Musician's name as best known: Leonard Cohen
Index name: Cohen, Leonard
Pronunciation: LEH-nurd, CO-ihn
Full name: Leonard Norman Cohen
Musical identity: Folk singer and songwriter
Although popular musicians have occasionally been known to publish books of poetry or fiction, Cohen is the only poet and novelist to have successfully made the transition from a literary career to a musical one. Likewise, although popular musicians have been known to undergo religious conversions and in turn reflect these conversions in their work, no other popular musician during the last forty years has so consistently, thoroughly, and unabashedly integrated the traditions, language, and sensibility of his faith into his music as Cohen has. It is this combination of highly developed literary and religious sensitivities, even more than Cohen's nearly obsessive exploration of the spiritual dimensions of romantic despair, that sets his work apart from that of other serious, verbally gifted performers and that along with his preference for fashion-defying instrumental settings gives it a uniquely timeless quality.
The power of Cohen’s music arises in large part from his ignoring of traditional boundaries. Whether as a poet who wrote novels, a novelist who wrote songs, a Jew who mastered Zen Buddhism, or a religious devotee committed to the exploration of erotic love, he defied the expectations and conventions of his various audiences at every turn, discovering in the process a method for perpetually renewing the timelessness and sacramental appeal of humankind’s most enduring archetypes. By choosing music as the medium most hospitable to his carefully crafted words, he imbued his notoriously dark meditations with a fragile buoyancy that kept them from succumbing to the downward pull to which the relentlessly serious are particularly vulnerable.
Cohen, Leonard. Beautiful Losers. New York: Vintage, 1966. The better known of Cohen’s two novels, notorious at the time of its publication for its explicit depiction of the seamier details of a love triangle among “losers” obsessed with the seventeenth-century saint, Catherine Tekakwitha.
Cohen, Leonard. Book of Longing. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Drawings, song lyrics from the Ten Songs and Dear Heather albums, and poems, most of which were composed during Cohen’s 1990’s residence at a California Buddhist monastery.