A historical walk through the life and work of Leonard Cohen organized by decade and categorized by topic.
Most of the concert dates are taken from Jim Devlin's amazing resource "Is This What You Wanted." Thanks, Jim!
If you would like to make a contribution to creating this timeline, please contact Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org
* * * (4 Stars - Highest Rating)
At 70, Leonard Cohen seems to have finally made peace with himself. That’s a wonderful thing for Cohen, now a devout Buddhist. But is it good for Cohen the recordmaker and songwriter?
The answer suggested by Dear Heather is yes. And no.
On the plus side, Cohen manages to approach what for him will have to pass for happiness with the same unflinching gaze - one part stoicism, the rest a blend of wit, reverence and spite - he’s brought to his best work, from Death of a Ladies Man to later winners like I’m You Man and The Future. The familiar croak is still here, more spoken-word suggestive of melody and rhythm than actual singing, and we welcome it. The lyrics remain brilliant and virtually without parallel. The cool, late-night vibe is intact, the ghosts of ladies hanging about like viscous specters from a Norman Mailer novel one minute, pale Ophelias the next.
The trouble is Cohen’s seeming relaxation. He’s placed the overarching ethic of his music in the hands of producer Sharon Robinson, which is not necessarily a bad thing, since she handled his last record, 10 New Songs, quite wonderfully. But this time around, there are moments when it seems a little too obvious that Robinson composed and recorded the music, Cohen showing up to add his bits over the top at a later date. As a result, there is a disembodied feel that plagues parts of the record though it never manages to wholly derail it.
There are moments of sublime, poetic beauty here, and they make up for a few spots that sound phoned-in: “The Letters” is the prime example.
There is a sense of inner peace throughout Dear Heather - and that’s the first time anyone has been able to say as much about a Leonard Cohen record. Is it because of this that the record falls just a notch short of his best previous work? Maybe. But even a slightly substandard Cohen album is a wonder to behold.
"Dear Heather" by Jeff Miers, The Buffalo News, January 7, 2005.
Leonard Cohen Awarded the Ninth Glenn Gould Prize
An iconic and innovative force in songwriting, performance and poetry
Toronto, ON (April 1, 2011) - Singer, songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen has been awarded The Ninth Glenn Gould Prize. The international award is presented biennially to a living luminary who has made a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts and manifests the values of innovation, inspiration and transformation. A tribute to Glenn Gould’s artistry and his multifaceted contributions to culture, the prize promotes the vital connection between artistic excellence and the transformation of lives.
"I want to thank The Glenn Gould Foundation for their kindness. It is a great honour, sweetened by my love of the work of Glenn Gould, and our collective appreciation of his invigorating and enduring presence in the world of Music and Imagination," stated Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen was chosen from a distinguished list of international candidates nominated by the general public and will receive a cash prize of $50,000 (CDN) and the opportunity to choose an outstanding young artist to receive The City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize of $15,000 (CDN). Mr. Cohen and his protégé will receive their awards at a gala ceremony in Toronto and their work will be honoured through a series of public events later this year.
Jury Chair Paul Hoffert said, “The jury was unanimous in selecting Leonard Cohen as the Ninth Glenn Gould Prize laureate. His poetry and music transcend national boundaries and cultures by touching our common humanity. His unique voice is nonetheless the common voice of people around the globe telling our stories, expressing our emotions, reaching deeply into our psyches. Like Glenn Gould, his work touches audiences far outside his main genre. Hallelujah!”
The illustrious jury for the Ninth Glenn Gould Prize included singer/songwriter, indie producer and UN Goodwill Ambassador Dadawa (China); screenwriter, film and opera director Atom Egoyan (Canada); actor, screenwriter, author and director Stephen Fry (UK); celebrated pianist, teacher, author and music administrator Gary Graffman (United States); film producer, founder and director of DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art and PHI Group Phoebe Greenberg (Canada); singer, educator and vocal producer Elaine Overholt (Canada); and recording industry executive Costa Pilavachi (Canada/UK/Greece).
For four decades, Leonard Cohen has been one of the most important and influential songwriters of our time, relentlessly examining the central issues in human experience, and reporting with passion, insight and wisdom. His body of work is a reflection of the zeitgeist of the late 20th century and beyond. His songs are works of great poetic depth and profound emotional force, and set new standards for quality, range and seriousness in pop music. Artists and music-lovers alike are drawn to the dignity, ambition and sheer power of his songs.
