Charles Baudelaire Profile

Charles Baudelaire Profile

Carolyn and I have both long admired the writings of the French poet, philosopher, essayist, and art critic Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire is known for his major contributions to 19th-century French literature and is renowned for his revolutionary collection of lyric poems, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil).

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. His father was a senior civil servant and amateur artist, and he was 34 years older than Baudelaire‘s mother. Baudelaire was 6 years old when his father died, so he never had an opportunity to know him well, and his mother remarried a man that Baudelaire never got along with well.

Baudelaire was educated during his stay at a boarding school in Lyon. In 1835, a fellow student at the school had this to say about Baudelaire, “[He was] much more refined and distinguished than any of our fellow pupils… we are bound to one another… by shared tastes and sympathies, the precocious love of fine works of literature.” Baudelaire later attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied law, and gained his degree in 1839. At the time, the law was a popular course of study for those not yet decided on any particular career.

Baudelaire spent his days in art galleries and cafés, and he experimented with opium and hashish. In 1841 he went on a voyage to Calcutta, India, and the trip left vivid impressions on him that later influenced his poetry. Baudelaire found beauty in the darker elements of human experience and was rather eccentric in his style of dress. He often dressed in black, dyed his hair green, and rebelled against the conformist, bourgeois world of 19th-century Paris in both his personal life and his poetry.

Baudelaire’s first art review was published in 1845, and between 1844 and 1847 eleven of Baudelaire’s poems were published in the Parisian weekly review magazine L’Artiste under a pen name. These were Baudelaire’s first published poems and it is unknown why he used a pen name for both the poems and the art review.

In 1847, Baudelaire’s novella, La Fanfarlo was published. The name in the title, Fanfarlo, has been associated with a Polka-dancer of the time. This novella tells the fictionalized story of the writer’s love affair with a dancer. That same year Baudelaire became acquainted with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which he felt a strong kinship with.

Baudelaire translated a number of important English works into French, such as Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and many of Poe’s works, which helped to popularize his work in France. Although Baudelaire admired Poe, and the two never met, there was a literary connection between the two writers. Baudelaire found tales and poems by Poe that he claimed, “had long existed” in his “own brain but never taken shape.” Baudelaire also wrote critical essays on contemporary art, and essays on a variety of other subjects.

In 1857 Baudelaire’s most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal was first published, although more poems were added in later editions. Upon its original publication, the poetry collection was embroiled in controversy. Within a month of its publication, the French authorities brought legal action against Baudelaire and his publisher, claiming that the work was “an insult to public decency.”

Although the French government condemned the poetry collection when it was first published, with six of its poems censored due to their “immorality,” it is now considered an important work of French poetry. The poems in this radical volume frequently break with tradition, and deal with themes relating to decadence, eroticism, suffering, and an aspiration toward an ideal world. The final volume of Les Fleurs du mal was published posthumously in 1868, and it includes nearly all of Baudelaire’s poetry, written from 1840 until his death. 

Despite his inheritance of a respectable fortune at the age of 21, making his way financially wasn’t easy for Baudelaire, as he had a taste for extravagance. By 1844, just two years later, he had spent nearly half of his inheritance, and he had become known in artistic circles as a “dandy” and “free spender.” Baudelaire “regularly begged his mother for money throughout his career, often promising that a lucrative publishing contract or journalistic commission was just around the corner.” During the course of his life, he borrowed from his mother an estimated total of 20,473 francs, and much of what is known of his later life comes from his correspondence with her. Baudelaire faced increasing financial difficulties toward the end of his life; he was forced to sell off many of his possessions in order to pay his debts and was frequently in and out of debtors’ prison.

In 1859 Baudelaire’s health began to deteriorate due to chronic illness brought on by stress, poverty, syphilis, and his long-term use of laudanum, a tincture of opium. In 1861 his financial difficulties increased when his publisher went bankrupt. Despite these difficulties, Baudelaire continued to write and publish his works, and he gained recognition for his critical essays.

Baudelaire died in 1867 at the age of 47, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest poets in French literature. He is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. Baudelaire’s mother died in 1871, outliving her son by almost four years.

