Is “Lord Byron Of Rock ‘n’ Roll” An Oxymoron?
The consensus sentiment arising from the kerfuffle over Leonard Cohen winning the Grammy for You Want It Darker in the Best Rock Performance category is something along the lines of “Leonard Cohen was a great musician, but he wasn’t a rock musician.”1 As we shall see, this is not a issue that arose with the 2018 Grammys.
First, one should note that it’s not unusual for journalists, committees conferring honors, and ranking systems to include Leonard Cohen under the heading of Rock. Consider these example culled from Cohencentric:
- Leonard Cohen Inducted Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame – 2008
- Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah Hits Billboard Hot 100 & Hot Rock Songs Charts For First Time
- Salon On Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker: “One of the rock genre’s greatest-ever meditations on love & loss, and a reminder of how much eloquent, heartbreaking work he’s given us”
- “Get a load of Leonard Cohen, the world’s most improbable (and perhaps final) rock star”2
As always, however, Leonard’s own thoughts on the subject are the most elegant and insightful (if not always perfectly congruent).
What’s your relationship to rock music?
I’ve always felt a kind of kinship with rock. Personally, I’ve lived that life more than any other, so my friends are in it. I’m probably more of a classical musician, but rock ‘n roll has been my cultural avenue.3
I have never belonged to rock’n’roll, but I enjoyed its hospitality. I grew up with folk music and blues. I always hoped that one day I would be able to accomplish the feat of the simplicity of great songs like Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino. I was very moved at that. This is the great modern writing. I started to play guitar to it.4
- Interestingly, none of the articles and comments criticizing You Want It Darker being labeled a rock performance have suggested a more appropriate Grammy category. [↩]
- Leonard Cohen: the world’s last rock star?, Brad Wheeler’s review of The Holy or the Broken – Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah,” by Alan Light (The Globe And Mail: Dec 5, 2012) [↩]
- From Rebirth Of A Ladies’ Man by Steven Blush. Seconds No 22: June/July 1993. [↩]
- From Leonard Cohen et la mesure du temps [via Google Translate] by Jean-François Nadeau. Le Devoir: June 21, 2008. [↩]