The 'Serious' Sounds Of Leonard Cohen

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Leonard Cohen, photographed in 1980. Evening Standard/Getty Images hide caption

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Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, photographed in 1980.

Evening Standard/Getty Images

With songs like "Suzanne," "Bird on a Wire," "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye," singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen created his own brand of folk-rock art music. Listeners discovered Cohen's songs in the mid-'60s when Judy Collins recorded "Suzanne," and Cohen followed that by recording his own album of his songs. His moody interpretations quickly won him a devoted following.

Cohen isn't a polished singer and doesn't have a remarkable range. But, as one rock critic put it, he has a "miraculously intimate voice, which has become more expressive and confident over the years, without losing its beguiling amateurishness." By the time Cohen started recording, he was already a published poet and novelist, best known for his book Beautiful Losers.

Many of Cohen's fans have lost track of him in the last few years. He's 51 now and lives in Montreal, the city in which he grew up.

While his songs are sometimes described as gloomy or despairing, Cohen says that's not the reaction he gets from most of his fans.

"I don't get a lot of mail," he says. "But most of the mail I get [conveys] the contrary information that's like, 'That song got me through the night,' or 'Your songs got me through the night.'

"I prefer the word 'serious,' " Cohen adds. "I think seriousness is a voluptuous kind of enjoyment that we don't find too often."

Click the "Listen Now" link above to hear Cohen discuss his dual careers as a poet and a singer-songwriter with Terry Gross.



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