A Leonard Cohen Primer is a series of posts designed as an introduction to Leonard Cohen for those who are interested in discovering the basics about the life of the Canadian singer-songwriter but who may not be ready to peruse a full fledged biography (for that, see Sept 18, 2012: “I’m Your Man” By Sylvie Simmons Becomes The Definitive Leonard Cohen Biography).
Growing Up Leonard Cohen
Born September 21, 1934, Leonard Cohen, along with his older sister, Esther, grew up in a well-to-do Jewish family in Westmount, an upper middle class suburb of Montreal, located on the slope of Mount Royal.
Leonard Cohen’s Family
His father, Nathan Cohen,1 was a successful clothing manufacturer, who died when Leonard was nine years old.2 Leonard took pride in Nathan’s service as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I, telling Harry Rasky
I always loved the Army. And my father had intended to send me to the Kingston Military Academy actually. And if he’d have lived, I would probably have been in the Canadian Army.
Leonard characterized his mother, Masha, as romantic, beautiful, sensitive, and emotional, given to bouts of both joyfulness and melancholy. He credited her with encouraging his poetic and musical aspirations and described how she would, as she went through her day, sing Yiddish and Russian folk songs she had learned as a child.
- Several photos of Nathan can be viewed at The Pictorial Rehabilitation Of Leonard Cohen’s Father, Nathan Cohen [↩]
- Weeks later, Leonard buried one of his father’s bow ties wrapped in a paper containing a few lines of verse. While some have identified that act as an especially consequential point in Cohen’s artistic development, Cohen himself accounts it as “just a singular gesture,” going on to note, “I don’t know why I did that.” [↩]