I’M YOUR MAN: THE LIFE OF LEONARD COHEN – Sylvie Simmons (Press +1)

Leonard Cohen, at almost seventy-eight years old, is currently experiencing an unprecedented level of popularity in Canada and around the world. In 2009, he became the first artist to have three versions of the same song (“Hallelujah”) close out the year in the UK’s Top Ten. A smiling and deeply appreciative Cohen paused in the middle of his three-year world tour to thank audiences. Awards and nominations would follow, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. How different it all seemed only a few years earlier, when Leonard Cohen’s last foray into public awareness was the result of his manager stealing upwards of $13 million from Cohen’s bank account, as well as selling off the rights for his catalogue of songs to Sony, while Cohen was living in a Buddhist retreat.

In I’m Your Man, Sylvie Simmons, author of previous books on Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young, has crafted only the second official Leonard Cohen biography, the first being Various Positions, written by Ira Nadel in the 1960s and periodically revised, most notably in 1997. At the time, Cohen had announced his departure from the music world after having released two highly successful albums, I’m Your Man and the critically-acclaimed The Future. Many wondered if we would ever see Cohen on stage again.

While Leonard Cohen’s second act is the obvious impetus for Simmons’s story, she begins with Cohen’s childhood and family life in Montreal and is able to bring together notes from many of his friends, including interviews with Cohen himself. Thus, several old stories are finally woven into their proper narrative. For example, as Simmons explores Cohen’s lifelong love of country music we are finally given the place for an odd, but often seen image of Cohen as part of a very youthful looking country band called The Buckskin Boys. In fact, while much is made of Cohen’s time on the Greek Isle of Hydra, I’m Your Man resurrects a dusty piece of Cohen lore, namely that for much of Songs from a Room, was written while Cohen was living on a ranch and riding horses in Tennessee.

In Simmons’ view, Cohen appears as a gifted, but tortured artist, driven by a need for a woman to love in order to channel his talent, while riven by depression and rendered unable to live side-by-side with his great loves. I’m Your Man is full of moments where Leonard swings wildly from declarations of love and marriage to fleeing in the next breath, either to Hydra, or New York, and later Los Angeles and Mumbai, for solitude. These moments of self-enforced exile coincide with his periods of greatest productivity. Even in the case of his most recent sojourn at the Mount Baldy Buddhist Monastery, Cohen emerged with a new book of poems, two albums, and somehow become free from his lifelong depression.

While I’m Your Man presents itself largely as a factual narrative in which Cohen’s actions are described in stark detail, without much romantic or heroic hyperbole, Simmons nevertheless appears to share Cohen’s wry sense of humour, and its easy to imagine the grand old man smiling back at you throughout its many pages.

by Sean Marchetto for Press +1

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