Leonard Cohen

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About this artist

It's hard to think of another artist who cares so little for or about pop music yet who has changed it, and influenced its practitioners, so profoundly as Leonard Cohen. One of the most original, compelling, and covered songwriters of the rock era, Leonard Cohen has slowly transitioned from a singer of elegantly spare folk dirges to a whisky-voiced smooth talker on elegantly spare electro-acoustic percolations. From the beginning, the smartly tailored Montreal native has seemed like an outsider and an elder statesman in the music world. A teenage flirtation with the beatnik jazz/folk scene led Cohen to a highly successful (but oddly forgotten) career as a countercultural poet and fiction writer. At the same time, singers started taking notice of Cohen's bohemian (but decidedly non-youth revolution) tunes and his most heralded composition, "Suzanne" was widely known before he even had a recording contract. In 1968, his striking debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen showcased "Suzanne" and nine other of his world-weary and bleak, yet highly romantic songs. The album wasn't a huge success but -- as with the Velvet Underground's debut record or Van Morrison's Astral Weeks -- a new cadre of rain-coated skeptics kept purchasing the album every year until it finally reached gold sales status. Each of the excellent collections leading up to 1975's Best of Leonard Cohen are filled with the tunesmith's circular guitar patterns and nicotine-stained tales of small hopes and shell-shocked heartbreaks. Songs such as "Bird On A Wire," "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Chelsea Hotel" would've made his reputation for the rest of his life but Cohen was slowly moving away from his stark, "just the facts, Ma'am" studio sound. In 1977, he teamed up with the wild-eyed production guru Phil Spector for Death of a Ladies Man, an uneasy listening concept album about the sexual revolution turning into a war of the sexes. It bombed yet somehow only gets more disturbing and more realized as the years pass. Cohen slowed down after this, taking big breaks between projects, then oddly began embracing synthesizers and Greek chorus-style backing vocalists on 1985's lovely Various Positions. As fresh and different as this album was, 1988's more outré I'm Your Man turned out to be a career rebirth and reintroduced the artist to the public. From here on out, Cohen no longer lived in the trenches, choosing to alternate his song guises between being an older, but wiser fool for love and an Old Testament God who forgoes fury and punishment for dispensations of charity and understanding. Cohen greeted the 1990s with a new fan base, the stunning actress Rebecca De Mornay on his arm, and a lingering bout of depression. In a plot twist that sounds like something out of a Leonard Cohen tune, the songwriter left the good life, spent most of the decade in hard labor at a Buddhist monastery and then came down from the mountain because he still craved female companionship. Cohen's Ten New Songs (2001) greeted the new millennium with typical understatement. The album lets anyone who cares to listen know that all the epic follies and romantic glories of the past century would be repeated in the new one.