Honoring the late Leonard Cohen

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Honoring the late Leonard Cohen

In Writing, Film, and Song

Two of the greatest experiences of my life involved seeing Leonard Cohen, the late great Canadian singer and poet, perform live. While his body has left us, his spirit lives on through his decades of writing and song. Here are some recommendations of books and films by and about him to help understand and commemorate his legacy.

A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz

This book explains clearly what Cohen's work means to me and his other die hard fans. Leibovitz explains how despite the messages of suffering and despair pervade Cohen's work, he also reminds us that there are earthly things that can transcend the darkness. This is a compelling and beautiful biography.

There are several other biographies of Cohen, including I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons, but I found Leibovitz's meditative tome the most coherent and complete.

Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters edited by Jeff Burger

Memoirs can sometimes be more biased than biographies because many people are unwilling to face the truth about themselves. Cohen's artistic project often involved peeling back uncomfortable layers to find beautiful truths. As a result, the insights he had into his own work were often more insightful than expected.

"Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man"

This documentary, which was released with a soundtrack featuring covers of Cohen's music by famous musicians, features interviews with other artists reflecting on the work on legacy of Cohen. Artists featured include Bono, Nick Cave, and Rufus Wainwright.

Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

Cohen started as a poet and was originally uncomfortable singing in public. As a result, while his musical output is justifiably famous, his lyrics often stand on their own. This is one of his poetry collections. I find it fascinating to read his poetry on its own, but also to see how some of it is later transformed into lyrics.

Stranger Music is another collection of some of Cohen's poetry and lyrics.

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the unlikely ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light

This book attempts to trace how a song off Cohen's relatively unsuccessful album Various Positions ended up one of the most covered and beloved songs of all time. "Hallelujah" has shown up all over popular culture, in settings as diverse as the films "Shrek" and (particularly terribly in) "Watchmen", and the Oscars "in Memoriam" tribute.

Additionally, most of Cohen's albums are currently available on Freegal, one of DCPL's free music databases. You can both stream and download it!