An accomplished literary figure before he began recording music in the late 1960s, his collections of poetry, including Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) and Flowers for Hitler, and his novels including The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), had already brought him considerable recognition. His dual careers in music and literature have continued feeding each other over the decades - his songs revealing a literary richness rare in the world of popular music, and his poetry and prose informed by an intense musicality. Collectively, Cohen has published 12 books including Book of Longing (2006), a collection of prose, poetry and drawings which was the first book of poetry to reach the top of Canada’s bestsellers’ lists, and which formed the basis of a memorable musical and theatre collaboration with composer Philip Glass which premiered at Toronto’s Luminato festival.
Leonard Cohen is one of the most covered artists alive today, influencing generations of songwriters, and his music has earned the accolades of other artists in tribute albums in France, Norway, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic, South Africa, and the United States. “Hallelujah”, one of Cohen’s best-known and best-loved songs has been covered by over 150 artists including Willie Nelson and Bono. Numerous documentaries, awards, and tribute albums acknowledge the far-reaching contribution Cohen has made to music. He continues to refine and deepen his art, and as a musician he is constantly exploring new territory.
The Glenn Gould Foundation honours Glenn Gould’s spirit and legacy by celebrating brilliance, promoting creativity and transforming lives through the power of music and the arts with the Foundation’s signature activities, including The Glenn Gould Prize. Past laureates include Dr. José Antonio Abreu (2008), founder of El Sistema, Venezuela’s free music education program for children and youth, Pierre Boulez (2002), Oscar Peterson (1993) and Yo-Yo Ma (1999). For more information on the foundation, prize and jurors visit www.glenngould.ca.
"Leonard Cohen Awarded the Ninth Glenn Gould Prize," Glenn Gould Foundation, April 1, 2011
LEONARD COHEN - Field Commander Cohen: Tour Of 1979
In the absence of any new material by Leonard Cohen, fans of the influential Canadian singer-songwriter are obliged to take what they can get, including this live set arriving in stores Tuesday. Fortunately, the bottom of the barrel is nowhere in sight. This warm, intimate and splendidly performed document, culled from from dates in London and Brighton from December, 1979, maintains a robust, gypsy tone. The title track, which starts things off, sounds like a forgotten inspirational number from the Spanish Civil War. Much of the credit goes to violinist Raffi Hakopian, heard to lyrical effect on “The Window” and “The Gypsy Wife,” with strong support throughout from John Bilezikjian on mandolin and Cohen’s own, Latin-inflected guitar playing. With backing vocals from Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson, Cohen’s voice is as rich and creamy as cappuccino. Throw in the shooby-doo of “Memories” and the two-punch finish of “Bird On The Wire” and “So Long, Marianne” and you arrive at the end of 63 minutes wishing it was only the intermission.
"LEONARD COHEN - Field Commander Cohen: Tour Of 1979" by Vit Wagner, Toronto Star, February 19, 2001.
Leonard Cohen: Poet of the Holy Sinners
Leonard Cohen has long been a poet of the sacred and profane. Like his fellow Jewish pop troubadours, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, Cohen has, for 50 years now, written and sung about love, God, temptation and sex — “though arguably to greater extremes and with a more intellectual bent than his better-known contemporaries.” Beginning in the 1960s, Cohen’s literary albums and musical poetry conveyed a uniquely intelligent blend of tormented love and prophetic fire; though never as famous as Dylan, or Paul Simon, or other guitar-slinging poets, he has been an icon for decades. Yet, in the 1990s Cohen became a Zen monk, renouncing worldly pleasures, donning black robes and taking on the name Jikan, which means “Silent One.”
"Book of Longing," Cohen’s first new book of poems in more than 20 years, is a synthesis of the worldly and the other-worldly. In it, Cohen has crafted a poetic religion of whiskey, women and cigarettes, both a typically Zen Buddhist repudiation of all forms of religious piety and one framed by the categories of Jewish sensibility. It is antinomian and reverent, deeply sexual and deeply spiritual. In "Other Writers," Cohen declares:
Steve Sanfield is a great haiku master
he writes about the small things
which stand for all things.
Kyozan Joshu Roshi,
addresses the simultaneous
expansion and contraction
of the cosmos.
I go on and on
about a noble young woman
who unfastened her jeans
in the front of my jeep
I’ve got to tell you, friends,
I prefer my stuff to theirs.
