As promised, this is the second in the 2-part series on the life and works of Leonard Cohen. The grandson of a Rabbi, he was born in Canada to a middle class Jewish family in 1934. From what I gather, they were Orthodox, and observant and knowledgeable about Judaism and its traditions. Cohen remained connected to Judaism all his life, even as he was open to other streams of religion. And yes, he was a Kohen.
The bright and talented Cohen became a singer, songwriter, musician, poet, novelist, and painter. Writing was his first career, in the 1950's and 1960's. In the late 1960's he released his first album, to be followed by many more. His final one was released just 3 weeks before his death. If people hadn’t been singing his “Hallelujah” all along, they certainly were then.
He attended McGill University and then Columbia graduate school in NYC, and went back to Canada and later to a semi-reclusive life on a small Greek island. In the late 1960's he moved back to the US to pursue a career in folk music and Judy Collins recorded his song “Suzanne” (referred to in last month’s column). Things turned around for him at that time and he became a big name. His Jewish background was a large influence on his words and music, and you can find many liturgical and Biblical references in his lyrics.
He toured in this country, Europe, and Israel. His style expanded to include jazz and Gypsy violin, and other influences, and he continued to tour with his band. His well-known “Hallelujah,” first released in 1984, has since been performed by almost 200 artists, and in various languages. Critics have compared Cohen to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Cohen was described as a Sabbath observant Jew, who also practiced Zen Buddhism. Cohen did not find the 2 philosophies mutually exclusive.
In a 2009 concert in Israel, Cohen sang Jewish prayers and blessings in Hebrew and opened the show with Ma Tovu and closed with the Priestly Blessing, the Birkat Kohanim. He passed away this past November, and was laid to rest in a simple pine casket, in Canada with a Jewish service, and in a family plot. He is survived by 2 children and 3 grandchildren, and a large legacy of poetry and song, known the world over. May Leonard Cohen’s memory be for a blessing.