Sunday, February 5, 2006

THE 2006 CANADIAN SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME


The Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson inducts Leonard Cohen into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

Before Leonard Cohen, there were songs, and after hearing Leonard Cohen, there are no songs quite like his. He has changed all of our lives with the complexity of his sadness, the breadth of his love. He gets inside your brain, your heart, your lungs. You remember him, you feel him, you breathe him. He is our connection to the meaning of ecstasy. Our access to another world we suspected existed, but which he puts into song. We love you Leonard, but in that love is some fear, fear that you are telling us the truth, and that the truth will make us know ourselves through unbearable beauty in painful remorse. In one of your first published poems, you wrote, "I heard of a man who says words so beautifully that if he only speaks their name women give themselves to him." We have heard those words and we have all given ourselves to him. It honours me deeply to present this award to Leonard Cohen, our Leonard Cohen.

Standing alone, the poetry of Leonard Cohen is perhaps the most precisely crafted observation of the human experience. Set to music, the songs of Leonard Cohen have become the standard to which songwriters aspire. Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal in 1935. His broad intellect was fostered by his maternal grandfather, a hebrew scholar who filled Leonard Cohen's young mind with the foundation of the Torah scripture (seeds for the themes that would reappear in his songwriting). By the time he attended university at McGill, he was winning awards for his writing, and his readings were becoming events. Leonard Cohen's brave, groundbreaking poetry was a voice to be reckoned with, but was misunderstood by the overly gentil society of the time. Leonard Cohen was undetered, and so Leonard Cohen the poet turned to song in search of an audience in tune with his work.

By 1967, his first record, Songs of Leonard Cohen was released. One song in particular hypnotized listeners with its mix of metaphor and mystique. When Judy Collins covered "Suzanne" the cult of Leonard Cohen was born. Her hit shot Leonard Cohen into the vein of popular culture where he has resided in measured isolation ever since. Over the years, Leonard Cohen's records have resided on the outskirts of the mainstream. His career does not read like a slick press release of hit singles or statistics. Yet, Leonard Cohen's songwriting has remained a constant, a guiding light from the tower of song. The effect of Leonard Cohen as a songwriter speaks for itself. More than 32 tribute albums to his work have been made, and over a thousand singles of his songs have been recorded worldwide, more than any other modern era songwriter. For anyone with a broken heart, or anyone with a heart for that matter, we have been able to turn to the combination of vintage wine and vintage Leonard Cohen to begin to heal. "The grocer of pain," as he called himself, has come to the rescue. For his wonderful words and his timeless body of work, we induct Leonard Cohen into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The Leonard Cohen Acceptance Speech

Thank you friends. Thank you so much. The brevity and poverty of these remarks do not reflect the abundance of feeling in my heart for all of you and for the deep hospitality you have given to my work over the years. If I knew where the good songs came from I would go there more often. So it is that we shuffle behind our songs into the hall of fame, shuffle awkwardly, not quite believing that we wrote them, but happy that you do. You have been so good to me over the years. My heart is filled with gratitude. Georges Dor wrote that great song: "If you knew how life drags on at la Manic, you would write to me a lot more often at la Manicouagan." That is what we are all saying to one another. If you knew how life dragged on, you would write to us a lot more often. You would write each of us to one another. I'm so privileged and so proud and so honoured that you have accepted some of my letters. Thank you so much.

The Biography

Leonard Cohen (Montreal, Quebec, 21 September, 1934)
Year Inducted: 2006; Era Inducted To: Modern

With an extraordinary career spanning more than forty years, Canadian musical icon Leonard Cohen has earned the distinction as one of the most influential artists of his generation. A legendary songwriter, Leonard Cohen has brought honesty and artistry in a way few others have. His stark images of love, beauty and despair have touched fans and inspired writers and musicians the world over.

Throughout his storied lifetime, Leonard Cohen has succeeded as both poet and pop star. Inspired by his own history and romantic experiences, his intelligent musings and musical gifts have endured no matter where he resides - be it the urban chaos of Los Angeles and Montreal, the domestic comfort of a Greek island or monastic isolation of a Zen Buddhist Monastery.

His intense lyrics, spiritual observations and deft humour weave throughout his impressive body of work. Leonard Cohen's extraordinary writing and musical talents have gained him numerous accolades, among them: the Governor General's Award for poetry in 1969 which he declined, stating, "the poems themselves forbid it absolutely," followed by several Juno Awards, honorary degrees, and in 2003, the Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civil honor for achievement in the arts.

Leonard Norman Cohen was born in Montreal on September 21, 1934. He attended McGill University, where at 17, he formed a country western trio called the Buckskin Boys. While still an undergraduate, Leonard Cohen became part of Montreal's burgeoning Bohemian scene and published his first collection of poetry (Let Us Compare Mythologies) in 1956. The Spice Box of Earth (1961), his second collection of poems, catapulted Leonard Cohen to international recognition.

