Even the airport tipped its hat

Monday, November 20th, 2017

LC mural ssMontreal, November 4th-10th 2017

mural 2

It’s hard to describe the whirlwind of emotions that came from being in Leonard Cohen’s birthplace on the first anniversary of his death. The city certainly went all-out with its tribute. Even the airport added a sculpted fedora to the “O” of Montreal. Down at the old port, a place where Leonard loved to wander as a child,  his poems were projected on the walls of the monumental Silo #5. There were other murals on the sides of buildings around the city. Adam Cohen, Leonard’s son, and Hal Willner, who curated the tribute concerts that formed the basis of the film “I’m Your Man”, organised a concert at the Bell Centre with a host of stars to raise money for arts charities. But chief among the homages was the vast and impressive art exhibition commissioned by MAC – the Musee d’Art Contemporain. The exhibition had actually planned to open while fedora montrealLeonard was still alive – the curator John Zeppetelli came to San Francisco to talk about it with me a couple of years back. Leonard, who gave his blessing,  would surely have appreciated the highly original art he inspired. Much of it was digital, but at the same time very human, and  largely created by younger artists. I joined some of IMG_20171109_154007_resized_20171110_021131907those artists onstage at a panel discussion at MAC of Leonard and art – George Fok, Kara Blake and Clara Furey. They were fascinating. That week I also did two  one-hour interviews onstage at MAC. Here’s a link to the one in English with CBC host Eleanor Wachtel. http://tinyurl.com/y7qnaeg7.  The other onstage interview was in French with Montreal poet and author Chantal Ringuet – if museum crackI find a link I’ll post it later.   A number of Leonard Cohen fans came from Europe to participate in the tribute. I was really happy to get to sing a few Cohen songs for them with Montreal musician L’il Andy  at the beautifulChapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, whose statue of Mary, “Our Lady of the Harbour”, is referenced in Leonard’s song”Suzanne.” I also sang at the French-language bookshop Librairie Gallimard, just a few steps from Leonard’s old house, where the translators and publishers and I launched the new edition of the first French version of my book, I’m Your Man: La Vie de Leonard Cohen. That same night the first snowfall came, the snow started falling – fat clusters of white  like tiny crumpled napkins. It was very hard to say goodbye to Montreal – and Leonard.

Museum: http://macm.org/en/exhibitions/leonard-cohen/

Music: http://youtu.be/811cY7Fwl4k 

 


Montreal – Sylvie joins tributes to Leonard Cohen

Saturday, November 4th, 2017

7b Our lady of the harbourMontreal has organized a variety of  artistic and musical events across the city in November, paying tribute to Leonard Cohen on the first anniversary of his death, ranging from a concert at the Bell Centre headlined by Elvis Costello, a building-sized muralof Cohen in his famous fedora, and a major multi-media exhibition at MAC (Musee D’Art Contemporain/Museum of Contemporary Art).

From 6th, when the exhibition opens, until 9th November, the art museum will also feature various staged events. These include panels, round-tables and on-stage interviews on the subject of Leonard Cohen, his life and his work.

Sylvie will be appearing in several events, in English and in French, and will separately be doing TV and radio interviews in English and in French, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by Elisabeth Domergue and Francois Vella, the two women who translated  the French-Canadian new edition of I’m Your Man: the Life of Leonard Cohen.

In addition, Sylvie will do an event at the Librairie Gallimard, a bookshop near Leonard Cohen’s Montreal home, where there will be songs (in English) and readings (in French). She will also sing with Canadian Americana singer-songwriter L’il Andy at a private concert for the Leonard Cohen Files Forum, many of whom have traveled from Europe for the tribute event, at the Chapel de Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, its building topped by the statue of ‘Our lady of the harbour’ that appears in Leonard Cohen’s famous song “Suzanne.”

Please see the tour page for further details.

Two hats, no uke

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

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Jim White, the metaphysical singer-songwriter who counts David Byrne of Talking Heads among his biggest fans, is working on a new acoustic album and asked Sylvie to sing on it with him. Jim and Sylvie first sang together at the Poisson Rouge in New York and then last year at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. Sylvie – who has been a huge fan of White’s work since his 1997 debut album The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus on Byrne’s Luaka Bop label – is featured singing in songs Land Called Home, Plywood Superman and Walk A While with Me.

Votre homme!

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Quebec cover copy

A French-Canadian edition of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen has been published by Edito in Quebec. It is a paperback, 575 pages, and translated by Elisabeth Domergue and Francoise Vella.

Sylvie and the translators will all be in Montreal in November, to mark the anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death. Among the celebrations to mark this sombre occasiom in Leonard’s hometown are a concert at the Bell Cntre – organised by Leonard’s son Adam Cohen, who will appear along with Elvis Costello, k.d lang and more; with all proceeds going to charity – and a major exhibition of Cohen’s life and work at MAC, the city’s contemporary art museum.

Sylvie will be in Montreal to do readings, signings and interviews, as well as meet-ups with Leonard Cohen fans and Forum members.

The continuing travels of I’m Your Man…

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Turkey bk
Two new editions are available of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. The Turkish version, translated by Dugyu Akinand, is titled I’m Your Man: Cohen’in Hayati.  And due for release in China is an e-book edition of the simplified-Chinese-characters translation pictured below.

China 1

 

 

 

 

Everything is Broken

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Hi! Sylvie here. The words of that Bob Dylan song have been running through my head nonstop since I last posted on this page in March. I had gone to Tucson, Arizona, with twelve new songs to record with Howe Gelb, but on the night of  my first day in the studio I had a nasty accident, breaking a whole lot of bones. Since those bones included my arm and wrist – as well as some nerves in my hand – I haven’t been able to play ever since.  Slowly but surely I’m getting better and champing at the bit to get back into action. I did a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania last week and managed to sing two songs, and  I sang backup at my friend Colin Gilmore and Adam Traum’s show in San Francisco. On Monday  7th August I’ll be singing at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco, with the great Bart Davenport backing me. Hopefully I’ll be ready to  go back and finish that album by the end of the year. And talking of bones. here’s a very fine dog to snuggle up to.

Dog love

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

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At the soundchek for a show with Giant San at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall in Felton, California, journalist Jason Reed asked Sylvie if he could interview her on video for “Inner Edge Music.” Jason wrote, “If you’re not familiar with Sylvie’s music, you’re missing out. Her passion and skill with the ukulele are second to none. There is a confessional twee-like vulnerability to her songs, harkening back to the innocence of youth, with twangs of American heartland sentimentalism mixed in. If you combined the vocal stylings of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star and Neko Case, and added some stellar and minimalistic ukulele playing, you’d have an approximation of Sylvie’s sound. It’s filled with solace and beauty. Her debut self-titled album was released in November of 2014 to positive critical reviews, including commendations from Devendra Banhart and Brian Wilson.”

Here’s thevideo:   http://inneredgemusic.com/sylvie/

Back to the desert

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Sylvie is heading back to Tucson, Arizona soon to record a new album. Howe Gelb of Giant Sand will once again be producing and adding his musical magic along with Thoger Lund. The new songs Sylvie is recording include several that she has played at recent shows – including “Keep Dancing,” “Nothing,” “Creation Day,” “Waiting For The Shadows,” “Imaginary Boy” and more.

Sylvie will also be doing a few shows in the Tucson area. Please see the tour page for details.

Here’s a pic of Sylvie performing with Howe and Thogerat the Henry Miller library in Big Sur.

SS HG TL Big Sur2 copy

That’s my way to say goodbye

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

SS and LC montage

Hi  and a belated happy new year. Sorry it’s taken me a while to update this news page. The news was so sorrowful as last year came to a close that I simply got on with the task of talking to radio interviewers and magazines about Leonard Cohen, writing obits and articles about him, meeting with his friends, singing in trubute concerts with musicians who loved and admired him, as my way of saying goodbye.

I think I also forgot to mention that, before Leonard passed away, I learned that there are some new editions of “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.” There will be an edition in Czech and one in Korean, and a Turkish edition (http://www.rob389.com/dp/tr/11/9786056640797) was recently released.

