WEIRDLAND: R.I.P. Leonard Cohen (Parasite of Heaven)

Friday, November 11, 2016

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen (Parasite of Heaven)

Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer and songwriter whose work spanned nearly 50 years, died at the age of 82. Cohen was the dark eminence among a small pantheon of extremely influential singer-songwriters to emerge in the Sixties and early Seventies. Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equaled him as a song poet.

Cohen's haunting bass voice, nylon-stringed guitar patterns and Greek-chorus backing vocals shaped evocative songs that dealt with love and hate, sex and spirituality, war and peace, ecstasy and depression. He was also the rare artist of his generation to enjoy artistic success into his Eighties, releasing his final album, You Want It Darker, earlier this year. Cohen visited New York in 1966 to investigate the city's robust folk-rock scene. He met folk singer Judy Collins, who later that year included two of his songs, including the early hit "Suzanne," on her album In My Life. His New York milieu included Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and, most importantly, the haunting German singer Nico, whose despondent delivery he may have emulated on his exquisite 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen.

Cohen's relationship with Suzanne Elrod during most of the Seventies resulted in two children, the photographer Lorca Cohen and Adam Cohen, who leads the group Low Millions. Cohen was well known for his wandering ways, and his most stable relationships were with backing singers Laura Branigan, Sharon Robinson, Anjani Thomas, and, most notably, Jennifer Warnes, who he wrote with and produced. After indulging in a variety of international styles on Recent Songs (1979), Cohen accorded Warnes full co-vocal credit on 1984's Various Positions.


Various Positions included "Hallelujah," a meditation on love, sex and music that would become Cohen's best-known composition thanks to Jeff Buckley's incandescent 1994 reinterpretation. Its greatness wasn't recognized by Cohen's label, however. By way of informing him that Columbia Records would not be releasing Various Positions, label head Walter Yetnikoff reportedly told Cohen, "Look, Leonard; we know you're great, but we don't know if you're any good." Cohen returned to the label in 1988 with I'm Your Man, an album of sly humor and social commentary that launched the synths-and-gravitas style he continued on The Future (1992).

The final act of Cohen's career began in 2005, when Lorca Cohen began to suspect her father's longtime manager, Kelley Lynch, of embezzling funds from his retirement account. In fact, Lynch had robbed Cohen of more than $5 million. To replenish the fund, Cohen undertook an epic world tour during which he would perform 387 shows from 2008 to 2013. He continued to record as well, releasing Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems, which hit U.S. shops a day after his eightieth birthday. When the Grand Tour ended in December 2013, Cohen largely vanished from the public eye.


In October 2016, he released You Want It Darker, produced by his son Adam. Severe back issues made it difficult for Cohen to leave his home, so Adam placed a microphone on his dining room table and recorded him on a laptop. The album was met with rave reviews, though a New Yorker article timed to its release revealed that he was in very poor health. "I am ready to die," he said. "I hope it's not too uncomfortable. That's about it for me." "I’ve always been into self-dramatization," Cohen said last month. "I intend to live forever.” Source: www.rollingstone.com


Perhaps his most memorable song from Canadian poet/songwriter & performer Leonard Cohen. Cohen specified, notably in a BBC interview, that the song was about encountering Suzanne Verdal, the then wife of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, in a Montreal setting. Indeed, many lines describe different elements of the city, including its river (the Saint Lawrence) and a little chapel near the harbour, called Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (literally Our Lady of Good Help), which sits on the side of the harbour that faces the rising sun in the morning, as it is described in the song.

Suzanne Verdal was interviewed by CBC News's The National in 2006 about the song. Verdal claims that she and Cohen never had sexual relations, contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest. Cohen himself stated in a 1994 BBC interview that he only imagined having sex with her, as there was neither the opportunity nor inclination to actually go through with it. In any case, its lyrics first appeared as the poem "Suzanne Takes You Down" in Cohen's 1966 book of poetry Parasites of Heaven (1966).

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