After a brief stint at Columbia University in New York, Leonard Cohen traveled throughout Europe and settled on the Greek island of Hydra where he wrote another collection of poetry (Flowers for Hitler, 1964) and two highly acclaimed novels (The Favourite Game, 1963 and Beautiful Losers, 1966). The books have been translated into many languages including Chinese and Japanese.

After seven years on Hydra, Leonard Cohen's restless spirit led him to the United States where he pursued his career as a songwriter. Championed by singer/songwriter Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967 where he caught the eye - and ear - of legendary Columbia A&R man John Hammond (who also recruited Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to the label) and by Christmas of that year, Columbia released his signature debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen.

Songs like the enduringly popular Suzanne, and Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye, So Long, Marianne, and Sisters of Mercy propelled Leonard Cohen to the top of the pop music pantheon. The songs had such power that Robert Altman's 1971 film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller became, in effect, the first long form video for Leonard Cohen's soundtrack.

Songs From a Room (1969), his second album, and Songs of Love and Hate (1971) further reinforced Leonard Cohen's standing as a sentry of solitude. With Bird on the Wire, Story of Isaac, Joan of Arc, and Famous Blue Raincoat, he continued to stretch the borders of the lyrical landscape of the times.

Recent Songs (1979), co-produced with Henry Lewy (who had previously worked with Joni Mitchell), continued Leonard Cohen's dissection of the male female union, but also reflected his many explorations into the religious sphere. Various Positions (1984) marked the full flowering of these religious journeys. Songs like Hallelujah, The Law, Heart With No Companion, and If It Be Your Will, are contemporary psalms, born of an undoubtedly long and difficult spiritual odyssey, so difficult that its conclusion left Leonard Cohen - in his words " wiped out." I'm Your Man (1988) was the culmination of Leonard Cohen's professional and personal reintegration, a beautifully crafted work that speaks eloquently to his experience as a musical elder. Buoyed by now classic songs like First We Take Manhattan, Tower of Song, and Ain't No Cure For Love, the album went to #1 in several countries.

Despite many long passages of time between albums, Leonard Cohen's music has been kept on the airwaves through interpretations by artists as diverse as Neil Diamond, Nick Cave, Diana Ross, Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge, and Joe Cocker. Longtime musical colleague Jennifer Warnes released the critically acclaimed Famous Blue Raincoat in 1986, an entire album of Leonard Cohen's work.

In 1992, a number of contemporary recording artists collaborated on a tribute to Leonard Cohen. I'm Your Fan (1991) was the brainchild of Christian Fevret, editor of French rock magazine, Les Inrockuptibles. Originally intended for release on the magazine's small offshoot label Oscar, the project mushroomed into an 18 song cover collection released by Atlantic, featuring such prominent musicians as R.E.M., John Cale, Nick Cave, lan McCulloch, The Pixies, House of Love and Lloyd Cole. Tower of Song (1995) featured interpretations of Leonard Cohen songs by more mainstream artists such as Billy Joel, Sting, Elton John, Willie Nelson and Bono.

1992 saw the release of his eleventh album, The Future, an amazingly aural documentation befitting a cultural malaise. It was following the 1993 "Future" tour that Leonard Cohen retreated from public life and lived several years at the Zen Center on Mount Baldy in Southern California.

In January 1999, Leonard Cohen came down from the mountain armed with hundreds of new lyrics and poems. He settled in Los Angeles where he released two records, first another live album entitled Field Commander Cohen Tour of 1979 and in October, after nine years, the entrancing collection, Ten New Songs. After such a long silence, the power of this new studio album lay in its singleness, its unity of tone, songs flowing one into the other with a grave, contained intensity. In 2002, many of his best-known songs were digitally remastered and released on the double CD The Essential Leonard Cohen.

In 2004, Leonard Cohen returned with Dear Heather, produced with collaborators and singers, Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas. This musically diverse collection of songs seemed to celebrate the beauty of the world he had returned to with soaring lyrical styles and musical arrangements. Leonard Cohen's supporters and the sizeable online community of newsgroups and chat lines continually dissecting his creations anxiously await his next release. He is now working on new songs for his next album for a possible mid-2006 release. He is also working on new songs for Anjani Thomas' forthcoming album Blue Alert, to be released in Spring 2006.

A lyrical icon whose musical trials and travails have led him through an odyssey of hope, conflict and love, Leonard Cohen has taken us to that place by the harbor and our world has become much richer for the journey.

