Leonard Cohen was much more popular in Poland than in his home country Canada for a long time. In our country he had a steadfast true propagator

When a few weeks before his death Lenoard Cohen released another album ‘You Want It Darker’ it seemed that – despite his age of 80 – he was in a quite good form. Reviewers had an unanimous opinion that he was full of life and very creative. Nobody believed songs texts (a lot of them were about God, final matters and death), and an interview in the ‘New Yorker’ in which the artist said that he was ready for death. Especially that he rejected the words quickly – ‘I am prone to dramatize – he said and announced other albums and declared to live longer.

Two schools

Before he released his first album, he had been asked if he was not too old to begin his career. His first concert at the age of 33 did not foreshadow a success. As he said after years, music was his second choice, although his home – he was born in a family of Jewish emigrants of Polish-Lithuanian family line – was full of singing and he played in a band with his mates. His work had already consisted of his poems and stories but they did not sell easily , so he started writing and singing songs.

My voice is gloomy of a small scale. But it goes together with my songs – he said. There was a lot of sadness in them, so no wonder that he was called ‘a singer of pessimism’. Following his favourite hero Grek Zorba he spent a lot of in Greece where he had his own house – he often said that ‘life is a beautiful catastrophe and he added that he thought success was survival.

He did not find writing songs easy. – The beginning is not a problem but finding a suitable ending was a real difficulty. At home I have got hundred of unfinished songs – he used to say. When recently Bob Dylan has received a literary Noble Prize, some people were wondering whether Cohen should not have got it. He got used to being compared with Dylan – These are simply two schools. Those who are quicker and me. What Bob writes is somehow written casually, while it takes me nearly the ages – he said.

A lot of paths

Although the first concert of Cohen had already been a sophisticated work, he was an outsider for a long time. He was more famous in Europe than in America, in Poland more than in Canada. In Poland he became famous due to such song as ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’, ‘Suzanne’, ‘I’m Your Man’ thanks to which he became really popular as well as due to the translation by Maciej Zembaty.

His poems and ballads are full of the aura of spirituality. They have a lot of references to Judaism and Christian tradition, signs of Buddhism and other eastern systems – said Zembaty who died a few years ago. – Cohen knows that a lot of paths lead to the top of knowledge. One can take one path or change paths. We have a right to take advantage of every tradition as all of them belong to humanity.

Cohen’s popularity in Poland was rooted by his visit in 1985. As Zembaty explained, the artist’s poetry got into hands of young people as it was universal. Cohen did not only give concerts in Poland – he also met with Lech Wałęsa and supported de-legalized Solidarity movement. As a result, his songs were not broadcast on the national radio for a long time.


He often moved and lived in various places: London, New York, Nashville. ‘I am a hotel’ – he used to say about himself. Unfortunately, as for his relations with women, he was known for love affairs with singers: Judy Collins, John Mitchell, Nico and Janis Joplin. He commemorated the last one in the song ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’. In 1992 he released ‘The Future’ – one of his best records and most of the music compositions were used in Hollywood films.

In 1994 the news spread all over the world that Leonard Cohen had joined a monastery. As a Buddhist monk he took the name Jikan (‘a calm person’). He was to ‘study the nature of the world’ there and also reject various temptations to which he had got succumbed. When after a few years Cohen left the monastery and recorded another album – ‘Ten New Songs’, its high level surprised everybody and people started remembering him quickly. At that time he was 67 and it seemed that it was the end of his artistic career. However, it went to a different direction. He released a few records, the last one – a few weeks before his death. – ‘You Want It Darker’ in which he sang: ‘I am ready, my Lord’. Cohen died – like David Bowie – soon after the premiere of his album.


„Niedziela” 47/2016

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl