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Who is Leonard Cohen?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Leonard Cohen is a singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist, originally from the city of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. He was born in 1934, and wrote several books of poetry and fiction throughout the 1960s; his novels, such as Beautiful Losers, followed somewhat in the stream-of-consciousness tradition of Beatnik writers like Jack Kerouac. However, Leonard Cohen made a transition to music in 1967, and today is best known for his songs.

When Leonard Cohen moved to the United States in 1967, he began to pursue a career as a musician. He first gained success as a songwriter, when his folk song, "Suzanne," was covered by Judy Collins. However, Leonard Cohen soon signed a record deal with John Hammond of Columbia Records, who was also responsible for signing Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Cohen's first album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, released in 1967, was a somber folk album with lyrics that reflected his skills as a poet. The album was not a commercial success, but critics appreciated it, and he became a cult figure through the United States and Europe.

Throughout the 1970s, Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded many albums. Though he never gained a high level of commercial success, he built a strong and steady following over the years, and toured frequently in Europe and the United States. Leonard Cohen released very little music during the 1980s and 1990s, but several songs from his 1992 album, The Future, were used in the soundtrack to the film Natural Born Killers, exposing his music to a younger audience.

In 1994, Leonard Cohen retreated to a Buddhist monastery, where he lived for five years with no outside communication. He was ordained as a Buddhist monk, but eventually left the monastery in 1999 to return to his music.

Since then, Leonard Cohen has released two albums: 2001's Ten New Songs, and the jazz-influenced Dear Heather, which was released in 2004. Leonard Cohen has also dealt with ongoing legal problems in recent years; he alleged that, during his time in the monastery, his former manager, Kelley Lynch, stole more than $5 million US Dollars (USD) from his retirement fund, along with the publishing rights to his songs. Leonard Cohen won a civil suit against Lynch and was awarded $9 million USD by the court; however, Lynch has refused to pay, and so Cohen may never collect the money.

In 2006, a documentary film called Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man was released. The film deals with the life and works of Leonard Cohen, and his influence on other musicians. The film focuses on a Leonard Cohen tribute show in Sydney Australia, featuring artists such as Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, and U2 playing Cohen's songs.

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Discussion Comments

By jamiedsongs — On Jun 12, 2007

I've been doing a lot of research to no avail,

so perhaps you can answer this once and for all.

I am a songwriter. I thought I heard from several

sources that Leonard Cohen somehow didn't own

the copyright to "Suzanne" for some reason.

If not Leonard Cohen, then perhaps another

classic song by another iconic songwriter.

I recall the songwriter remarking he was "OK"

with the copyright loss.

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