You’ve got to feel for Leonard Cohen, because he certainly hasn’t had things go his way over the last five or so years. The Canadian singer-songwriter and writer had probably been looking forward to a nice little retirement, quietly seeing out the rest of his days in the way that he spent most of the rest of his life.
Recognised as an introspective man capable of complex lyrics that could possibly touch on sex, religion and personal loss, or all three things at the same time, Cohen has, for right or wrong, been described many a time as the razor to cut those arteries. Maybe this is because the man himself suffered for depression through much of his life.
He took in many genres during his career, from folk to synth art rock, and in spite of being widely recognised by the likes of Lou Reed as a highly influential singer-songwriter, his public persona has maybe led him to not be included in lists amongst others like Cat Stevens.
Maybe its because of his lack of a killer tune that can be played on the radio over and over – Clapton had Layla (with Derek & The Dominos), Billy Joel had Uptown Girl and Just The Way You Are. Whenever you hear a Cohen song, its a cover, as can be taken with Hallelujah. I can’t remember the last time I heard a version that wasn’t Jeff Buckley’s, at least before X-Factor’s version this Christmas.
That probably wouldn’t have been an issue for Cohen, who had already spent 5 years in a monastery as a Zen Buddhist monk before releasing what appeared to be his final album in 2004, and appeared ready for retirement on a plus $5m budget. Enough, for most men. However, over $5 was stolen by his manager Kelley Lynch, alongside the publishing rights to all of his songs. This meant that Cohen was left with about $150,000, which whilst a substantial margin, was still a mere pittance of what he had saved for.
Forcing him in 2008 to go out on tour in his early 70’s to try and recover some of that money, Cohen needed sellout concerts. Bizarrely, his saving grace came from reality TV. When Hallelujah was sung by an American Idol competitor, it saw ticket sales for its original performer rise, along with his public spectacle, culminating in the original artists version of the track reentering the American charts and Jeff Buckley’s version hitting #1 on iTunes.
A similar thing is expected to happen this Christmas as a result of X-Factor, which will see Cohen’s world tour mentioned in the mainstream media as an increasing awareness that Buckley didn’t write the song becomes more and more apparent. Who would have thought that Cohen could be pushed into the public domain in a way that has not happened throughout his entire career as a result of reality tv? Probably not even Cohen himself, although he probably won’t be complaining about it.