Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen has been performing since the 1960s. At heart he is a poet I think, and he has such an incredibly unique style there is simply no-one to compare. The Canadian has been through some difficult times, and returned to the touring circuit in his seventies much to the pleasure of his many fans worldwide.

In the first video below we see an early Leonard performing in 1967. In the second he is at the O2 in London with his band singing 'Take this waltz'.

So, where to start? Melancholy is one word. Irreverant is another. Witty, sad, compassionate, intense, happy. Leonard is all these things. His early work was quite simple musically. Deeply meaningful poetry put to the sound of Leonard's guitar. He has always been somewhere outside of the mainstream, and although 'Suzanne' took him into the charts in the 1960s, this is not a natural place for him. His songs are about love and hate, and sadness and jealousy, man's daily struggle to survive the emotional turmoil that is life. Occassionally he will venture into religious songs, but these are critical commentaries on the absurdity of such things rather than in praise of them.

His first album, 'Songs of Leonard Cohen', contains some of his very best work in my view. 'Suzanne' is here, 'So long Marianne', 'Hey that's no way to say goodbye' and the brilliant, puzzling, disturbing 'One of us cannot be wrong'. These are all very strong lyrically and make use of the most simple guitar accompaniment. The music and lyrics of this album have been published and if you are a budding musician this is a great way to get inside his music.

The second album, 'Songs from a room', continues in the same style with 10 new songs that are equally as good. If you are already a fan of Cohen you will not need to be reminded that this album contains the classic 'Bird on a Wire' and an early visit to his views on the absurdity of some religions with 'Story of Isaac'. Cohen is an extremely spiritual man who spent many years study with Rinzai Zen Abbott Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, eventually becoming a Zen Monk himself. It's not the spiritual side that he objects to, just the sacrifice and slaughter and suffering that seems to be a necessary part of some religions.

Cohen's early music is thoughtful and thought provoking. It's not driving or dancing music, and it's not background music either. This is best listened to in a darkened room with a glass of wine and good friends.

In the 1970s and 80s his style changed. Whilst his songs still focus on the darker side of life he has developed musically and the simple guitar solos have become more complex compositions and his collaboration with Phil Spector produced much livelier tracks. The album 'Death of a Ladies Man' marks the start of a new era, and his later work continues to evolve. Cohen has embraced a wide range of instruments, and he has a band and accompanying singers. The style is still haunting, but there are some truly entrancing tunes.

When he comes on stage now, certainly as a much older man, he has a spring in his step and a look of what can only be described as sheer joy on his face. He clearly loves his work and music and is visibly pleased that his audience do also. Bouncing on to the stage he starts his show with an upbeat number to get us going. He reads a poem, talks to us. Every single member of his band is introduced by name and plays a short solo - some play a whole song themselves. His show is two hours long, and he sings some old favourites and some new. He still likes to play the old songs, but it's livelier than it used to be; it is definitely sobering and perhaps he has learned to enjoy life a little more.

His work has been covered many. many times. The album 'I'm Your Man' is especially good. Cohen is a gifted writer, artist and musician. He is a less gifted singer and on this album some of his greatest works are transformed by the likes of Martha Wainwright and Rufus Wainwright. Fans of Leonrad will love this tribute to the great man.

As well as his music Cohen has published a dozen books - novels and poetry. The first 'Let Us Compare Mythologies' was published in 1956, but his most successful and most well known book is 'Beautiful Losers' (1966).

For more on Leonard visit his website here.

Chelsea Hotel

The Hotel on W 23rd Street in New York. Subject of Cohen's classic 'Chelsea Hotel' from the album 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony' in 1974. This hotel was apparently a popular destination for many musical stars at the time.