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Replay: Why Leonard Cohen Ran Toward War

In 1973, Leonard Cohen announced he was done with music for good. The same year, in October, war broke out in Israel. The Yom Kippur War would become the bloodiest in Israel…

In 1973, Leonard Cohen announced he was done with music for good. The same year, in October, war broke out in Israel.

The Yom Kippur War would become the bloodiest in Israel’s young history—and Cohen was there to witness it. As the war broke out, he left his home on the Greek island of Hydra to fly into the warzone.

Leonard Cohen never said much about why he went to the front. What we know is that in the months that followed, he would write “Who By Fire.” Five decades later, on Spotify and in synagogue, you can still hear the echoes of this trip.

So what was it that happened in the desert in October of 1973 between this depressed musician and these too young soldiers going off to battle? How did it remake Leonard Cohen? How did it transform those who heard him play? And how did the war transform Israel itself?

Those are just some of the questions Matti Friedman explains in his beautiful book Who By Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai.

This episode aired last year on Honestly, and we’re thrilled to reshare it with you today, as we approach the 50 year anniversary of the war that remade a country—and one searching folk star. 

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