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From his home at the top of the Pennines

Family, friends and fans reveal the man’s greatest work. Anthems! Hallelujahs! “I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song!” From November 2014’s issue of Uncut (Take 210). Interviews by Michael Bonner, Nick Hasted and Graeme Thomson

‘‘He’s always working,” says Adam Cohen of his father, Leonard. “It’s an isolated process – he went to monastic lengths. He told me, ‘When you’re exhausted and you’ve spent hours and days more than you thought you ever would on a song, that’s when you know the actual work has begun.’ That’s a wonderful emblem of his devotion, discipline and dedication. There has never been a molecule of wavering. He’s solely unconcerned with songs he’s already written. His only preoccupation is the new songs he’s trying to finish.”

Cohen’s willingness to keep looking forward is estimable, especially after assembling a body of work as exquisite and meticulously crafted as his. As he celebrates his 80th birthday, however, we have chosen to look back at some of his greatest songs. For this, we’ve asked a panel of collaborators past and present, friends and family, and some famous fans to talk about their favourite of his many great songs. Along the way, we have truffled out some extraordinary revelations, concerning the procurement of budget-price synthesisers, the drinking of “strange concoctions” and sage advice he dispensed to a then-upcoming musician over the dinner table. We have also been given a glimpse into the working practices behind Cohen’s new album, Popular Problems, by one of his latest conspirators, Patrick Leonard. “The things that stick with me are the moments of creation,” he tells us…



Old Ideas, 2012
The opening track from Cohen’s first studio album in eight years: a plea that the heavens might hear his “penitential hymn”.

PATRICK LEONARD [producer, co-writer]: I’m driving to Leonard’s now, where we’re mastering the new record, Popular Problems. He writes every day, and there’s always new stuff. Some of the songs on this record were written as we were mixing. We worked at his place, and I worked at my place with musicians, then we camped out at the studio for the last month, getting it finished. It took half a year, but in real time, three months. Which is somewhat extraordinary, in that the songs weren’t written when we started. Like Old Ideas, we were never really in a studio. We hang out as we work, just me and him at his house, so it’s always relaxed. And the way the record sounds is a reflection of how it was done. The moments where he hands me Old Ideas’ “Come Healing” in the kitchen and recites it for me, and I go across to the studio and I don’t even sit down, as I already know what it is. That song feels like it should be in church somewhere and I’ve written the music in three minutes. Because the lyrics and intent are so rich. It’s in there already.


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