Few singer-songwriters are genuine trailblazers. Leonard Cohen is a poet pioneer rooted in the Dylan pantheon in terms of artistic influence and resilience. But while Cohen's '60s songwriting brethren aimed for catharsis, his songs have always been knitted with deep concerns. Over the years, the author and singer has addressed the dark complexities of relationships, infidelity, sin, sacrifice, and redemption. His music sways with the specters of failure, suicide, and depression, sung in his signature dry, wry baritone. His contemporaries chronicled the struggles happening around them; Cohen concentrated on the existential conflicts within, the ones seeded in places where the scarring is less obvious.
Cohen embarked on a music career in the late '60s, a time when the folkies were painfully earnest. His response to the world's madness and cruelty was harrowing perceptiveness and humor, albeit deadpan and caustic. He focused on themes of transcendence through fiery trials, with Christian martyrdom and salvation playing strong roles in his lyrics.
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He credits serious study of Zen Buddhism in the '90s with some relief from depression. But that was before October 2005, when he alleged his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch, had misappropriated more than $5 million from his account, along with publishing rights to his songs, leaving him with only $150,000. Though he won the civil suit and a $9 million settlement, she has ignored both the suit and the subpoena issued for her financial records. The result: He might never be able to collect. As long as this world retains its dark side, Cohen will never run out of source material.