In yet another great loss to the music industry this year, the legendary musician and poet, Leonard Cohen, died on Nov. 7 at the age of 82. The complex singer-songwriter became the unlikely voice of a generation with a heavy timbre that could make the Earth tremble and lyrics that could tear at the hardest of hearts. Cohen’s effect on the music industry was immense, as he maintained the storytelling traditions of folk music and constantly found new ways to fuse the genre with different styles. His ability to evolve and remain relevant resulted in several prestigious institutions, such as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, taking notice and memorializing his work.
The singer-songwriter started out as a poet back in the 50s, but eventually turned toward music during the 60s for a new medium to express his ideas. For years, Cohen used music to express challenging ideas that centered on sexuality, spirituality and the complexities of the human condition.
Much of his work remained removed from the mainstream for the majority of his career, until he released a set of albums in the 80s that catapulted him into the public eye. 1984’s “Various Positions” brought the now legendary song, “Hallelujah” into the public consciousness and forever changed music with its masterful storytelling and lyricism.
The song captures the essence of Cohen’s talent as it combines deep, moving lyrics that play with the conventions of traditional storytelling with simple instrumentation. His vocals add weight to the already heavy words and they convey a sense of wisdom and acceptance. Religious imagery is everywhere in the song and it adds another layer of ambiguity and drama to its tone.
Cohen always used a minimalistic approach to his songwriting, often singing his songs in a mostly monotonous tone. However, such creative decisions have allowed his songs to become perfect templates for other musicians to draw upon and craft their own interpretation. Simply put, he managed to create songs that will remain timeless. The late singer Jeff Buckley was one of the most notable musicians to adapt Cohen’s work, as he transformed “Hallelujah” into a haunting solo-guitar piece that sounds equally comfortable at both weddings and funerals.
Even after death, his work will still influence generations of listeners. Given his countless songs that have survived the test of time and wise thematic messages that probe the complexities of life, Cohen managed to create a legacy that has — and will continue to — inspire.