INDUCTED SONGS

Suzanne - Year Inducted: 2006; Era Inducted To: Modern; Written In: 1967; Lyrics & Music: Leonard Cohen. In 1966, Leonard Cohen penned Suzanne with the landscape of the Old Port in Montreal in mind. Leonard Cohen revealed, "the song was begun, and the chord pattern was developed, before a woman's name entered the song. And I knew it was a song about Montreal..." The beautiful poem and love song was originally inspired by the view of the Montreal harbour from the observation tower of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel, known as the Sailors' Church. Remnants of the chapel are found in the lines, "And the sun pours down like honey/ On our lady of the harbour" which are in reference to the Our Lady of the Harbour statue that stands, with arms outstretched, towards the St. Lawrence river. It was after Leonard Cohen's chance meeting with Suzanne, the wife of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, that life was breathed into the piece. She invited him to her home located near the river where the pair shared a cup of tea. "Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river," begins the beautiful and descriptive narrative of the woman who "feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China." Suzanne is poetry set to music. The beautiful and descriptive narrative was published in Selected Poems 1956-1968 (Toronto 1968) and later released on his debut LP, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967. Judy Collins would be the first to record the song after having heard it sung to her over the telephone by Leonard Cohen, himself, and Noel Harrison would take the single to Number 56 on the pop charts. The song would go on to become one of Leonard Cohen's most covered singles with over 100 versions to its credit. COVER ARTISTS INCLUDE: Judy Collins, Nina Simone, Neil Diamond, Peter Gabriel, Fran├žoise Hardy, Noel Harrison, Pauline Julien, Harry Belafonte, Roberta Flack, Graeme Allwright, Catherine McKinnon, Chad Mitchell, Tom Northcott, Joan Baez, and Genesis.

Bird On The Wire - Year Inducted: 2006; Era Inducted To: Modern; Written In: 1969; Composer & Lyrics: Leonard Cohen. On a small Greek island, Leonard Cohen moved into an old seaman's house. There were no telephone poles or wires, but electricity finally came and with it wires that stretched across his windows. Watching them with a sense of disappointment and annoyance, Leonard Cohen noticed a bird on one of the wires: this was the genesis of the famous and much loved song. As with most of his work, it took many years to revise it and bring it to some acceptable version. Bird on the Wire reached #2 on the U.S. Billboard music chart, #31 on Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart, and was used as the inspiration for a 1990 movie staring Mel Gibson, in which Aaron Neville sang the title song. COVER ARTISTS INCLUDE: Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, Neville Brothers, Johnny Cash, Tom Cochrane, Judy Collins, Rita Coolidge, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Soul Asylum, and Blackeyed Susans.

Hallelujah - Year Inducted: 2006; Era Inducted To: Modern; Written In: 1984; Composer & Lyrics: Leonard Cohen. Hallelujah is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful musical pieces ever written. Yeah but I remember, yeah when I moved in you and the holy dove, she was moving too and every breath we drew was Hallelujah. Although Hallelujah never neared the top of the charts or received significant airplay, it has become a favorite of both fans and artists, including Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan, both of whom recorded cover versions. Jeff Buckley's 1994 version is considered by many to be the most dramatic and striking version, helping to launch the song into mainstream popularity. Most recently, Rufus Wainwright's cover, following Jeff Buckley's style, appeared on the soundtrack of the blockbuster hit, Shrek. COVER ARTISTS INCLUDE: Bono, Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Alison Krauss, Bob Dylan, k.d. lang, Patricia O'Callaghan, Rufus Wainwright, and India Arie.

Everybody Knows - Year Inducted: 2006; Era Inducted To: Modern; Written In: 1988; Composer & Lyrics: Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson. Featured on the album I'm Your Man, the moody song Everybody Knows was one of the Leonard Cohen's first collaborations with American songwriter and vocalist Sharon Robinson. Everybody Knows gained mainstream popularity when a cover version by Concrete Blonde was used in the 1990 soundtrack for Pump Up the Volume, which reached #20 on American charts. The original song also appeared in the popular Atom Egoyan film, Exotica, and was covered by Don Henley on a Leonard Cohen tribute album in 1995. COVER ARTISTS INCLUDE: Concrete Blonde, Dark Gift, Keith Hancock, Don Henley, Dayna Kurtz, Mean Larry & Friends, Jean-Claude Toran, Florent Vollant, and The Washington Squares.

Ain't No Cure For Love - Year Inducted: 2006; Era Inducted To: Modern; Written In: 1988; Composer & Lyrics: Leonard Cohen. Many of Leonard Cohen's songs have a recurring theme of love. According to Leonard Cohen, Ain't No Cure For Love addressed the idea that it "doesn't matter whether we found ourselves in the loneliness of separation or the vertigo of union, everyone finally learns there ain't no cure for love." Released by Jennifer Warnes on her brilliant 1986 Leonard Cohen tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat, Ain't No Cure For Love was later released by Leonard Cohen in 1988 on his I'm Your Man album. Considered by many to be his comeback album, I'm Your Man reached #1 in several European countries, earning Leonard Cohen a CBC Crystal Globe Award, reserved for artists who sell more than 5 million copies of an album in foreign territories. Leonard Cohen's version of Ain't No Cure For Love was used in the 1990 movie Love at Large. The song was also recorded by Aaron Neville and was featured on the all-star Leonard Cohen Tribute album Tower of Song. COVER ARTISTS INCLUDE: Grassland Boys, Aaron Neville, Northwood, and Jennifer Warnes.