Despite Baudelaire’s relatively slim production of poetry, his work has had a huge influence on Modernism, a movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms of expression, and which embraced experimentation and “a focus on the individual experience.” Baudelaire is noted for his innovative use of creative language, as well as for his use of symbolism and imagery in his poetry, and his work has had a significant impact on later poets.

Some of the quotes that Charles Baudelaire is known for include:

The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.

Any healthy man can go without food for two days — but not without poetry.

A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.

An artist is an artist only because of his exquisite sense of beauty, a sense which shows him intoxicating pleasures, but which at the same time implies and contains an equally exquisite sense of all deformities and all disproportion.

Always be a poet, even in prose.

Nothing can be done except little by little.

I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.

Whether you come from heaven or hell, what does it matter, O Beauty!

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself and others, as he wishes.

by David Jay Brown

William Blake Profile

William Blake Profile

Carolyn and I both appreciate William Blake’s divinely inspired artwork and magnificent poetry.

Born in London in 1757, Blake was an English poet, painter, prophet, and printmaker known for his extraordinary visionary paintings, lithographs, drawings, and numerous volumes of beautiful mystical poems.

Blake attended school just long enough to learn how to read and write. He read widely on his own and was exposed to many bound books and prints by his parents. At the age of ten, his parents arranged for him to take drawing classes, and he went on to become a professional engraver. In 1779 he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where he studied for six years.

From a young age, and throughout his life, Blake claimed to see visions of a spiritual nature. The visions were often associated with religious themes and imagery; he claimed to see angels too. As a Romantic artist and poet, Blake stressed the primacy of individual imagination and inspiration to the creative process. He believed that imaginative insight was the only way to remove the veil of rational thought that obscures the true nature of reality, claiming that “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

Blake’s extraordinary paintings depict powerful biblical and literary scenes, glorious angels, and radiant illuminated beings, while his poems speak out against social injustices and express mystical visions. Blake illustrated his poems and created beautiful books, such as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, by integrating writing and painting into a single creative process and using innovative production techniques that combined image and text in single compositions.

Blake’s spiritual visions and insights were central to his creativity, and in his work, he created a complex and unique mythology, with a pantheon populated by deities such as Orc, Urizen, and Enitharmion. Blake illustrated spectacular grand narratives of his own design that were played out in a universe that seemed to exist in a separate reality.

Blake didn’t have it easy. His contemporaries considered him insane, and his lack of commercial success meant he lived in relative poverty. But today he is appreciated as a seminal figure in the history of poetry and visual art of the Romantic Age. Blake died in 1827, with his beloved wife by his side.

Some quotes that William Blake is remembered for include:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

by David Jay Brown

Joseph Campbell Profile

Joseph Campbell Profile

Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of literature professor, author, and mythologist Joseph Campbell, who is recognized today as being one of the most influential experts on mythology.

Joseph John Campbell was born in White Plains, New York in 1904. His father was a hosiery importer and wholesaler, and he was raised in an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family, with a younger brother.

When Campbell was seven years old, his father took him and his brother to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which made a great impression on him. Campbell “became fascinated, seized, obsessed, by the figure of a naked American Indian with his ear to the ground, a bow and arrow in his hand, and a look of special knowledge in his eyes.”

As a result of this experience, Campbell became extremely interested in Native American culture. By the time he was ten years old, Campbell had read every book on American Indians in the children’s section at his local library and began devouring the books on the subject in the adult section.

In 1921, Campbell graduated from the Canterbury School in Connecticut and initially studied biology and mathematics at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, although he later switched to the humanities, and transferred to Columbia University in New York, where he excelled.

In 1924, after traveling to Europe with his family on a steamship, on the return voyage, he met philosopher and spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti aboard the ship, and they discussed Indian philosophy. This began a friendship between the two; they stayed in touch for five years, and this had a profound influence on Campbell, sparking his interest in Eastern philosophy and Hindu thought.

In 1925 Campbell graduated with a degree in English literature from Columbia University, and then in 1927, he earned a master’s degree in medieval literature from the school. Later that year Campbell received a fellowship from Columbia University to study in Europe, where he studied Old French Provencal and Sanskrit at the University of Paris and the University of Munich.

