I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen Reviewed By Dr. Wesley Britton of Bookpleasures.com

I’m Your Man is not your typical music biography. In large part, that’s because the life and work of Leonard Cohen is far different from anyone else’s story and legacy.

In the beginning, the reclusive and introverted Canadian had literary designs to become a recognized poet and novelist. Learning he needed to spread his wings to earn an income from his art, he began writing songs at the age of 33. Songstress Judy Collins took note. Her version of “Suzanne” launched Cohen’s musical career which was never a smooth course thereafter.

As Sylvie Simmons traces in her own very literate biography, the enigmatic Cohen was rarely a fully satisfied composer or performer. In the recording studio, his very personal vision was often hard to capture due to his perfectionist standards and his continually revising his songs. Until his seventies, he didn’t like touring and rarely felt comfortable on stage. In his private life, he largely sought quiet refuge in rooms off the beaten track where he spent quiet time in simple settings where he could write, move from woman to woman, and wrestle with his artistic demons. While always embracing his Jewish heritage, his religious pursuits ultimately led to his becoming a Zen Buddhist monk with years spent in a remote monastery. As a result, many of his songs are considered virtual prayers, expressing the ethereal realm where the erotic and the spiritual meet.

What Simmons successfully brings together are all the private and public threads of Cohen’s odysseys. She not only presents the creative intentions of Cohen’s projects, their publishing and production historys, the commercial and critical responses to the books and albums, but adds her own insightful analysis of the lyrics and music. It’s surprising to learn that, while continually lionized in his home country of Canada and loved in Viagra Europe, Cohen only occasionally got any attention in the U.S. That is, until later in life when he began earning every award and tribute ever given a poet/songwriter.

Along with Cohen himself, Simmons had access to the deep archives of Cohen’s words and art and was able to interview some 100 participants in Cohen’s life, particularly the women who were so much a part of his work as muses and collaborators. The stories run the range of the time Phil Spector held a gun to Cohen’s neck in the studio to Cohen’s happy discovery of electronic synthesizers which allowed him to expand beyond his admittedly limited proficiency on the guitar. Cohen was a man seemingly never comfortable in his own skin, rarely happy with his own work, and always on the move to avoid romantic entrapments, even with lovers willing to give him space and the freedom to do his own thing. That was until a betrayal forced him to reinvigorate his live performances and quicken the pace of his recordings.

So I’m Your Man is one of those rare books, a truly definitive biography. Considering the longevity of Cohen’s career and the difficult to explain choices and complex personality of a conflicted artistic soul, Simmons goes well below the surface to unveil a man with many masks and an often seemingly contradictory metaphysical evolution. You need not be a Cohen fan to benefit from this book, only be a reader interested in the life of a consummate artist and what that means for anyone willing to immerse themselves so completely in their work. Odds are, American readers will find themselves seeking out the albums and books they missed when they were first released. If you are a Cohen fan, this is the mother lode.

by Dr. Wesley Britton of Bookpleasures.com

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