.

Although he was born in Quebec, he was a world traveller, living in many different countries including Hydra in Greece, New York,

In 1995, Cohen stopped recording songs and became a Buddhist monk, renaming himself Jikan, which means “silence.” In 2001, he went back to singing and songwriting.

Leonard Cohen was laid to rest last weekend in Montreal, his son Adam, wrote on Instagram. “As I write this, I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work,” wrote Adam Cohen.

Related Link
This CBC article about some of Cohen’s lyrics, and including videos of some of his songs, is uplifting: Leonard Cohen lyrics to help bring you into the light

Many people recorded this song, but its lyrics as sung and interpreted by Cohen himself, are truly remarkable.

Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen (YouTube video, 7:19)

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Leonard Cohen was both a poet and a musician. As such many will remember him for his lyrics, while many will remember him for his music. In your opinion, what is more powerful, poetry or music? Why do you think so?

Language Feature: Synonyms

The last paragraph, written by Leonard Cohen’s son, is a moving description of his father. It contains many words you may not know, but they are worth looking up. Write synonyms for the following words:

self-deprecation __________________________

elegance _______________________________

Bonus: What do you think “approachable elegance” means? _____________________________________

charisma ______________________________

audacity _______________________________

old-world ______________________________

hand-forged ____________________________