From 1929 to 1934 Campbell lived in a cabin in Woodstock, New York, where he engaged in an intensive and rigorous independent study. During these years he generally read for nine hours a day, although he traveled to California for a year, between 1931 and 1932, where he became close friends with writer John Steinbeck.

In 1934, Campbell accepted a position as professor of Literature at Sara Lawrence College in New York. Then, in 1938, Campbell married one of his former students, dancer-choreographer Jean Erdman, and they lived together in a two-room apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City for 49 years. In the 1980s they purchased a second apartment in Honolulu, and they divided their time between Hawaii and New York.

In 1943 Campbell coauthored the book Where the Two Came to Their Father: A Navaho War Ceremonial. This book takes its title from the symbolic creation legend of the Navaho people, which they incorporated into their blessing ceremony for tribe members headed to battle, and the book explores how this rite influenced Native Americans during World War II when they were for the first time drafted into the U.S. military.

In 1949 Campbell’s best-known book was published, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The book was published to wide acclaim and brought him numerous awards and honors. In this study of the myth of the hero, Campbell proposes the existence of a “monomyth” (a word coined by James Joyce), or “a universal pattern that is the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture.” This book has had a major influence on generations of creative artists, from abstract expressionists in the 1950s to contemporary filmmakers today.

Between 1955 and 1956, Campbell traveled to Asia for the first time and spent months in India and Japan. This had a profound influence on his thinking about Asian religion and myth, and it inspired him to want to teach comparative mythology to a larger audience.

Campbell authored numerous books on mythology, including The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology in 1959, Oriental Mythology in 1962, Occidental Mythology in 1964, and Creative Mythology in 1968. In 1972 he published Myths to Live By, and in 1986 his book The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion was released. Campbell was also a prolific editor. Some of the many books he edited included Alan Watts’ Myth and Ritual in Christianity and The Portable Jung, with work by psychologist Carl Jung.

Campbell also widely lectured, and starting in 1965, he led workshops at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for many years. In 1972, Campbell retired from Sarah Lawrence College, after having taught there for 38 years.

In 1985, Campbell was awarded the National Arts Club Gold Medal of Honor in Literature. At the award ceremony, James Hillman said, “No one in our century— not Freud, not Thomas Mann, not Lévi-Strauss— has so brought the mythical sense of the world and its eternal figures back into our everyday consciousness.”

In 1987 Campbell died at his home in Hawaii and is buried in Honolulu.

Before his death, Campbell completed filming a series of interviews with Bill Moyers that aired on PBS in 1988 as The Power of Myth, and much interest in his work followed the airing of this popular series. The series discusses mythological, religious, and psychological archetypes, and a book, The Power of Myth, containing expanded transcripts of their conversations, was released shortly after the original broadcast. Millions of viewers were introduced to Campbell’s ideas by the broadcast, which was composed of six hours of conversation that the two men had videotaped over the course of several years.

In 1991, Campbell’s widow Jean Erdman worked with others to create the Joseph Campbell Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and perpetuating Campbell’s mythological work.

Hollywood filmmaker George Lucas has also credited Campbell’s influence. Following the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977, he stated that its story was shaped, in part, by ideas described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and other works of Campbell’s. Many other filmmakers have acknowledged the influence of Campbell’s work on their films, including Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood screenwriter, who created a company memo based on Campbell’s work, A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which led to the development of Disney’s 1994 film The Lion King.

Some of the quotes that Joseph Campbell is known for include:

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.

All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.

Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.

by David Jay Brown

Marc Chagall Profile

Marc Chagall Profile

Carolyn and I both love Marc Chagall’s wonderful artwork. His uniquely joyful paintings have a delightfully dreamlike and profoundly playful quality that always lifts my spirits.

Marc Chagall was born Moishe Shagal in 1887. He was born into a devoutly Jewish Lithuanian family in Belarus, which was a part of the Russian empire, and throughout his life he lived in Russia, France, and the United States.