I have also been busy completing my first book of poetry, Sometimes I Dream of Holes. If all goes to plan the book will be published in the autumn in English and Spanish. The last poem in the book is about Leonard Cohen.

My belated New Years Resolution is to check in with you more often. See you soon I hope and feel free to keep in touch.

Leonard Cohen: 21st Sept 21 1934 – 7th Nov 2016

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

Biographer recalls Cohen as a serious man and a great artist

by Sylvie Simmons

 

Photo: Paul Chiasson, Associated Press

I’m shaking as I write this. My brain is numb. In this year of losses, so many losses, in this black week for the world, for me this tops them all.

The radio and newspapers keep calling, wanting details of where and how he died. Well, he died at the top of his game. He went out in a blaze of glory. He died with his boots and his suit on. Not onstage — his declining health put paid to those three-hour shows, the rat pack rabbi falling to his knees — but in his home studio, where his son Adam Cohen helped him deliver a masterpiece,“You Want It Darker.” It came out only days before his death.

The album title didn’t have a question mark; darker is clearly what we want. And Cohen was always so good at dark, be it black humor, the darkness of the soul or the depths he mined for his poems and songs.

This was his third album in five years, which was miraculous, given that in 49 years he had released just 14 studio albums. Cohen was a lifelong perfectionist. He talked about songs having to be torn from him.

That old story about Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan trading lyrics in a Paris cafe is true. Dylan showed Cohen a new song and Cohen asked him how long it took to write it. “Fifteen minutes,” answered Dylan, and asked him how long it took to write “Hallelujah.” Cohen replied, “A couple of years” — too embarrassed to tell him it was five.

Maybe it was longer still, and Cohen was too embarrassed to tell me. But when those remarkable comeback tours came to an end, he returned to his original job, writing, with gusto. “Time speeds up the closer it gets to the end of the reel,” he told me. “You don’t feel like wasting time.”

“You Want It Darker” is one of the richest, deepest, most beautiful albums in a lifetime of rich, deep and beautiful work. He was a serious artist. A deep man, very deep.

“How do we produce work that touches the heart?” he said two decades ago, when he was living on Mount Baldy as an ordained Buddhist monk. “We don’t want to live a superficial life. We want to be serious with each other, with our friends, with our work. Serious has a kind of voluptuous aspect to it. It is something that we are deeply hungry for.”

Cohen was born in Montreal to a family of stature — his forefathers were rabbis and founders of synagogues and newspapers — and never denied that he was from the right side of the track. He grew up pre-rock; the tradition behind him was poetry. Raised on the English poets, at age 15 he discovered the work of Federico Garcia Lorca. That was the same year that he started to play guitar.

He said that there was music behind every word he wrote. He was a published poet, a golden boy of Canadian poetry before he tried his hand at writing songs. He never stopped writing poetry. He also published two novels. As a visual artist, he painted a series of droll self-portraits.

Cohen sang himself back home in his last album. The cantor and the choir of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, the synagogue that his great-grandfather founded, accompanied him as he sang “Hineni,” I am ready. Yes, he’d been saying that for years, if not in Hebrew.

Although he could laugh about himself and often did, he was serious about life and death, about family, about being a Jew. His lifelong spiritual explorations were also serious; they were never an accessory for him.

So many stories of the lives of musicians and poets have an unhappy ending. But not Leonard Cohen. He had his career upside down, more popular at the end than in the beginning, when there were critics saying they should give away razor blades with his LPs. For decades Cohen suffered clinical depression. He knew darkness and looked right into its eyes and managed to raise a smile. And an extraordinary body of work.

“This world is full of conflicts and things that cannot be reconciled, but there are moments,” he said, “when we can embrace the whole mess.” I was just thinking of that quote after the election on Tuesday, Nov. 8 — not knowing that Cohen hadn’t lived to see the result.

I’m going to miss that man. Everything. The whole mess. I’m so very grateful to have known him, to have had his support and friendship. And so grateful to have his words and music. He is irreplaceable.

Sylvie Simmons is Leonard Cohen’s biographer. “ I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (Ecco) was published in 2012. She is a San Francisco-based music journalist and singer-songwriter.