Singer-poet-novelist-songwriter Leonard Cohen died in November at age 82. He had soulful, brooding eyes and a low, unusual voice that became lower with age. His life was devoted to freedom, searching, roaming, protesting, and women. He wrote philosophically about politics, social justice, peace, and love.
He came from a prosperous Jewish family who built a synagogue in Montreal. Many kinds of music influenced him, including Jewish folk songs, country, and rock: he used frequent minor chords, catchy melodies, and rhythms that encourage dancing.
Cohen’s songs have an intimate, thoughtful quietness and depth about them. They accomplishes this partly by hovering around one note, then creeping slightly higher stepwise to hover around another note, etc., and by repetition of simple motives. “Suzanne” and “Halleluja,” for example, are made up of 7-9-note motives in sequences. Both songs start on the fifth degree of the scale and ascend slowly, which creates tension. There are no large leaps, no big drama—and still the words and music hold our interest.
His soulfulness, elegant taste, and melancholy songs express his 4-Romantic personality. He was natty, emotional, inward, creative, and wrote music full of feeling. Depressed most of his life, he was called the “godfather of gloom”. Cohen was spiritually oriented, curious about religions, including his native Judism, Psalms, the Catholic Church, and Zen. The Economist wrote: “His concerts became more like prayer gatherings: in 2013, when he went out on the stage of the world one last time, he was dropping to his knees to sing. He was still railing at God and growling at the apparent randomness of everything: if God was the dealer, he was out of the game. Yet he was also calm.”
Cohen’s 5-Observer wing shows up in his independent nature, his discomfort performing, and his dislike of outward show. The minimalist in him liked living in a small shack. He lived in rural Hydra, Greece in 1960, in an apartment that had intermittent electricity and cost $14 a month. Later, for 5 years he lived the life of a Zen monk up high on a mountain in Southern California.
His songs include “First We Take Manhattan,” “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne,” “Master Song,” “So Long, Marianne,” “The Darkness,” “Show Me the Place,” “Going Home,” “Bird on a Wire,” “I’m Your Man,” and “Tower of Song.” I didn’t realize before he died that Robert Altman had used three of his tunes in McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
On January 31, Cohen was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.
- Wagele performs music on the piano: The Beethoven Enneagram, a CD about Beethoven’s piano sonatas and personality; on You Tube: Jack and Jill Enneagram Variations, Chop Stick Enneagram Variations, and The Creative Enneagram.