The Leonard Cohen Files: bridging the gap between artist and fans

On: September 11, 2010
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About Lennard Torbijn


In 1993, legendary poet, singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen stopped performing and writing. He retreated to a Buddhist monastery and planned not to perform in the following years. At the beginning of 2008 an official announcement told the world he would be performing in a world tour again, after 15 years. At Leonard Cohen’s personal request, the announcement was not made through a press release. Rather, the official message was posted on the Leonard Cohen fan forum.

This is the story of how one fan created an online fan network that would ultimately be recognized and embraced by Leonard Cohen himself, his management, and his record company

Less than two years after Leonard Cohen had dissappeared from the world stage, one fan from Finland started The Leonard Cohen Files (a.k.a. The Files). This website paid tribute to the music, art and poetry of Leonard Cohen. With no official Leonard Cohen website available until 1998, Leonard Cohen fans from around the world soon reached The Files. The associated Leonard Cohen Forum enabled fans to talk with each other, to discuss lyrics, song meanings, and everything else concerning Leonard Cohen. Upon returning from the monastery in 1999, Leonard Cohen personally sent The Files the poetry and art he had worked on in the monastery. Ever since, Leonard Cohen has had close contact with The Files and Forum members.

“It was the site of a fan from Finland. When I saw his site for the first time, I was very impressed by his effort. I asked him if we shouldn’t work together. The Internet is a good “vehicle” for publishing.” (Leonard Cohen in COM!Online 2/2002)

The 2001 and 2004 cd releases boosted The Files’ and Forum activity, attracting more fans to discuss the new (and older) material. The number of registered users rose from 156 on 25 September 2002 to 1269 on 25 January 2005.

Registered users in 2002

Registered users in 2005

Still, the gathered group of fans remained relatively small until January 2008 when, at Leonard Cohen’s request, The Files and Forum were the first to officially announce Leonard Cohen’s upcoming world tour. As of 11 September 2010 there are 22192 members, and counting.

Since the official announcement of the new world tour, The Forum has attracted more and more visitors. All official announcements, from new tour dates, ticket sales, and new releases, are made through The Forum. The official Leonard Cohen website often fails to publish new tour dates before ticket sales start. The official website has even failed to publish all of the summer 2009 tour dates. The Files and Forum, however, are and always have been accurate, up to date, and on time.

With the launch of the new world tour in 2008, the official website received a make-over. Besides providing song lyrics, videos and all one expects to see on an artist’s official website, the top of the page now shows a button that says ‘community‘. When clicked, the Leonard Cohen fan forum pops up! This shows that the official Leonard Cohen website has not tried to build its own community, but has embraced the fans as they had gathered themselves already.

The story of The Files and Forum fits into the understanding that new media are apt to change the boundaries between industrial top-down production and the individual consumer. The Internet has provided one Leonard Cohen fan the tools to set up a place where all fans could gather. Fans were no longer mere individual consumers buying an artist’s cd. The fans became a solid group and could not be ignored. Without the Internet, no 22192 people from all over the world could have been brought together on such a regular basis as on an online forum. Together, the fans formed a community that ultimately gained the recognition by the artist and his representatives. This is already confirmed by the fact that the fan forum is now part of the official Leonard Cohen website.

Although the 1995 fan website predates the Web 2.0 era, still is part of the long obsolete webring, and virually has not changed stylistically, it still proves to be an apt example of the Internet’s potential of bringing people together. This particular case of Leonard Cohen and his fans shows that through the Internet one individual fan was able to set up a community that was later to be embraced by the industry itself, bridging the gap between the artist and the fans.

At 8m23s into the following clip Leonard Cohen thanks the Finnish fan on stage at the end of a recent concert in Helsinki for keeping his songs alive all these years. What better recognition can one receive?

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