Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius

Harry Freedman

Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius
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Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius

Harry Freedman

Leonard Cohen’s music is studded with allusions to Jewish and Christian tradition, as well as Kabbalah and Zen. In his 1994 classic ‘Hallelujah’ he opens with the words ‘Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord, That David played, and it pleased the Lord… the baffled king composing Hallelujah’. As the song progresses, Cohen takes us on a tour of the Old Testament, he sings of Samson having his hair cut by Delilah, Moses asking God’s name and we even meet the blasphemer from the Book of Leviticus.

This book is about the ethos, origins and traditions in Cohen’s lyrics. His grandfather was a Rabbi. He had grown up in an observant Jewish family; one with problems. His father died when he was nine, his mother suffered from depression and he himself underwent prolonged dark periods. His Irish catholic nanny took him to Church. He was as familiar with Christian traditions as he was Jewish. In his early works indeed he seemed more engaged with Christianity than with Judaism. But one of the notable features of his work is how he switches with ease from Judaism to Christianity. He is not concerned with confessional barriers, they simply impede access to the deep well of spiritual lore from which he draws. Kabbalah also features in his imagery. He became increasingly interested in Zen. In 1990 he moved into a Zen monastery as a permanent resident, apparently becoming a Buddhist monk. He died in 2016 with immaculate timing - the day before Trump was elected.

Here then is a book that looks deep into the soul and imagination of one of the greatest singers and lyricists of our time. Here is the landscape of his soul. This is not a biography but a biographical narrative into the treatment of each song or theme, so that by the end the reader will in fact have a good understanding of Cohen’s life story.

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