In 1907 Chagall went to St. Petersburg, Russia to study painting and drawing, and he relocated in Paris as a teenager, to develop his artistic style. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the modernism movement strove to create forms of art that reflected the newly emerging industrial world, and Chagall experienced modernism’s “golden age” in the City of Lights.

Chagall is considered a pioneer of modernism, as well as a major Jewish artist. His artwork has been associated with a number of different styles, and he created works in a wide range of mediums, including painting, drawing, stained glass, book illustration, stage sets, ceramics, and tapestries. Some of the recurring themes in Chagall’s paintings include village scenes, peasant life, musicians, dancing, and circuses, with romantic and spiritual overtones.

In the late 1950s, Chagall learned the art of creating with stained glass, and he designed a number of windows at different international locations, including the Cathedral of Metz in France and the United Nations building in New York. Chagall’s gorgeous stained-glass windows are enchantingly beautiful, as the medium’s capacity for brilliant color seems perfectly suited for his celestial and religious imagery.

Chagall’s paintings are housed in a variety of locations around the world, including the Musée Marc Chagall in Nice, France, which Chagall helped to design. Throughout his 75-year career, Chagall produced an astonishing 10,000 works, with dozens of notable paintings. Chagall died in France in 1985. After he died, a stranger said the Jewish prayer for the dead (the kaddish) over his coffin. Chagall is remembered as a great pioneer of modern art and one of its most brilliant figurative painters.

Carolyn created a tribute to Chagall with her painting After Chagall. Many people have stated that Carolyn’s art reminds them of Chagall’s work.

Some quotes that Marc Chagall is remembered for include:

Great art picks up where nature ends.

If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist palette which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.

Color is all. When color is right, form is right. Color is everything, color is vibration like music; everything is vibration.

In the arts, as in life, everything is possible provided it is based on love.

by David Jay Brown

Deepak Chopra Interview

Deepak Chopra Interview

Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of physician, inspirational speaker, and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, who is the author of more than 80 books on the topics of alternative medicine, self-improvement, and spirituality. He is well known for integrating modern theories of quantum physics with the timeless wisdom of ancient cultures.

Chopra combines conventional Western medical approaches with traditional Ayurvedic medicine from India, and has been one of the leading figures in mind/body medicine for close to 40 years. His work has had a significant influence on many Western physicians, and he helped to bring the notion of holistic medicine to many people’s attention with his innovative combination of Eastern and Western healing.

Deepak Chopra was born in New Delhi, India in 1946. His father was a cardiologist, and head of the department of medicine at a New Delhi Hospital, as well as a lieutenant in the British army. As a child, Chopra went to a Catholic missionary school, and was very interested in Shakespeare, the dramatic arts, debating, and cricket. He told me that he “had a wonderful childhood.” His “parents were extremely caring and loving,” he said, and his “father flooded the house with books of knowledge and literature.”

Chopra completed his primary education in New Delhi, and graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1969. Chopra had a particular interest in neuroendocrinology, the branch of medicine that studies the relationship between the nervous system and hormonal system, because he was interested in finding a biological basis for the influence of thoughts and emotions. After Chopra graduated from medical school, he worked for six months in a village in rural India.

In 1970, Chopra moved to the United States, and he began a series of residencies at hospitals in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. In 1973, he earned his license to practice medicine in Massachusetts, becoming board certified, and he set up a private practice in Boston.

In 1981, Chopra retuned to New Delhi, where he met with a physician who introduced him to Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian medical tradition that includes herbal treatments, special diets, meditation, and yoga. He then took up transcendental meditation, a form of silent mantra mediation, which he practiced regularly for several hours a day.

Ayurvedic medicine and meditation had a profound influence on Chopra’s medical perspective. He became disenchanted with prescribing drugs as the primary way to treat medical problems, and adopted more holistic treatments. Chopra became a spokesperson for the Transcendental Meditation movement, and in 1985 he became the founding president of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. Chopra established the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Center for Behavioral Medicine and Stress Management in Lancaster, Massachusetts, which utilized both Ayurvedic and Western practices, and he treated a number of celebrity patients, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

In 1989, Chopra published his landmark book Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, which integrates Western medicine, neuroscience, and physics with the insights of Ayurvedic medicine, and became a New York Times bestseller. Chopra contends that all occurrences within the mind and brain possess physical representations elsewhere in the body. Mental states, including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories, are believed to directly impact physiology through neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

A year later, this was followed by his book Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, and in 1993 Chopra was interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show about his books, after which he gained a huge following. That same year, Chopra moved to California, where he became executive director of Sharp HealthCare’s Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body Medicine, and head of their Center for Mind/Body Medicine, a clinic in an exclusive resort in Del Mar.

