field commander cohen’s return to duty

leonard cohen

leonard cohen

Sometimes you have to watch the names you drop when it comes to popular music. If one of them happens to be Leonard Cohen, you have automatically dated yourself – but not necessarily in an unflattering manner.

A Canadian poet, Cohen became one of pop’s most unlikely heroes during the heart of the late ‘60s psychedelic movement. But his music wasn’t at all psychedelic. It was understated, fanciful, modestly stylish and somewhat distant. Cohen was (and still is) a bohemian Bob Dylan – a wordsmith that conveys an epic emotive sweep with his lyrics even though he has been bestowed with a singing voice of seemingly limited technical range. Yet like Dylan’s now-haggard wail, Cohen’s now-raspy baritone only enhances the conversational intimacies and drama of his songs.

Cohen’s reputation largely stems from his first three albums – 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1968’s Songs from a Room and 1971’s Songs of Love and Hate. Suzanne (from the debut album) and Bird on the Wire (from the second record) were covered and recorded by numerous artists in the subsequent decades.

Me, I have a place in my black heart for Cohen’s fourth album, 1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony – a dark orchestrated work with all kinds of great love/war metaphor songs. Field Commander Cohen (“some grateful, faithful woman’s favorite singing millionaire; the patron saint of envy and the grocier of despair”) is just one of the album’s epics. Critics hated New Skin when it came out but now consider the album a sleeper. Go figure.

Other Cohen classics – among them, Hallelujah, Dance Me to the End of Love and First We Take Manhattan – followed in the ‘80s.

The point for all this Cohen babbling is this surprising news. After a prolonged absence from the stage, during which he became an ordained Buddhist monk, Cohen, 74, is back on the concert trail. He performed a series of overseas dates in 2008. Last week at New York’s renovated Beacon Theatre, Cohen played his first concert in the United States in 15 years. On Tuesday, he announced a full two-month North American spring tour, which, of course, will be coming nowhere near Kentucky. Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta will the closest cities his tour will visit.

To savor the moment, we suggest these two new Cohen stories from The New York Times: a review of last week’s three hour Beacon show and an extended interview with the man himself conducted the day after the performance.

Ah, but a more affordable, accessible and immediate chronicle of the resurrected Cohen is also on the way. The two-disc CD/DVD Live in London, recorded when the singer’s tour began in earnest in last year, will be released on March 31. A clip of Cohen singing (well, reciting might be a better term) Suzanne is available for viewing at a special preview page on

Hallelujah, indeed.

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