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82 reasons to love Leonard Cohen
By
Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Published

September 21, 2017

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Sept. 21 is Leonard Cohen's birthday. When he turned 80 years old in 2014, we celebrated his life with a list of 80 reasons to love him. Every year after that we updated the list with one more reason until, eventually, he passed away shortly after his 82nd birthday. So in honour of Cohen's time on Earth, here are 82 reasons to love the Bard of the Boudoir.

1. As he's gotten older, his voice has gotten deeper and, somehow, smoother.

2. He wrote one of the greatest ballads about New York's infamous Chelsea hotel, "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," based on his romantic encounter in the hotel with an unnamed woman.

3. He let us know that the song was about Janis Joplin before performing it in New York in 1988.

4. He then regretted the confession, telling BBC in 1994, "There was the sole indiscretion, in my professional life, that I deeply regret." 

5. From a 2001 interview: "I never discuss my mistresses or my tailors." 

6. He vowed to take up smoking again to celebrate 80 years, but made it sound really classy (he compares cigarettes to "pillars of a great temple").

7. When other singer-songwriters from the '60s were faltering in the '80s (ahem, Bob Dylan), Cohen was putting out some of his most enduring work.

8. "Famous Blue Raincoat."

9. He's always been in search of a higher meaning. The line "Did you ever go clear?" from "Famous Blue Raincoat" references Cohen's brief encounter with Scientology, in which he achieved the status of Senior Dianetic, Grade IV Release.

10. "I even danced and sang with the Hare Krishnas. No robe — I didn’t join them! But of course I was interested in all these matters that engaged the imagination of my generation at the time," he told Mojo magazine in 2001.

11. He also spent five years in seclusion at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in L.A. and was eventually ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk.

12. His Dharma name is Jikan, meaning "silence."

13. He still eats smoked meat sandwiches from The Main in Montreal.

14. "There is crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." — Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

15. His albums usually go number one in Norway.

16. "Tacoma Trailer," possibly the world’s finest (and only) Casio instrumental.

17. He created his own drink called the “Red Needles,” which consists of tequila, cranberry juice and lemon and/or exotic fruit. The name comes from where he invented it: Needles, Calif. 

18. He never wasted money on singing lessons.

19. You'll know every song he plays at his concerts. Even if you never bought one of his records.

20. He still owns a home in Montreal.

21. You'll never see him on TMZ.

22. This picture, which was given the caption, "Another popular problem."

23. He makes humility cool.

24. "Hallelujah" is one of the most covered songs in music history, but Cohen initially struggled with it, writing some 80 verses before finally paring it down to the version he released in 1984.

25. He wrote a song (possibly) about nuns called "Sisters of Mercy" with the closing lines: "And you won't make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night, we weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right."

26. He recorded Death of a Ladies' Man with Phil Spector and lived to tell the tale: "At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil,'" he said

27. He's a gun collector himself, and owns a James Bond gun, the Walther PPK, among others.

28. He spent a year at graduate school, describing the experience later as "passion without flesh, love without climax."

29. In the early '90s, he established a three-plus hour, two-act concert format, which is also used on his most recent tours.

30. He'd often cap off the show by skipping off the stage.

31. Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah."

32. He named his daughter Lorca, after the famous poet he was inspired by in high school.

33. "Take This Waltz" is actually a translation of one of Lorca's poems. It took him 150 hours.

34. He re-recorded "Tower of Song" in 2006, which was included as a B-side to U2's single "Window in the Skies."

35. He knows how to pay respect, reciting songs on tribute albums to Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins.

36. When his one-time manager Kelley Lynch was sentenced to jail following a drawn-out legal battle involving her misappropriation of more than $5 million US, he had this to say to the courtroom: "It gives me no pleasure to see my onetime friend shackled to a chair in a court of law, her considerable gifts bent to the services of darkness, deceit and revenge. It is my prayer that Ms. Lynch will take refuge in the wisdom of her religion, that a spirit of understanding will convert her heart from hatred to remorse, from anger to kindness, from the deadly intoxication of revenge to the lowly practices of self-reform." 

37. He was part of Andy Warhol's Factory circle.

38. While there, he met Nico, who introduced him to Lou Reed. "We told each other how good we were," Cohen said of the encounter.

39. Sex and religion are common themes for Cohen, often in the same song.

40. “Like a lily to the heat, a thousand kisses deep.” He is the only guy who can sing about cunnilingus and not come off as creepy.

41. “Suzanne” is based on his platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal from Montreal, who served him tea and oranges. He wrote the line "I touched your perfect body with my mind" because she was married to his friend.

42. Cohen used to be engaged to actress Rebecca De Mornay.

43. He introduced us to musical duo the Webb Sisters (Charley and Hattie Webb), who have backed up his vocals on tour since 2008.

44. He helped push singer Jennifer Warnes into prominence by giving her full co-vocal credit on 1985's Various Positions. She recorded a full tribute album to Cohen called Famous Blue Raincoat.