There is precedent for Cohen’s Zen impiety: Ikkyu, the 14th-century master of Japanese poetry who scandalized his contemporaries (and, likely, ours) by cavorting with prostitutes, getting drunk and railing against the institutional hierarchy of Zen Buddhism — all as a fully enlightened Zen teacher. “Don’t hesitate to get laid — that’s wisdom,” he wrote in one short poem (translated here by Stephen Berg). “Sitting around chanting? What crap.” There are fewer of these “holy sinners” in the Jewish tradition, but arguably Ginsberg is among them, and perhaps Philip Roth, too, in his own way.
Cohen’s is the voice of the resolute spiritual traveler who has come to embrace worldly pleasures as objects of devotion. Now over 70, and writing often about his mortality, Cohen remains resolutely libidinous, and more convinced than ever of the irreducible holiness of what the pious condemn as profane. He has moments of enlightenment with his roshi — brought on by drinking $300 scotch. He says to his diary, “I mean no disrespect/But you are more sublime/Than any Sacred Text.” And Cohen’s signature symbol, rendered in a woodcut that appears throughout the illustrated “Book of Longing” as well as on the cover of his most recent album, looks like a Jewish star but is actually two interlocked hearts.
"I am old but I have no regrets/not one/even though I am angry and alone/and filled with fear and desire," Cohen writes in "On the Path." To some, this may not seem like spirituality, which to both deniers and believers is often said to be about leaving behind anger and fear and dwelling in peace and joy.
But there are two kinds of spiritual teachers in the world: those who claim to know the answers, and those who have only questions. The first fill the self-help shelves, and the inspirational section of the bookstore; they deal in facile answers, fantasies, simplicity and certainty. The second are the poets, the storytellers and those precious few mystics who know that the simple banalities of conventional morality, be it Eastern or Western, are not only reductive and clichéd; they are actively destructive to an authentic spiritual journey. They truck not in answers but in questions, not in fantasies but in realities — in subtlety, not simplicity, and in uncompromising, honest uncertainty.
Cohen’s voice is of the latter kind, of course, and it is one that experienced spiritual practitioners — by which I mean not those who dabble on weekends in a few Carlebach tunes, but those who have devoted weeks, months, years to serious introspection and contemplative work — will instantly recognize as one of their own. “Book of Longing” has the occasional didactic poem, but many more recognize the travails of the spiritual path. In “The Lovesick Monk,” for example, Cohen complains, “I shaved my head/I put on robes/I sleep in the corner of a cabin/sixty-five hundred feet up a mountain/It’s dismal here/The only thing I don’t need/is a comb.” One of his many self-portraits includes the line “We are not convinced there has been any improvement.” And in the short poem “Fun,” he acknowledges that grace is unpredictable:
It is so much fun
to believe in G-d
You must try it sometime
Try it now
and find out whether
G-d wants you
to believe in Him
Cohen’s Jewishness is more present in these religious poems than in any of his previous work; many of the poems have Jewish themes, as well as Jewish terms such as “G-d.” Yet Cohen’s remains a delightfully heretical Jewishness (he also sometimes writes “sex” as “s-x”). “By the Rivers Dark,” for example, echoes Psalm 137: “By the rivers dark /I wandered on/I lived my life/in Babylon.” But Cohen does not yearn for the pieties of Jerusalem: On the contrary, he writes, “be the truth unsaid/and the blessing gone/if I forget my Babylon.” Cohen’s hero is King David, not the idealized one of simple myth but the complex, flawed, and dynamically sexual man of the Bible: “the king who sent Uriah to his death so that could marry his wife, Bathsheba”; the old man betrayed by lust; the poet and the loner. That David, the singing, sexual one, is the hero of Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah,” and his poetry, as described by Cohen (blending the stories of David and Samson) is likewise derived from what some would call sin: “Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you/She tied you to her kitchen chair/She broke your throne and she cut your hair/And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.”
This is neither cynicism nor the lazy secularism of those who mask their insecurity with rationale. It is experience. What the “crazy wisdom” poets like Ikkyu and Cohen recognize, and what moralizers never do, is that ultimately, the paramount task of the spiritual seeker is to give up any notion of knowing the right answer, or even the right course of action. Ideals of justice and compassion remain, of course; but the pretense of piety is only an obstruction to the openness and wisdom that are the hallmarks of the liberated mind. The poet returns to where he began: knowing that we are flawed, powerful animals, even as he also knows the ineffable, the transcendent. The mystic’s embrace of the worldly is not the same as the materialist’s rejection of the spiritual. Cohen’s verse — some rhyming, some blank, some in the form of prose-poem — often evokes the numinous. Consider these lines from “Love Itself”:
All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.
