Leonard Cohen is touring the U.S. for the first time in 15 years. The deep-voiced musician, best known for writing songs that straddle the folk-rock fence, has produced numerous albums and written several books of poetry. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the U.S. Here, Cohen joins Fresh Air host Terry Gross to talk about his poetry, his songwriting and his time at a retreat called the Zen Center. This interview was first broadcast on May 22, 2006.
ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: COHEN, LEONARD — Patron saint of life’s beautiful losers. With a lyrical acuity far beyond those of mortal men and a baritone that sinks lower than the submarine in Das Boot, Leonard Cohen has forged a craggy reputation as the quintessential singer/songwriter’s singer/songwriter–not bad for a guy who, technically speaking, can’t even sing. […] Having established himself in the literary world, Cohen began seeking entree into the music scene. The timing could not have been more perfect, with Dylan having opened the door for poets to be pop stars and conversely raising the songwriting bar to the degree that pop stars now had to be poets. In 1968, he released Songs of Leonard Cohen, narrating his poems of romantic despair and existential desolation in a resonant sing-speak style against a spare acoustic guitar backdrop. This was essentially the sonic template for all of his earlier recordings, aptly surveyed on 1976’s The Best of Leonard Cohen–the ideal starting point for Cohen neophytes. After experimenting with Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production style and mariachi horns in Death of a Ladies Man and Recent Songs, respectively, Cohen began cloaking his droll narratives in synth-driven arrangements, utterly nailing this formula on 1988’s I’m Your Man. Cohen’s worldview became increasingly pessimistic as evidenced by this stanza from his signature song, “Everybody Knows”: “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded/ Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed/ Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows that the good guys lost.” MORE
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