Singer Marc Cohn opens up about how 'ghosts,' healing shape his music
This Mother’s Day, there’s no doubt Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Marc Cohn will be thinking about his mom, who died when he was a young boy.
Cohn sat down with The Sacramento Bee before his April 30 concert at the Harris Center in Folsom and reflected on his mother, father and a musical journey that’s been difficult yet healing for him.
Cohn is best known for the 1990s hit song “Walking in Memphis.”
Cohn's mother died suddenly when he was just 2 years old, and he lost his father a few years later. His lifelong reflection on his parents’ deaths and how it shaped his childhood comes out in his songs.
“I’ve been writing a long time about my childhood, which was … the kind of childhood that makes you a songwriter,” Cohn said. “I was an orphan, basically in a way no-one ever could have expected. I think that’s quite clearly why all these ghosts, literally ghosts, appear in my music. I feel like I never really knew the most important people in my life.”
Difficulty, healing, creativity – Cohn knows very well how they all relate to his life and career. In 2005, Cohn was shot in the head during an attempted carjacking in Denver while touring. He said he experienced post-traumatic stress from the violence. Shortly after being shot, Hurricane Katrina struck, and he watched its devastation while working in New Orleans and struggled with the tragedy. But, he said, it made him want to write songs.
“Unfortunately, very often in my life it’s some sort of trauma, something I need to work through that songwriting helps me do,” he said.
As Mother’s Day approaches, Cohn said he would have liked to have been able to say goodbye to his mother.
“What I’m talking about is just a sense of some completion. You know when you know somebody is ill you just expect the worst. But she died suddenly – that’s really what was so difficult for all of us. Just from one minute to the next she was gone, so a chance to say goodbye would have simply been that.”
Cohn sometimes projects old pictures of his parents on a screen at his concerts.
“Occasionally, when I’ve looked while I’m playing to see them there, its been very healing and very difficult to get through the song. They really come alive.”
Mark Morris contributed to this story.