Then I came back from where I’d been
My room, it looked the same —
But there was nothing left between
The Nameless and the Name.
Ultimately, these late poems of Leonard Cohen are, like the story of David, records of a man with equal lusts for women and God (more so than his recent albums, which have been compromised by slick, AOR-style arrangements that often undermine Cohen’s own dark presence), and who, perhaps unlike his biblical precursor, has come to affirm the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the sensual. Like those of the great Jewish heretic Jacob Frank, Cohen’s revelations are occasioned by beautiful women — and sometimes consist of them. Cohen may seem impious, but what’s the alternative? After all, it’s precisely those preachers who are the most pious and puritanical regarding sexuality who have skeletons, and sexualities, in the closet.
Speaking as a religious-sensual poet myself, I’ll take one Leonard Cohen over a hundred finger-wagging traditional rabbis, beatifically smiling New Agers and hackneyed self-help writers — not to mention cowardly hipster-cynics and their ilk. For those of us with more mature approaches to spirituality than the various alternatives they offer — pietism, denial, ignorance or reductivism — it’s deeply inspiring (and not in the “inspirational” sense of the word) to imagine the septuagenarian Cohen, gravel-voiced and stubble-faced, adding his “Book of Longing” to the library of spiritual verse. In “Opened My Eyes,” the poet prays:
G-d opened my eyes this morning loosened the bands of sleep let me see the waitress’s tiny earrings and the merest foothills of her small breasts […] Thank You Ruler of the World Thank You for calling me Honey
We need prayers like these.
"Leonard Cohen: Poet of the Holy Sinners" by Jay Michaelson, The Jewish Daily Forward, April 20, 2007.
Many more reviews and other info on Book of Longing at the site devoted to the book.
Leonard Cohen donates $50,000 prize to Canada
Toronto, May 14, 2012 - Leonard Cohen donated his $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize to the Canada Council for the Arts at a star-studded concert in his honour at Toronto’s Massey Hall.
"The truth is without the help and encouragement of the Canada Council I would never have written The Favourite Game or The Spice Box of Earth," said Mr. Cohen. "I am profoundly grateful."
The Canada Council awarded Mr. Cohen an arts scholarship that helped launch his writing career in 1958, the first year of the Council’s operations. The scholarship was extended for three more years and supplemented with a small travel grant and poetry reading fee.
"We are deeply honoured and moved by Mr. Cohen’s donation back to the people of Canada," said Joseph L. Rotman, Canada Council Chair. "Artists give back in many ways - through making art, through connecting people to each other, through giving voice to Canada abroad - and none more so than Leonard Cohen. How remarkable, then, that he has chosen to make this additional gift to Canada’s leading arts funder to ensure that others can benefit from the same support he received so early in his career."
Leonard Cohen is the ninth recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize, awarded by the Glenn Gould Foundation to celebrate brilliance, promote creativity and transform lives through the power of music and the arts. The Prize was originally administered by the Canada Council for the Arts until 2000. The Council also supported the Glenn Gould International Conference organized by the Foundation in 1992.
—Canada Council for the Arts—
Founded in 1957, the Canada Council for the Arts promotes the study, enjoyment, and production of works in the arts. The Council offers a broad range of grants and services to professional Canadian artists and arts organizations in music, dance, integrated arts, media arts, theatre, visual arts, and writing and publishing. It also promotes public awareness of the arts through its communications, research and arts promotion activities, and houses both the ArtBank and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
"Leonard Cohen donates $50,000 prize to Canada Council," Government of Canada, May 14, 2012.
“Album Review: ‘Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979’”
Although droll and deadpan on stage, the Canadian singer-poet has generally been better served by the studio than the concert hall. But his third set of live recordings — this one from 22 years ago — is also his best, balancing the intimacy of early numbers like “The Stranger Song” with subtly robust band versions of mid-period work like “The Gypsy’s Wife” and the acerbic title song. Alas, the album, his third stopgap release since 1992’s The Future, begs a more important question: Does the 66-year-old make new music anymore? A-
"Album Review: ‘Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979’" by David Browne, Entertainment Weekly, February 23, 2001.