Leonard (Norman) Cohen. Poet, singer-songwriter, novelist, b Montreal 21 Sep 1934; BA English (McGill) 1955, honorary LLD (Dalhousie) 1971, honorary D LITT (McGill) 1992.
One of the most widely recognized Canadian artists of the later 20th century, in parallel to acclaimed literary work Cohen built a successful career in pop music on the most rudimentary musical skills: a narrow-ranged, gruff voice that deepened and darkened with age and a dependence on simple melodies of a singsong nature. What set him apart was the intense imagery of his lyrics, which constantly probed at the human condition with themes of love, loss, and death, and his commitment to his art.
At 15, under the influence of country and western music, he began playing guitar. While studying at McGill University he worked in a country band, The Buckskin Boys. He gave his earliest poetry readings in a Montreal nightclub to the accompaniment of jazz. In the years following he wrote the poems collected in Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), The Spice-Box of Earth (1961), Flowers for Hitler (1964), and Parasites from Heaven (1966), and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).
Cohen moved briefly to England in 1959, then relocated to the Greek island of Hydra. Although he returned occasionally to North America, Greece remained his primary residence for the next seven years.
In March 1966, during a poetry reading at the YMCA in New York, Cohen sang two of his poems, " Suzanne" and "Stranger." His readings soon evolved into concerts, and his songs became increasingly popular through performances by other artists. In New York, Judy Collins sang and recorded several of his songs and introduced Cohen himself to some of her audiences. In 1967 Cohen performed at the Mariposa and Newport folk festivals and Expo 67. In that same year Norma Beecroft based two works - Elegy and Two Went to Sleep - on Cohen verses.
After three years of relative inactivity, Cohen appeared in 1970 in Europe at London's Royal Albert Hall, Paris' Olympia Music Hall, and the Isle of Wight rock festival. During the next two decades Cohen performed frequently on the concert tour circuit, particularly in Europe, where his popularity continued to be more widespread than in North America. Significant North American tours were mounted in 1985 and 1988.
In 1993 Cohen retreated to live at the Zen Center on Mount Baldy, near Los Angeles. Ordained as a Zen monk in 1996, he lived there under the name Jikan intermittently until early 1999.