Cohen’s first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) followed by Songs from a Room (1969) (featuring the often-recorded “Bird on the Wire”) and Songs of Love and Hate (1971). His 1977 record Death of a Ladies’ Man was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, which was a move away from Cohen’s previous minimalist sound.
In 1979 Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. “Hallelujah” was first released on Cohen’s studio album Various Positions in 1984.
I’m Your Man in 1988 marked Cohen’s turn to synthesized productions and remains his most popular album. In 1992 Cohen released its follow-up, The Future, which had dark lyrics and references to political and social unrest.
Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, which was a major hit in Canada and Europe. In 2006 Cohen produced and co-wrote Blue Alert, a collaboration with jazz chanteuse Anjani Thomas.
After the success of his 2008–13 world tours, Cohen released the highest charting album in his entire career, Old Ideas, to positive reviews. On 22 September 2014, one day after his 80th birthday, Cohen released his 13th studio album, Popular Problems, again to positive reviews.
Cohen was born on 21 September 1934 in Westmount, Quebec, an English-speaking area of Montreal, into a middle-class Jewish family. His mother, Marsha (Masha) Klonitsky, was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline, of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry.
His paternal grandfather, whose family had emigrated from Poland, was Lyon Cohen, founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. His father, Nathan Cohen, who owned a substantial clothing store, died when Cohen was 9 years old.
On the topic of being a Kohen, Cohen has said that “I had a very Messianic childhood.” He told Richard Goldstein in 1967, “I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.”
Cohen attended Roslyn Elementary School and, from 1948, Westmount High School, where he was involved with the student council and studied music and poetry.
He became especially interested in the poetry of Federico García Lorca. As a teenager, he learned to play the guitar and formed a country–folk group called The Buckskin Boys. Although he initially played a regular acoustic guitar, he soon switched to playing a classical guitar after meeting a young Spanish flamenco guitar player who taught him “a few chords and some flamenco.”
Cohen frequented Saint Laurent Boulevard, where he went for fun, and ate at places such as the Main Deli Steak House. According to journalist David Sax, the Main Deli was where Cohen and one of his cousins would go to “watch the gangsters, pimps, and wrestlers dance around the night.”
Cohen also enjoyed visiting the previously raucous bars of Old Montreal as well as Saint Joseph’s Oratory, which had the closest restaurant near Westmount where he and his friend Mort Rosengarten could go for coffee and a smoke.
After moving out of Westmount, Cohen purchased a place in the previous working-class neighborhood of Montreal’s Little Portugal on Saint-Laurent Boulevard where he read his poetry at various surrounding clubs. It is also during his time there in the small neighborhood that he wrote the lyrics to what would become some of his most famous songs.
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