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Did You Know They Were Jewish?

By November 11, 2016 Blog-Leeds, Blog-Manchester


This DYKTWJ marks the life of the late Leonard Cohen as news comes of his passing at the age of 82.

“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.” So says the statement announced on the musical visionary’s official Facebook page this morning.

Today, we are waking to news that Leonard Cohen has died at the age of 82. At the time of writing, the details of his passing are yet to be revealed and a memorial is set to take place in Los Angeles, where he lived, at a later date.

The Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist’s work explored wide-ranging topics such as religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships, and his love of music was evident from his teenage years. He learned to play the guitar as a teen and formed a country/ folk group called The Buckskin Boys before going on to create music and poetry as a profession. This passion for the medium of music was clear right up to his death: “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records. He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humour,” his son Adam told Rolling Stone. In fact, the legendary artist released an album only a few weeks ago in October.

Cohen was born on 21st September 1934 in Quebec into a Jewish family. His mother was the daughter of a Talmudic writer and his paternal grandfather, whose family had emigrated from Poland, was Lyon Cohen, the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. In his formative years, Leonard attended Herzliah High School, a private Jewish day school.

However, during his lifetime his religious beliefs swayed towards different faiths and practices, including a time when he was ordained a Buddhist monk in the 1990s; however, he continued to consider himself Jewish: “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.” He was once described as a Sabbath-observant Jew in a New York Times article from 2009: ‘Mr. Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen? “Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”’

These Jewish roots are evident in his most well-known song ‘Hallelujah’, with the Hebrew meaning “praise Yah” signifying the religious content of its verses. This was a song that he once told Bob Dylan took him two years to write.

Since its first release in 1984 on the album ‘Various Positions’, ‘Hallelujah’ has appeared on the soundtrack to films and TV shows including The OC, The West Wing and ER. It is also one of the most covered songs of all time, with artists performing their own version in different languages of the track over the years. Of these, Cohen famously said that ‘Hallelujah’ had been covered too many times: “I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.” However, singers planning on making their mark on their own version were spoilt for choice, as Cohen had reportedly penned over 80 verses before settling on the final 15, encompassing a broad array of biblical and spiritual imagery across each.

In addition to the iconic ‘Hallelujah’, Cohen wrote across his six-decade career, some of the most instantly recognisable songs of recent times, including ‘Suzanne’, ‘Bird on the Wire’ and ‘I’m Your Man’.  These works were recognised in the many accolades and awards that Cohen his lifetime. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was awarded two Grammys, one in 2007 for Album of the Year as a featured artist on ‘River: The Joni Letters’ and the second in 2010, which was a Lifetime Achievement Award.

His 14th – and what became his final – album,’ You Want It Darker’ was released on 21st October 2016, just two weeks before his death. It is set to provide a lasting legacy for fans across the world of this enigmatic, enduring star.