This week marks the 80th birthday of Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist, Leonard Cohen. Born in Westmont, Quebec on September 21, 1934, Mr. Cohen has received numerous accolades and praise during his eight decades on this Earth, being recognized as one of our Nation’s most gifted writers and musicians. He was awarded the Prince of Asturias award for literature, was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. To celebrate 80 years of this singular and significant Canadian artist, feel free to check out Windsor Public Library’s large collection of works by and about Mr. Cohen.
Probably best known as a singer-songwriter, Cohen’s haunting music is marked by his distinctive baritone voice and his poetic lyrics. He began his recording career in 1967 with the release of The Songs of Leonard Cohen. This album of sparse folk is perhaps his most celebrated release and contains many of the artist’s most famous and enduring songs: “Suzanne” (which became a hit when covered by Judy Collins), “So Long, Marianne” and “Sisters of Mercy.” Since then he has released twelve other records including such standouts as 1988’s synth-driven I’m Your Man, 2001’s jazzy Ten New Songs, and his recent 2012 collection Old Ideas. These are all fantastic albums and great introductions to the music of this Canadian icon. New listeners wanting an overview of the songwriter’s career are encouraged to check out compilations like The Essential Leonard Cohen and If It Be Your Will: The Best of Leonard Cohen. Also available is Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, the soundtrack to the 2006 documentary which features recordings by many popular musicians performing some of Cohen’s greatest songs. This wonderful tribute features tracks by Martha Wainwright, Nick Cave, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and a special rendition of “Tower of Song” performed by Cohen and Irish-rockers U2.
While widely renowned for his music, Cohen began his artistic career as a poet and novelist. Originally published in 1966, Beautiful Losers proved to be Cohen’s most successful and renowned novel. The CBC called it “one of the most radical and extraordinary works of fiction ever published in Canada.” Set in the province of Quebec, it tells the story of 17th-century Mohawk saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose tale is interwoven with a love triangle between a Canadian folklorist, his dead wife, and a mystic named F. Considered extremely controversial upon its original release, the novel has grown in reputation as a landmark of Canadian literature. Author Michael Ondaatje has called Beautiful Losers “the most vivid, fascinating and brave modern novel” he has ever read. WPL also houses collections of Cohen’s beatific poetry, including his acclaimed Book of Longing, Stranger Music, and Songs, Selections. Also available is Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen, a collection of fifty interviews and conversations with the author spanning from 1966-2012.
For those wanting to learn more about the life of this enigmatic figure, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen offers a definitive history about the man. This insightful biography details Cohen’s rural upbringing, the beginning of his literary career, his entry into the music industry, his fiery romantic life, and his spiritual adoption of Zen Buddhism. Also recommended is A Broken Hallelujah which describes Cohen’s rise to fame until his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not only has Cohen’s life been lovingly documented, but so has the life of one of his most enduring songs. The Holy and the Broken traces the journey of the hymnal song “Hallelujah” from Cohen’s original rendition to its current use in pop culture. Its a fascinating account of the impact a single song can have. WPL also offers a number of feature length documentaries that tell of story of Cohen’s life. Leonard Cohen: The Early Years spotlights the artist’s formative years from childhood through his budding literary and songwriting career until 1977. Cohen’s life from 1978 until his return to live musical performances in 2008 is detailed in Leonard Cohen: After the Goldrush.
Windsor Public Library encourages you to celebrate with us this landmark anniversary of one of Canada’s greatest literary and musical talents. Happy birthday, Mr. Cohen.