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Friday, November 11, 2016

How a cheap marketing gimmick made Leonard Cohen a star

Seemed like my whole generation of college students bought "Songs of Leonard Cohen" in 1968.

Actually first of all they bought "The Rock Machine Turns You On". This was a cheap sampler album of all CBS's new "alternative" acts. Leonard Cohen's "Sisters Of Mercy" was at the end of side one. This was a time when Bob Dylan was writing happy songs and so there was an untapped market for a bit of dark. Leonard fitted the bill, particularly because he was an actual published poet. When Dylan was awarded the Nobel recently I couldn't help thinking it ought to have gone to Leonard Cohen. His songs had the discipline of poems.

I met him once, in the 80s at a party in New York, thrown by his record company to mark how many records he'd sold outside the United States. He wasn't a rock star; he was too polished, too comfortable with formality for that. Somebody from the record company made a speech. Standards aren't high when it comes to record company speeches. What I do remember is Leonard responding with one courtly-sounding sentence: "I'd like to thank you all for the modesty of your interest in my work."

Every time I saw him he always seem to be surrounded by a phalanx a beautiful young women, who clearly admired him greatly. That's one of the reasons I always got irritated with the jokes about "songs for swinging suicides" and the like. Far as I can see Leonard lived a full life and he always saw the funny side.

Thanks to the embezzlement of his retirement fund, he went back on tour late in life and got to enjoy a lap of honour such as no other artist has known. He died surrounded by his family, his affairs settled and his reputation higher than it had ever been.

I don't know if he knew the outcome of the U.S. election. This morning I heard him sing the line "There's a mighty judgement coming", which gave me a shiver. Then he adds "but I may be wrong." Cheers, old boy.