A Leonard Cohen Primer: Childhood

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.

l-m-e 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.

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  1. Several photos of Nathan can be viewed at The Pictorial Rehabilitation Of Leonard Cohen’s Father, Nathan Cohen []
  2. 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.” []

“[My mother] was justifiably melancholy about something, in the sense of a Chekhovian character. It was both comic and self-aware.” Leonard Cohen Talks About His Mother, Father, & Dog

quoteup2
My mother was a refugee and witnessed the destruction of her own milieu in Russia. I think she was justifiably melancholy about something, in the sense of a Chekhovian character. It was both comic and self-aware. But I would not describe her as morbidly melancholy, as I was. . . . The death of my father was significant, and the death of my dog were the two, I would say, major events of my childhood and my adolescence.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness by Mikal Gilmore (Rolling Stone: 30 November 2016) The entire article – an excellent read – is available at the link.

Leonard Cohen Identifies Voice In Night Comes On As “My Mother’s True Voice”

Courtesy of Maarten Massa

I went down to the place where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I’m frightened, the thunder and the lightning
I’ll never come through this alone
She said, I’ll be with you, my shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on, it was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, go back, go back to the world

From Night Comes On by Leonard Cohen

AL: In the song “Night Comes On,” I guess it’s the mother who asks the son to return to the world … That’s my interpretation.
LC: That’s right.

AL: What is the voice that made you return to the world? Is she spiritual? Material? Sexual or Sensual?
LC: This is probably my mother’s true voice.

AL: Masha. You remembered and you went back into the world, you came back to us.
LC: The voice of my mother in my life – she died a few years ago – remains the wisest,

AL: wisdom?
LC: Wisdom. A wisdom not sublime, not exalted, not …

AL: something quiet, peaceful?
LC: Quiet and practical, pragmatic.

 

Meeting with Leonard Cohen – Interview by Albert Labbouz  Translation and adaptation: Dr. Marc Gaffié (Patrice Clos: “Throughout the conversation, Leonard spoke mainly in French but also in English. It is this synthesis of the two languages ​​that was absolutely necessary.”) Paris, June 29, 2001. Published in French; this excerpt via Google Translate.

All posts dealing with Leonard Cohen’s mother can be found at

Suzanne Elrod (Mother Of Adam & Lorca Cohen) On Leonard Cohen’s Mother: “She was [Leonard Cohen’s] most dreamy spiritual influence. The only thing that bothered me was that she always called me Marianne.”

From left: Adam Cohen, his mother Suzanne Elrod, his father Leonard Cohen & Leonard’s mother Masha Cohen – Montreal 1972 . Posted Feb 13, 2014 by Adam Cohen at Leonard Cohen Facebook page

From The Face May Not Be Familiar, but the Name Should Be: It’s Composer and Cult Hero Leonard Cohen by Pamela Andriotakis & Richard Oulahan. People: January 14, 1980.

Note: Originally posted Dec 30, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Photo: Leonard Cohen At Family Wedding – 1956

In 1950, Masha, Leonard’s mother, married Harry Ostrow,a pharmacist, who was described by David Cohen, Leonard’s cousin, as “a very sweet, ineffectual man, a nice guy.”1 The relationship between Leonard and his stepfather was characterized as “pleasant but distant.”2 Shortly after the marriage, Harry Ostrow was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,3 a discovery that seemed to dishearten Masha, who had nursed Nathan, her first husband through his debilitating illnesses. By 1957, Harry and Masha had separated with Harry moving to Florida.

Update: See “He was extremely charismatic with a wonderfully clever and quick sense of humour.” Roz Van Zaig, Leonard Cohen’s Stepsister, Talks About Leonard, Esther, & Masha

The above photo  was taken at the wedding of Roz Ostrow Van Zaig and Eddie Van Zaig,

Back row, from left to right: Harry Ostrow (Leonard’s stepfather), Freda Guttman, Roz Ostrow (Leonard’s stepsister), Eddie Van Zaig, Leonard Cohen, Victor Cohen (brother-in-law). Front row, from left to right: Masha Cohen Ostrow (Leonard’s mother ), Esther Cohen (Leonard’s sister)

Photo found at Various Positions by Ira Nadel. Originally posted Oct 12, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons []
  2. I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons []
  3. Various Positions by Ira Nadel []

Leonard Cohen On His Mother’s Reaction To His Career Choice

From left: Adam Cohen, his mother Suzanne Elrod, his father Leonard Cohen & Leonard’s mother Masha Cohen – Montreal 1972 . Posted Feb 13, 2014 by Adam Cohen at Leonard Cohen Facebook page

Was your mother disappointed because you did not choose a proper profession [rather than singer-songwriter]?

quoteup2
Disappointed? She was in despair and convinced I could not survive in the world out there.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Man Bleibt Ein Absoluter Anfaenger by Christoph Dallach and Marianne Wellershof. Der Spiegel: 10/1/2001 (40, 2001). Found & translated into English by Rike

6 Photos: Leonard Cohen & His Mother, Masha

From I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

Courtesy of Leonard Cohen

 

All posts dealing with Leonard Cohen’s mother can be found at