In 1996, Chopra co-founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad. Chopra is the owner and supervisor of the Mind-Body Medical Group within the Chopra Center, which in addition to standard medical treatment offers personalized advice about nutrition, sleep-wake cycles, and stress management based on mainstream medicine and Ayurveda.

Chopra has lectured around the world, and has made presentations to such organizations as the United Nations, the World Health Organization in Geneva, and London’s Royal Society of Medicine. Esquire magazine designated Chopra as one of the top ten motivational speakers in the country; and in 1995, he was a recipient of the Toastmasters International Top Five Outstanding Speakers award. In 1999 Time magazine selected Dr. Chopra as one of the Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the Century, describing him as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.”

Chopra’s books, which have been translated into more than 43 languages, explore many spiritual and health-related topics. His book How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries presents a seven stage theory of how people perceive religious experiences. Some of his other bestselling books include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Unconditional Life, Perfect Health, The Return of Merlin, The Path to Love, and Return of the Rishi. He has also produced more than a hundred audio and video titles.

I interviewed Deepak Chopra in 2003 for my book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse. I found him to be a very eloquent speaker. He expresses his ideas with clarity, simplicity, and charm. We spoke about the relationship between the mind and body, whether or not one can be certain of spiritual beliefs, psychic phenomena, mystical experiences, and the nature of God and consciousness. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?

Deepak: Nothing happens to consciousness after the death of the body. When two people are speaking on the phone, and the lines are cut off, nothing happens to them. If the room I’m sitting in is destroyed, nothing happens to the space I’m in. Consciousness just loses a vehicle to express itself. If I destroy my radio set the broadcast is still happening, but it’s not being actualized in the physical form, because the instrument is missing. So, I think that when the instrument gets destroyed, consciousness ceases to express itself in the realm of space-time and causality, until it finds another vehicle to express itself. And, after a sufficient period of incubation, it does do that, by taking a quantum leap of creativity.

David: You know Deepak, even though I sense that there’s wisdom in what you’re saying, I have to admit, that I always have this scientific skeptic inside me that questions all spiritual and mystical assertions, when they are expressed as facts. I’m curious as to how you can be so sure about things that have mystified human beings since the beginning of time — such as the nature of God, the existence of a soul, and what happens to consciousness after death. What gives you such a sense of certainty about your spiritual ideas?

Deepak: The only thing that can give you any degree of certainty is direct experience, and I come from there. Science is just one of the ways to express the truth, and it’s really not an adequate way. Science is not an adequate way to express the truth; it’s just a way to express our conceptional map of what we think the truth is. The conceptional map of science keeps changing. So, I think science is extremely inadequate as a way of understanding reality. Reality is the observer, the process of observation, and that which is observed. Science addresses only that which is observed, completely excluding both the process of observation, and more fundamentally, the observer. So actually, even though I express my ideas in a scientific vocabulary, because that seems to be the fashion of the day, I really don’t think science is adequate to address these deeper questions.

David: But still, I don’t understand how you can be so certain. I mean, you say that your experience gives you a sense of certainty— but we can certainly be fooled by our experiences.

Deepak: I’m more certain that I exist than of anything else. Then, in the certainty of existence, is the certainty of consciousness. The fact that I exist is the only thing I can be certain about. Everything else is really a perceptual artifact. I spend three hours in meditation every day, and I’ve been obsessed with these ideas ever since I was a child. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m certain about anything else. I think the only thing I’m certain about is the nature of God and the existence of the soul.

