Sunday, March 3, 1991

THE 1991 CANADIAN MUSIC HALL OF FAME


Leonard Cohen is one of Canada's best-known singer/songwriters. His songs and poems have been embraced by millions the world over, and his writings have been studied and translated into many languages. Born in Montreal in 1934, he started out his musical career as a guitarist in a country band while studying literature at McGill University. By 1966, his literary reputation had grown with the publishing of three collections of poetry and two best-selling novels.

Judy Collins' recording of "Suzanne" resulted in Leonard Cohen himself being signed by legendary Columbia talent scout John Hammond and released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967. Now on his tenth album and the latest recipient of the CBS International Crystal Globe Awards, he has sold more than five million albums outside of the United States. In Europe his popularity is such that he is honoured annually at the Leonard Cohen Festival in Krakow, Poland.

While performers like Suzanne Vega, Elvis Costello, and The Cure have cited his influence on their work, other artists like Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Aaron Neville, Joan Baez and Joe Cocker have helped maintain Leonard Cohen's popularity with their own interpretations of his music. Long time associate Jennifer Warnes' critically acclaimed album of 1986, Famous Blue Raincoat, was devoted entirely to the songs of Leonard Cohen. In addition to his outstanding musical achievements, Leonard Cohen's work includes first prize at the Festival International de Television de Montreaux, Switzerland for the film I Am A Hotel which he scripted and scored.

With the induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Leonard Cohen joins previous Hall of Famers including The Guess Who, Oscar Peterson, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell, Glenn Gould, Guy Lombardo, The Diamonds, Neil Young, Hank Snow, The Crew-Cuts, The Four Lads, Wilf Carter, Gordon Lightfoot, The Band, and Maureen Forrester. Leonard Cohen's induction into the Hall of Fame is in recognition of his contribution towards the greater international recognition of Canadian artists and music.

Leonard Cohen is many things to many people: poet, novelist, singer, songwriter, monk. But to all, is a legend.

He was born in the English-speaking Montreal neighbourhood of Westmount on September 21, 1931. His earliest musical venture was a country and western square dance band, the Buckskin Boys, co-founded with a childhood friend while Leonard Cohen studied English at McGill University.

Leonard Cohen’s songwriting, however, would take a backseat to poetry (Flowers for Hitler, Let Us Compare Mythologies) and novels (The Favorite Game, Beautiful Losers) for several years. It was not until 1966 that he would make a concerted effort to sell his music, establishing himself in New York on the way to his proposed destination, Nashville. Via Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman, Leonard Cohen sold the songs “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag” to folk singer Judy Collins. (They appeared on her 1967 album In My Life.)

His debut album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, finally appeared in 1968, and contains his own version of “Suzanne.” Director Robert Altman used three tracks from the record in his 1971 film McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The ‘70s would see Leonard Cohen establish a fertile working relationship with producer John Lissauer (1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony) and a more controversial one with Phil Spector (1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man).

Leonard Cohen would finally come into his own commercially in the ‘80s with the Lissauer-produced Various Positions (1985) and its semi-hit “Dance Me to the End of Love,” which saw Leonard Cohen make his first video.

His reputation would be burnished by the success of Famous Blue Raincoat (1987), an album of Leonard Cohen covers by his backup singer Jennifer Warnes. It included the Leonard Cohen original “First We Take Manhattan,” featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar. Leonard Cohen would later include his own version on his own acclaimed 1988 album I’m Your Man.

Leonard Cohen’s renaissance continued in the ‘90s with 1992’s The Future getting a warm reception. Filmmaker Oliver Stone used three of its songs in 1994’s Natural Born Killers.

A period of seclusion followed as Leonard Cohen was ordained a Buddhist monk. He returned to public life with the release of 2001’s Ten New Songs and has continued to tour and record, most recently releasing Popular Problems in 2014.

The number of awards and honours Leonard Cohen has accrued over his career are too numerous to detail, but some of the most prominent include a Governor General’s Award (in 1968), his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (in 1991) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 2008), five JUNO awards, a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Awards (in 2011), and being made an Officer of the Order of Canada (1991).

His artistic legacy, likewise, is ongoing and immeasurable. Kurt Cobain name-checked him in the lyrics of Nirvana’s song, “Pennyroyal Tea.” He has been the subject of three major tribute albums: the aforementioned Famous Blue Raincoat, 1991’s I’m Your Fan, and 1995’s Tower of Song. He has been name-checked as an influence by countless artists, including Nick Cave, R.E.M. and The Pixies, and the number of beautiful covers of his song “Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley and k.d. lang first and foremost among them – is astonishing.

Career Highlights

1968: Won (but declined) the 1968 Governor General’s Award for Selected Poems 1956–1968

1991: Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame

1991: Was made an Officer of the Order of Canada

2008: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

2010: Has won five JUNO awards and a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award

The Leonard Cohen Acceptance Speech

Thank you. Thank you so much for standing up for me. I owe so much to so many that if I began to catalog the debts I’ve incurred on the way I would be in danger of exhausting us all with an endless filibuster of insolvency and gratitude. I did resist the tone that was entering the hall in which I was afraid of finding myself a guest of honor at a memorial service. I hope even though the devil laughs when we make plans, I hope that I will be able to sing another song or two before the curtain comes down. Some well-meaning, but mistaken individuals, came to me and said, well it’s about time they gave you that award. But I want to say that the graciousness, the hospitality and the timing of the academy are impeccable. If I had been given this attention when I was twenty-six, it would have turned my head. At thirty-six it would have confirmed my flight on a rather morbid spiritual path. At forty-six it would have rubbed my nose and my failing powers and prompted a plotting of a getaway and an alibi. But at fifty-six, hell I’m just hitting my stride and it doesn’t hurt at all.


I want to salute those who stood here before me, the residence of the hall of fame: Guy Lombardo, Oscar Peterson, Hank Snow, Wilf Carter, the Diamonds, The Crew-Cuts, the Four Lads, Glenn Gould, Neil Young, The Band, Paul Anka, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Maureen Forrester. Two women of genius among all that exuberant masculine prominence causes me to reflect that it’s going to be hard to get a date in the hall of fame. But I know, like New York City, it’s only a place you visit. You don’t want to live there. Any soldier knows you don’t go to bed with your medals on. But most urgent on my list of appreciation are those of you who have welcomed my tunes into your lives, into your kitchens when you’re doing the dishes, in your bedrooms, in your courting and conceiving, into those nights of loss and bewilderment, and into those aimless places of the heart, which only a song seems to be able to enter. It is before this sudden and strange and mysterious intimacy that has developed between us that I bow my head with real gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you.