The question “Who is the greatest singer/songwriter of all time?” could be debated by most music lovers long and to no final agreement. For my money, beyond any doubt, cross my heart and all that jazz my answer will always be Leonard Cohen. The Canadian singer/songwriter has pursued his muse wherever she has led him over a 45-year musical career to created a string of albums so full of personality and self-awareness that it is a disservice to call them confessional. Sure, he doesn’t hold claim to any platinum records, Grammy wins, and most people know his most well-known song through other artists‘ renditions, but from the first time that I listened to Mr. Cohen I was inspired. And like all of the greatest artistic discoveries we can ever make, the music of Leonard Cohen felt like mine and mine alone (though over the years I would learn that everyone from Bono and Prince Charles to Oliver Stone and Kurt Cobain had felt similarly about him). While the feeling of exclusivity is gone I am glad to still feel a spark of inspiration in me whenever I listen to his music or read his books.
Mr. Cohen’s untouchable genius resides in his pursuit of truth, his love and fondness for beauty and his unapologetic pursuit of poetry. And like the poets of old, he seems to be blessed by the gods. His descriptions of loneliness, his chronicling of his own feelings of despair and ecstasy, the constant awareness that exists in his songs of the world as it is even while he sings for what he would like it to be. And last but not least: his “golden voice”.
Cohen was a successful poet before trying his hand at songwriting which, of course, helped his songwriting immensely…in fact, I don’t know if anyone who has ever enjoyed Mr. Cohen’s music has shied away from calling his lyrics “lyrical” or “poetic”. I was pleased to see that the other day New York City’s 92 Street Y released the following clip of Mr. Cohen reading from his novel Beautiful Losers and some of his poems, as well as his first public singer performance (an early version of “The Stranger Song” which was released on his first album) as well as a wonderful reflection by the essayist Pico Iyer. An incredible introduction to Leonard Cohen for anyone who doesn’t know his work or personality too well, and a joy to listen to for longtime fans, please enjoy Mr. Leonard Cohen being himself and reading 44 years ago at the 92nd Street Y:
Here also is the brilliant documentary Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen from 1965. The film was originally meant to feature other young poets but the filmmakers realized Mr. Cohen had enough charisma for his own film. It only takes a few minutes of watching the film to see why. Please enjoy and feel free to ask me for any suggestions about where to start with your budding Leonard Cohen fandom.