I’m not certain about what I see or perceive, because I really know, from the depth of my being, that if you can think about something — if you can conceptualize it, if you can visualize it, and if you can experience it through your senses — then it’s not real. It depends on something that you can’t conceptualize, that you cannot visualize, that you cannot experience through your senses, and yet, is much more real than anything that you can conceptualize. So, conceptualization, visualization, perception, understanding, intuition, creativity, meaning, purpose, and decision-making all depend on consciousness.

So, to me, consciousness or God is not difficult to explain; it’s impossible to avoid. Everything else is very difficult to explain. How do you explain perception? Your brain only recognizes PH, body temperature, biochemical changes, and electromagnetic impulses. That doesn’t tell me how you experience a red rose in your consciousness, how you feel beauty or, for that matter, how you experience sexual orgasm. Nothing that we explain in science really explains anything.

by David Jay Brown

Leonard Cohen Profile

Leonard Cohen Profile

Photo by Graeme Mitchell for The New Yorker

Another brilliant artist of legendary proportions that Carolyn and I both admire is the late Leonard Cohen. Cohen was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist, whose emotionally powerful work explored such themes as romance, isolation, sexuality, loss, politics, and death. His husky voice and soulful words have touched the hearts of millions, and he continues to soothe and inspire us with his wildly innovative songs and mesmerizing poetry.

Cohen was a masterful poet; he had 17 collections of poetry published in his lifetime, and he didn’t begin his music career until he was 33. Cohen graduated from McGill University in 1952 and spent some time in graduate school at Columbia University, but he wasn’t happy there; he described his academic experience as “passion without flesh, love without climax.” In 1957 Cohen left school to pursue a career as a poet and novelist; he began working various odd jobs so that he could focus on his creative writing.

Disappointed with his lack of success as a writer, in 1967 Cohen moved to New York City to reinvent himself as a folk music singer-songwriter. He began hanging out with artist Andy Warhol and mixing with his associated creative community. Popular singers such as Judy Collins and Joan Baez started covering some of his songs around this time, translating his poetry into music. After performing at a few folk festivals, Cohen came to the attention of a Columbia Records producer who signed him to a record deal, and his first album was released that same year. Cohen released 14 studio albums and eight live albums during the course of a recording career lasting almost 50 years, and a posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, was released in 2019.

Cohen was a deeply contemplative man, who sought the advice and guidance of spiritual leaders throughout the world. He spent much of his life as a spiritual seeker, alternating periods of deep study of the Jewish Torah with long retreats at Zen monasteries. He had ancestral roots in religion, and his deep personal sense of spirituality was expressed in his most well-known song, Hallelujah, which was the result of a long and profound spiritual journey; it took him years to write the revered classic, filling notebook after notebook with rejected lyrics.

Cohen ran into financial difficulties later in life due to missing money that his ex-manager had stolen, and in 2008 he embarked on his first world tour in fifteen years. He performed his final time in New Zealand in 2013. Appreciation for Cohen’s songs spans across generations, as he had the ability to reach people of all ages, and although I never saw him perform, Carolyn saw him numerous times, and so did my mom, who is also a great admirer.

Cohen was immensely creative and, in addition to his poetry, prose, and music, he also produced countless sketches, drawings, and lithographs, some of which are collected in his book The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings. Cohen died in 2016, at the age of 82. His legacy is enormous; he is recognized as one of the most influential musicians of our time. His albums have sold millions of copies, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Some quotes that Leonard Cohen is remembered for include:

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

You look around you and see a world that doesn’t make sense; you raise your fist or you say ‘hallelujah.

Like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it. — Cohen describes his writing process

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.

Carolyn added:David Campagna and I experienced Leonard at many concerts, with seats right next to his performance. At one point he looked into David’s eyes, which were tearing, smiled his half smile, and fell backwards, his eyes also full of tears.

“Then a few months later, while David was at Mt. Sinai Hospital in LA, Leonard said ‘Hi bro’ I ‘They are just hanging us on.’ Then David brought my book The Divine Kiss to Leonard the next week, while dragging himself across the room attached to a chemo machine. Leonard remarked what an act of passion it was that the book was dedicated in David’s honor. I’m not sure if they saw each other again, but Leonard’s family estate does have that book, thanks to David’s heroism.

by David Jay Brown