Gershman Y Tribute to Leonard Cohen Honors His Artistic Legacy

Leonard Cohen | Route 66

The world experienced the somber loss of a long, beloved list of celebrities last year, among them poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Cohen died at the age of 82 in November 2016. But six months since his death and 50 years after the release of his debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, the Gershman Y is paying tribute to the artist with “An Evening of Leonard Cohen.”

The May 18 event was arranged to reflect on Cohen’s life through not only his music but his poetry, said Lindsey Nevin, director of programs at the Gershman Y. She described it as a timeline of his artistic trajectory.

The evening will begin with a short documentary about Cohen’s rise to fame as a Jewish Canadian poet and songwriter, called Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen.

A brief intermission will include themed food and drinks — though Nevin is still trying to come up with ideas for Canadian- and Jewish-inspired snacks to stay on theme.

“Everyone jokingly was like, ‘What about bacon?’ We can’t do that guys,” she laughed.

Following the light refreshments will be spoken word poetry and musical performances by local artists reimagining some of Cohen’s work. The poets will perform some of his original poems or song lyrics, while the musical artists cover his hits.

“It’s going to be a very long but fun evening,” Nevin said.

Dick Rubin, lead singer and pianist of local band MINKA, will take on “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “So Long Marianne” solo.

A fan of Cohen’s — and a “fellow Jew” — Rubin dove into his repertoire.

“He has such an interesting lyrical concept. A lot of the time he has this ability to get super specific on something that I never would have thought of, just really make it emotional,” he said.

“Beyond just the music, he was able to transcend to a lot of different styles,” he continued. “All the great artists are able to do that, like [David] Bowie, for instance. If you listen to the stuff from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s so vastly different from the stuff in the ’80s, and yet … to me, the emotion is the constant thread throughout all of music, and then stylistically you can shift from one thing to another.”

Cohen’s work in the ’80s was a “wild departure” from his folk roots, Rubin explained, but it still resonates.

He hopes attendees will become exposed to some of Cohen’s lesser-known tunes, something Rubin experienced in preparation for this event that influenced his own songwriting.

“I wrote a couple songs kind of in the style of some of his songs,” he said. “It just gave me a new perspective on a couple lyrical concepts and just approaches to songwriting, subject matter and whatnot. It expanded my palate.”

Rubin described MINKA as a blend of Prince, Talking Heads and Bowie.

“We’re definitely in some ways in a very different world [from Cohen], but at the same time, there’s room for us to expand and try new things,” he said. “Exploring the vulnerability and emotion that Cohen had set me in a whole different songwriting direction.”

Nevin agreed that Cohen’s work painted a vivid picture of emotion.

“In revisiting his songs,” she said, “I find that while I like his original stuff, I do like artist interpretations of his work. It’s amazing when you sit down and you look at a composer like him, an artist that was around for 30 or 40 years or more, that you find so many renditions of his music that you aren’t even aware of.”

His most popular song, “Hallelujah,” was remastered more than 300 times, which doesn’t include the thousands of covers on YouTube.

“There’s a way that Leonard Cohen writes that gets under your skin and at your soul in a good way. He’s able to capture a feeling, which is really amazing and rare for a lot of artists,” she added.

Nevin noted that when Cohen passed away, mourning his death was multigenerational.

“You had people in [their] 20s who really related to either knowing modern interpretations or through discovery of old classics. And then you had people who grew up with his music who listened to it when they were in their teenage years,” she said. “There’s this multigenerational touch with him that people just really relate to what he writes and the feelings again.”

This event, too, is multidisciplinary, which embodies Cohen. Whether it’s the diversity of the fans, diversity of Cohen’s creativity, or the diversity of the Gershman Y, Nevin said, the event reflects the different mediums.

“You don’t find an artist who’s just looking at one thing,” she said. “You find an artist that’s trying many different ways to express themselves and get their message out to the world.”

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