Another giant of music has gone and his fans are in mourning.
There were hints that Leonard Cohen would not live much longer, but in a year that has already taken away Prince, David Bowie and George Martin, his death – announced via a Facebook post on Thursday – still came as a shock.
“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,” the post said.
Twitter was soon awash in tributes from singers, writers, poets and public figures mourning the loss of a musical giant.
The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, sent out two tweets, first in French and then in English.
Trudeau then quoted from one of Cohen’s best-known songs, Hallelujah (1984), which took the artist five years to write and has been covered by hundreds of artists – including, most famously, Jeff Buckley.
Musicians across all genres, from hip-hop to pop to rock, tweeted out their condolences, including Ben Folds, Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order, KD Lang, Slash, Lily Allen and Bette Midler.
“Another magical voice stilled,” wrote Midler.
Cohen alluded to his own death in a recent and wide-ranging interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick, in which he talked about his unfinished poems and lyrics.
“The big change is the proximity to death,” he says. “I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I can. If I can’t, that’s OK. But my natural thrust is to finish things that I’ve begun.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to finish those songs,” he continued. “Maybe, who knows? And maybe I’ll get a second wind, I don’t know. But I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
The New Yorker has published the audio of that interview online.
Some of the world’s biggest artist count Cohen among their influences. He was a songwriting peer and friend of Bob Dylan, who told the New Yorker: “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius ... As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.”
Speaking in Los Angeles this month at a Q&A session for his most recent album, You Want It Darker, Cohen returned the favour, speaking of Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize win: “To me, [the award] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.”
Kurt Cobain was also affected by the writing of Cohen; in Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea, from the album In Utero, he sung: “Give me Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally.”
In an interview with MTV in 1995, the year after Cobain’s suicide, Cohen revealed the band had attended a performance of his in Seattle in 1993. “I’m sorry I couldn’t have spoken to the young man,” he said. “There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him. Or maybe not.”
Cohen was also a poet and author, whose 1966 novel Beautiful Losers was praised by the Boston Globe upon release: “James Joyce is not dead. He is living in Montreal under the name of Cohen.”
Writing for the Guardian in 2008, Alex Larman said Cohen the poet deserved as much appreciation as Cohen the songwriter.
“Cohen would still be highly thought of if he’d never written a song in his life but had stuck to writing his wry, ironic, tender verse,” he wrote. “As Cohen’s musical career acquired momentum, many of his collections were either compilations of earlier poems or collections of lyrics. Nevertheless, the writing elevates Cohen into that rare pantheon where a musician’s lyrics are actually poetry.”
Cohen’s first album, released in 1967, contained classic songs including Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy and So Long, Marianne, written for his muse and lover Marianne Ihlen, who died in July this year. Before she died, Cohen wrote Marianne an email, which has since gone viral.
“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon,” the email read. “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine ... Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
Cohen was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada in 2002 – the country’s highest honour. In a statement at the time, the governer general praised him as a “Canadian icon” whose “continued popularity confirms his status as a ... venerated dean of the pop culture movement”.
His manager, Robert Kory, wrote in a statement: “Unmatched in his creativity, insight and crippling candour, Leonard Cohen was a true visionary whose voice will be sorely missed. I was blessed to call him a friend, and for me to serve that bold artistic spirit firsthand, was a privilege and great gift. He leaves behind a legacy of work that will bring insight, inspiration and healing for generations to come.”
Writers too were mourning the loss, including Gary Shteyngart, who quoted from Cohen’s song Everybody Knows.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of hit Broadway musical Hamilton, tweeted lyrics from Suzanne.
Many pointed out the auspicious timing of Cohen’s death, just one day after the United States surprised many by electing Donald Trump.
“He got out just in time,” said podcaster and comedian Marc Maron.
Canadian comedian and actor Mark Critch had a similar take: “Leonard knew when to leave a party.”
“I don’t think this week could get any worse,” wrote actor Molly Ringwald. Rob Lowe tweeted: “I’ve experienced the loss of many legends, but never have I seen so many works quoted in their passing.”
Actor Russell Crowe thanked him for “the quiet nights, the reflection, the perspective, the wry smiles and the truth”, and burlesque star, model and entrepreneur Dita von Teese said he had “the most sensual male voice of all time”.
New Zealand artist Bic Runga, who opened for Leonard Cohen during a 2010 tour, posted a photo of her meeting “one of my heroes”.
“I’m gutted,” she tweeted.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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