Legendary singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen dies at 82

The revered musician, whose song Hallelujah became an anthem covered by thousands, had recently released "You Want It Darker", his 14th album which flirted with mortality, finality and the end of love.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Leonard Cohen had in several recent interviews spoken of aging and coming to grips with the finality of life.

Leonard Cohen, singer, song writer, poet and novelist, has died at 82.

Cohen, the legend who was known for working on songs sometimes for years had released his 14th album in September on his 82nd birthday, You Want It Darker. Stripped bare and sombre, the title track starts with “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game…” The album deals with finality and mortality without the baroque-ness of the macabre.

His death was announced on his Facebook page late on Thursday.

“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. A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief.”

The Facebook post did not elaborate on cause of death.

The man with the haunting bass voice and soothing words of love, sex, spirituality and grief was described by Rolling Stone magazine as being second only to Bob Dylan in impacting the sixties and seventies.

Cohen influenced many musicians around the world. Many would suggest Cohen left a more significant imprint.

Such was Cohen’s powerful but latent impact that only a few of millions of listeners knew that Hallelujah, recorded by hundreds of singers, was actually his -- a song which Dylan performed, but Jeff Buckley made famous and Shrek made commercial.

Cohen once said of the song’s meaning: “It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”

Poet and singer Leonard Cohen performs on the stage of the Stravinski hall during the 42nd Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. File photo, July 8, 2008.

Much like Hallelujah, a lot of Cohen’s songs dealt with love and sex – without the fuss of melodrama but just touchy enough for Joni Mitchel', his one-time girlfriend, to once dismiss him as a boudoir poet. Maudlin or not, Cohen had a way with women as he did with his words.  

Writer Ahmed Rashid said in his article for New York Review of Books, “At Cambridge University in the 1960s, we marched against the Vietnam War to the songs of Bob Dylan, but romanced young ladies to the poetry and songs of Leonard Cohen.”

Suzanne, which according to some writers started as one of Cohen’s poems, is not just his breakthrough song (1968), it is a stripped down, ethereal yet tangible portrait of his muse Suzanne Verdal – romanticising, almost fetishising the “half-crazy” flower child like many of his peers did.  

Cohen was a poet, a man of words, before he was anything else.

Born in Quebec, Canada on September 23, 1934, at 15 he learned to play guitar from a Spanish flamenco performer who, according to Cohen, taught him six chords which became the “basis of all my songs”. After university, he took the trust fund left him by his father, who died when he was nine, and moved to Greece to write novels. His lack of success prompted him to move to New York in the 60s – possibly one of the most electric times to be in the city (think Dylan, Nico and Andy Warhol).

Cohen was “discovered” when he was in his thirties and possibly worked on music till his very last days. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said there was a particularly lovely melody he was working on for the last 15 years, unable to fill in the words. No one knows if that song is on his last album or unfinished collection of poetry and music.

Cohen's nasal voice and deep-bass, conversational vocals were criticised by some as being monotone. British musician Paul Weller once called his melancholy style "music to slit your wrists to." File photo, Gijon, northern Spain, October 19, 2011.

Although born Jewish, in the 90s he lived as a monk in a Los Angeles-based Zen Buddhist monastery for five years. He also later spent time under a Hindu mystic in India. In an interview with The New Yorker less than a month ago, Cohen said he didn’t know if he would be able to complete any of his many unfinished melodies. “I am ready to die,” he said, “I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it.”

In Cohen’s words (from a song)

“There's truth that lives and truth that dies.

I don't know which, so never mind…

There is no need that this survive,

there's truth that lives and truth that dies.”