45. "The Future" makes a Casio beat sound good.

46. His incredible bandleader of many decades, Roscoe Beck.

47. He was a cheerleader in high school.

48. In his yearbook quote, Cohen said he wanted to be a "world famous orator."

49. He appeared on Miami Vice in 1986 as the French-speaking villain Francois Zolan.

50. Hats. The man knows how to wear a hat, whether it's a flat cap, a cowboy hat or his signature fedoras, which he gets from Hollywood Hatters.

51. And suits. The man is rarely spotted not wearing a sharp suit.

52. It all makes sense considering his dad owned a clothing store in Montreal. He was "raised in a house of suits," it states in the biography I'm Your Man: the Life of Leonard Cohen

53. He described his mother as "Chekhovian ... she laughed and wept deeply." 

54. As a teen, he played guitar in a group called the Buckskin Boys.

55. He makes anglophones in Montreal appear romantic, too.

56. His first brush with success was when Judy Collins covered "Suzanne" in 1966. Cohen convinced her to cover it by performing it over the phone for her.

57. Following the release of his album Death of a Ladies' Man, Cohen released a volume of poetry, Death of a Lady's Man, proving the power of apostrophe placement.

58. He became a symbol of Polish solidarity when the country was under martial law (1981 to 1983.) In a series of concerts there, he performed "The Partisan," which was used as the hymn of the Polish solidarity movement. Musician Maciej Zembaty made a career out of translating and performing Cohen songs.

59. Cohen's songs make for movie magic. Case in point: “The Future” during the psychedelic montage in Natural Born Killers, especially during the line: "Get ready for the future: it is murder." ("Waiting for the Miracle" and "Anthem" were also used in the film.)

60. While we're on movies, Atom Egoyan's use of "Everybody Knows" in 1994's Exotica for a strip scene.

61. This closing scene from Robert Altman's western, McCabe & Mrs. Miller

62. And why not, Pump Up the Volume and "Everybody Knows."

63. "Hey, that's no way to say goodbye" is one of the greatest — certainly the most tender — break-up songs ever.

64. He inspired this line from Kurt Cobain's "Pennyroyal Tea": "Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/ So I can sigh eternally."

65. Cohen wrote a made-for-TV musical in 1983 called I Am a Hotel, based around imaginary events in Toronto's King Edward Hotel. It won a Golden Rose Award from the Montreux TV festival.

66. Cohen narrated the NFB-produced documentary The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

67. His nicknames include but are not limited to: Laughing Lennie, High Priest of Pathos, Grocer of Despair, Bard of the Boudoir and, simply, Our Man. 

68. Cohen was 32 when he decided to shift his attention from novels and poetry to songwriting, hoping it would pay better. As crazy as that sounds, he was right.

69. In the '60s, he bought a house on the Greek island of Hydra for $1,500, allowing him to live and work in a quasi-reclusive state for only $1,000/year. While there, he wrote The Favourite Game,Beautiful Losers and the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler.

70. Critic Robert Fulford called Beautiful Losers "the most revolting book ever written in Canada."

71. "I was never so good that I could make a song sound real or authentic without it being that, and if it isn't, people know. I find that quite a lot of red wine will do it."

72. He's only ever been frank about his drug use, which he's used to try to combat his depression. When asked about it, he said: “The recreational, the obsessional and the pharmaceutical — I’ve tried them all. I would be enthusiastically promoting any one of them if they worked.”

73. In his 65th year, his veil of depression just lifted: "I said to myself, 'Wow, this must be like everybody feels.'"

74. Kris Kristofferson has said he wants this to be his epitaph: ""Like a bird on a wire/ Like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried, in my way, to be free." 

75. “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On,” from 1977's Death of a Ladies' Man.

76. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 by Lou Reed, who described Cohen as belonging to the "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters."

77. "Un Canadien Errant" is a Canadian folk song from 1842, which Cohen covered on his 1980 album Recent Songs. Here he is translating it for a journalist in 1980:

78. After a 40-minute interview with Q about, well, everything, Cohen asked, "Did we get anything that was interesting, because if we didn't let's go on. I mean we might get something interesting." 

79. Not being able to dance doesn't stop him from dancing. 

80. Popular Problems, his last album, was released two days after his 80th birthday. It peaked at number one on the Canadian albums chart.

81. A track from the album, "Nevermind," was used as the theme song for season two of HBO's True Detective, making it one of the only good things about season two of True Detective.

82. For his 82nd birthday, Cohen celebrated his life by releasing a song about death, appropriately called "You Want It Darker." Ominous, foreboding and featuring what sounds like a Franciscan choir (update: it's actually the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue choir in Montreal), it's a truly dark reflection on mortality from a man who does dark reflections on mortality better than anyone else. Just 19 days later he passed away, leaving the world with one last impression of his inimitable genius.  

Why do you love Leonard Cohen? Let me know on Twitter: @JesseKG