The late Leonard Cohen was an artist in every sense of the word. His life was a rich tapestry of romances, tragedies, and a heavy dosage of genius. Starting out as a poet in the 1950s while enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Cohen embarked on a timeless journey, one that dug deep into his soul and touched the lives of countless others.
Only really comparable to Dylan in terms of artistic reverence and output, Leonard Cohen’s life could be split into various books of their own. What we are really trying to say is that he was an artist of an almost mythical status. His work explored every key human theme possible. These include religion, politics, isolation, depression, loss, death and romance. A truly cerebral artist, Cohen will continue to be studied and praised long after we leave this earthly realm.
The interesting thing about Cohen is that he didn’t actually start his musical career until 1967, when he was 33. This is significant as a) it shows that following your dreams is not consigned to any time pressure as society would have you believe. And b) It is possible to follow many paths across one’s existence. Up until this juncture, Cohen opted to pursue a career as a writer in the poetical and novelist sense.
His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in 1967. He would then release albums spanning folk, world, jazz and acoustic. His most memorable song, the melancholic ode, ‘Hallelujah’, was released as part of his album Various Positions in 1984. A brilliant work, with a dense lyrical subject, it was made iconic ad infinitum by Jeff Buckley in 1994. Another of the most fascinating chapters of Cohen‘s life was his love affair with the Greek island of Hydra. A hazy, romantic period that marked him out as a complex yet humorous individual.
Given that he was such a dense being, it was only right that he loved and was inspired by a vast array of musicians. This should seem relatively obvious given the extent of musical modes he encompassed in his career, and the number of themes he explored.
One artist he admired was another Canadian troubadour with an equally as elaborate backstory; who else but Neil Young. The ‘Godfather of Grunge’ is also an artist of unmatched pedigree. The former guitarist of Buffalo Springfield, a quarter of supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) and celebrated solo artist, Neil Young continues to inspire many. A gifted guitarist and lyricist, his work, just with Cohen’s, carries central to it a perceptive take on the human state of being. Releasing over forty albums in his long, winding career, Young is a titan of rock music.
It turns out that Leonard Cohen was such a huge fan of the mutton-chopped genius that he included him on his esteemed ‘Jukebox’ series, where he listed his favourite songs of all time. In 2009, Cohen described to an interviewer the effect Neil Young had on him: “The only thing a writer has to have for me is just one song that manages to hit me and I love him immediately. I remember hearing that song … (starting to sing) ‘Blue, blue windows behind the stars / Yellow moon on the rise…’ (from Helpless by Neil Young). He is very good.”
‘Helpless’ is one of Young‘s most emotive songs. The country/folk number is memorable for its simple, repetitive melody that really hits you in the feels. A retrospective opus wherein Young remembers his “formative” years, there is no wonder Cohen loved it so much. It is a tender, personal piece.
Listen to ‘Helpless’, below.