Leonard Cohen (b. September 21, 1934 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada) represents the quintessential marriage of extraordinary artistry and sharp, poignant intellect. Known primarily as a folk singer/songwriter, Cohen is equally a brilliant poet and novelist compared to the likes of James Joyce or Henry Miller. It was not until 1967, at which time Cohen was well in his thirties, that he released his debut album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen; by this time he was an internationally celebrated writer, and so it is that same literary base which elevates Cohen’s musical work to the heights of genius. Including such songs as “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy” and “So Long, Marianne,” the album is a melancholy masterpiece of insight and observation. His next album, the dark and minimalist Songs from a Room, was released in 1969 and includes such powerful songs as the sparse classic “Bird on the Wire” and the anti-war “The Story of Isaac.” The 1970s was another highly prolific decade for Cohen, with the release of albums such as Songs of Love and Hate (1971,) Live Songs (1973,) and, after a tour of Israeli army bases during the Yom Kippur War, New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974,) Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977,) and Recent Songs (1979.) In 1984, Cohen released the critically acclaimed Various Positions, a more modern-sounding collection of songs prominently featuring vocalist Jennifer Warnes and including the masterpiece “Hallelujah,” later famously covered by Jeff Buckley. Cohen spent a considerable amount of the 1990s in deep seclusion at a Zen Buddhist retreat in California, eventually becoming ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk under the name Jikjan. After leaving the retreat in 1999, he began collaborating with singer/songwriter Sharon Robinson for 2001’s Ten New Songs, and in 2004 released the experimental and far less somber Dear Heather, his first collaboration with jazz singer/songwriter Anjani Thomas. Leonard Cohen – the singer/songwriter, poet, novelist and thinker – stands among the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters,” combining a dark, explicit and bitterly ironical tone with lush and deeply romantic sensuality to discuss, like none other, such themes as love, religion, isolation, sexuality, death and beauty. For this reason Leonard Cohen remains one of the most fascinating artistic figures of our times.
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