Cohen stamps celebrate somber singer’s life

A three-stamp set honouring Leonard Cohen was recently unveiled in the late singer’s hometown of Montréal.

The veil was lifted by Canada Post on Sept. 20 at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts – beneath a 21-storey mural of Cohen – only hours after Sony Music Canada revealed a “continuation of the master’s work” will be posthumously released in November.

“Leonard was always deeply appreciative of his Canadian heritage and would have been moved by this honour from Canada Post,” said Robert Kory, Cohen’s manager, estate trustee and friend.

Designed by Montréal’s Paprika, each of the three stamps depicts Cohen – plus his name in capital letters – at different stages in his life. Following the chronology of Cohen’s career, they are available in nine-stamp booklets; six-stamp panes; 12-stamp uncut press sheets; six-stamp framed mini panes; and three-stamp framed enlargement panes.

Denominated at the Permanent domestic rate in the nine-stamp booklet, the designs are reconfigured at the U.S., oversized and international rates for the uncut press sheet, framed mini pane and each of the four official first-day covers (OFDCs).

The set was issued nationwide on Sept. 21, which would have been Cohen’s 85th birthday.

“Canada Post is proud to pay tribute to this memorably gifted man whose words and music have touched Canadians and people around the world,” added Jessica McDonald, chair of Canada Post’s board of directors.

NEW ALBUM

Cohen’s forthcoming posthumous album is entitled Thanks for the Dance.

“In composing and arranging the music for his words, we chose his most characteristic musical signatures, in this way keeping him with us,” said Cohen’s son, Adam, who completed his father’s final work with the help of several musicians, including Leslie Feist, the Berlin-based choir Cantus Domus, producer Daniel Lanois, longtime collaborator and Famous Blue Raincoat singer Jennifer Warnes and Beck.

“What moves me most about the album is the startled response of those who have heard it,” added Adam Cohen. “‘Leonard lives!’ they say, one after the other.”

The album is slated for release on Nov. 22.

THREE STAMPS

The stamps and OFDCs highlight three periods of Cohen’s career, including:

  • his 1960s debut, which saw the release of two enduring favourites, “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne”;
  • his 1980s resurgence, including his unforgettable and oft-covered “Hallelujah”; and
  • his performances on the 18-month “Old Ideas World Tour,” which he undertook in his seventies before a final burst of creative genius.

The first stamp, this in silver, features a portrait of Cohen taken by U.S. photographer Jack Robinson for Vogue magazine in 1967.

The second stamp – in gold – depicts Cohen in a 1988 beach photo by French photographer Claude Gassian.

The third and final stamp, this in bronze, places a circa 2012 portrait of Cohen atop his name.

Since gaining approval from Canada Post’s 12-person Stamp Advisory Committee about two years ago, the Crown corporation worked closely with Cohen’s estate to produce “one of the most significant stamps we’ve ever issued,” according to Jim Phillips, Canada Post’s director of stamp services.

PAYING THE BILLS

Born on Sept. 21, 1934, Cohen took an unlikely path into pop music.

In 1956, a year after he graduated from Montréal’s McGill University, Cohen’s first poetry collection was released.

About a decade later, while living on the Greek island of Hydra, he published another three volumes of poetry plus two novels, including the critically acclaimed Beautiful Losers.

“James Joyce is not dead,” reads a review of Beautiful Losers published by the Boston Globe. “He is living in Montreal under the name of Cohen.”

Despite his literary output, Cohen’s lack of income made it “very difficult to pay my grocery bill,” he wrote in his 2014 anthology, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen.

“I’m starving,” he recalled. “I’ve got beautiful reviews for all my books, and I’m very well thought of in the tiny circles that know me, but like … I’m really starving. So then I started bringing some songs together. And it really changed my whole scene.”

After returning to Canada from Greece, the self-taught guitarist discovered the folk music movement sweeping North America. He tried his hand at writing songs and eventually played some tunes – privately – for singer Judy Collins, who loved them.

A folk and pop star, Collins sang two of Cohen’s songs on her next album to become one of the first of hundreds of artists who would record Cohen’s songs during his life.

In 1967, Cohen made his debut as a singer-songwriter at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. That year, he also released the album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which included two of his most famous songs, “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.”

In 1984, Cohen released his album Various Positions, which featured the song that would become his most popular – and likely most covered – of all time, “Hallelujah.”

Following the release of the acclaimed albums I’m Your Man in 1988 and The Future in 1992, Cohen received the first two of his eight career Juno Awards in 1993. That decade, he was also invested into the Order of Canada, inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and received an honorary doctorate in literature from McGill University plus a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

In 2001, after five years in a Buddhist monastery and a long hiatus from recording, Cohen released Ten New Songs.

Over the next several years, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2012, Old Ideas became his highest Billboard-charting album in the U.S., and Popular Problems topped the 2014 Billboard Canadian Albums chart plus won the 2015 Juno Award for Album of the Year.

One month after the October 2016 release of his critically acclaimed album You Want It Darker, Cohen died in his Los Angeles home at the age of 82. The album’s title track went on to win the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance.

A GLOBAL LEGEND

A warm, spiritual and intellectual man, Cohen also had a self-deprecating sense of humour.

When Cohen died, countless singers, musicians and other artists publicly mourned him while expressing their respect for his work. Leading papers around the world published obituaries, reflecting his global stature.

“Cohen was, arguably, one of the most enigmatic poets and songwriters of his generation,” reads a November 2016 obituary published by the U.K.’s BBC.

“While many of the themes in his work hinted at depression, he always felt that he was just a keen observer of the realities of life.”

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