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.

No 1!

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

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“I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” is back at the top of the Canadian charts. Sylvie’s book first hit the number one slot shortly after it was first published at the end of 2012.  The book is also back in the top ten  in the US at #8. Leonard Cohen has been getting all sorts of attention since his 82nd birthday on September 21st and his announcement that he would be releasing a new album, You Want It Darker, in late October.  The editor of the prestigious US magazine  New Yorker, David Remnick wrote a long article on Cohen that cited a number of times what he called “Sylvie’s excellent biography.”

Sylvie’s five-star review of Cohen’s You Want It Darker album is in the new issue of MOJO magazine, dated November 2016.

lc-no-1-amaz

Words – written and spoken

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

Interviews – all kinds of them!

Here’s Sylvie being interviewed last week for a Canadian podcast. She talks about Leonard Cohen, writing books, and her life as a musician. http://www.travelsinmusic.com/leonard-cohen/

The BBC has just reposted “The Rock Chick”, the documentary it made on Sylvie while she was still working on her Leonard Cohen book and not long after she started playing ukulele!  http://ow.ly/ynB8302vJZR

And here she is interviewing heavy metal singer-guitarist Lita Ford about her new autobiography, on stage at the Chapel in San Francisco.

Finally, the latest interviews Sylvie has been writing for  MOJO are: a rare interview with Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s legendary producer, Bob Johnston (issue #272) and an epic article and interview on another legend, Terry Reid (#273). She also did a very long, heart-to-heart interview with Lars Ulrich of Metallica, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

 

Brazilian press loves I’m Your Man: A Vida De Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

SS & LC, pic by LC on imac

The Brazilan press has hailed the new Portuguese edition of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen with rave reviews.

Estado newspaper wrote that it “offers the deepest picture ever seen of one of the most complicated artists [in] the pop universe – Cohen was not just a writer and never just a musician. What Sylvie was able to do in I’, Your Man is throw Cohen open, taking you through so many strands of the lives he lived… the mechanics of feeling… what is love.”

http://cultura.estadao.com.br/noticias/musica,leonard-cohen–icone-na-literatura-e-na-musica–ganha-biografia-capaz-de-decifrar-sua-complexidade,10000027814

UCSFM wrote, “By exposing the fascinating intimacy of the Canadian artist, Simmonsnot only quenches the curiosity of fans but reveals the uniqueness of one of the most brilliant minds of our time. In I’m Your Man the reader will be able to contemplate a privileged perspective, the unique spirituality of a man who questioned and felt all the mysteries of human existence with delivery and passion.”

http://ucsfm.com.br/biografia-de-leonard-cohen-e-lancada-no-brasil/

O Globo newspaper featured an interview with Sylvie and a link to one of her songs:

http://oglobo.globo.com/cultura/garota-do-rock-decifra-em-livro-mito-leonard-cohen-19053407

The Brazilian edition is published by Editora BestSeller in Brazil and contains a 16 page glossy insert of photographs, many in color.

Sylvie, meanwhile, has been in Los Angeles performing with the celebrated, all-male, a capella Leonard Cohen tribute Conspiracy of Beards, opening their shows with a full set of her own and Cohen’s songs, and joining the 24-piece choir as their guest singer on Leonard Cohen’s song ‘The Window’. Her last show with the group will be on Sunday May 8th at the beautiful Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, California. See ‘Tour’ for more details.

 

Leonard Cohen gets a Brazilian (edition!)

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

12961282_10154727175504377_2657886490893315596_oA Brazilian Portuguese-language version of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen – the 19th edition of the acclaimed 2012 biography – will be released next week. Translated by Patrícia Azeredo, I’m Your Man: A Vida De Leonard Cohen is published by Editora BestSeller and costs R$ 79.90

Watch out for interviews with Sylvie in O Globo  and other Brazilian newspapers and magazines in the days to come!

One of a kind

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

11112575_10153719314354377_1262911497517421627_nSylvie joined Charlie Daniels at BMI Nashville today to speak at a memorial tribute to Bob Johnston  – the legendary record producer and man behind many of the last century’s greatest artists’ greatest albums: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Cash to name just a handful. Here’s an excerpt from what she said:-

Look up the words ‘one of a kind’ and you’ll see a picture of a wiry Texan with red-brown hair and beard and fire in his eyes. All of us who knew Johnston know how fiercely that fire blazed. And what kept it burning was an unassailable belief – in art and music and creative freedom – and an unshakeable resistance to authority and whoever might stand in his or their way. As Bob Dylan wrote in his memoir Chronicles, Bobwas born one hundred years too late, he should have been wearing a wide cape, a plumed hat and riding with his sword held high… Bob Johnston was unreal.”

Bob was a badd ass, a guardian angel and a music man. He was born to be in music. His grandmother Mamie Jo Adams, his mom Diane Johnston and his wife Joy Byers, who is here today – all these women wrote songs and so did Bob.

His greatest fame, though, was as a record producer. Some of the greatest American albums of the last century bear his name – significant, life-changing albums, each a revelation and a testament to Bob Johnston’s ability to put the right musicians together, block interference, let what happens happen, cheer it along and roll the tapes You know what they were; some of the people in this room played on them.

They include six of Dylan’s greatest albums, from Highway 61 to New Morning, and, at the same time, Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest records Sounds Of Silence and Parsley, Sage. Bob told me how he’d work with Dylan until midnight and Dylan would keep asking, “What did you do with Paul last night?” then from midnight to dawn he’d be in the studio with Paul Simon, who’d keep asking, “What did you do with Dylan?”

Bob had 27 artists during that period. Another of them was Leonard Cohen, with whom Bob made three albums. Leonard told me had it not been for Bob he might never have made a second album at all, since his experience of recording his debut was so hellish. But then he ran into Bob in LA, who persuaded him to come here by renting him Felice and Boudleax Byrant’s log cabin, promising Leonard to make the album that Leonard, not the label wanted, and finding him the perfect band – including Ron Cornelius and Charlie Daniels, here today, two men who also came to Nashville because of Bob.

At Leonard Cohen’s request, Bob also joined his touring band in 1970, acting as his keyboard player and manager (at Bob’s insistence unpaid manager – Bob was a man for whom the business part of the music business took far less prominence than a person of his prominence merited. Bob wasn’t one to turn down his artist’s request – but it also didn’t hurt that Bob had just quit Columbia, and the idea of celebrating this with a trip around Europe, at his former employers’ expense struck him as a fine one! Another of his good ideas was persuading Cohen and the band to ride onstage at a French rock festival on horseback, but that’s a whole other story.

And let’s not forget Johnny Cash. The two classic prison albums At Folsom and At San Quentin – Cash told me he’d been trying to record a prison album for years but Columbia had refused to let him do it. But when Bob Johnston became head of Columbia Nashville – a position, I should say, that did nothing to moderate his feelings towards the suits – that changed, in spite of angry calls from Clive Davis threatening to drop them both. It was Johnston who got Cash and Dylan to record together. He tricked Columbia into allowing their duet to appear on Nashville Skyline – how did he pull that off? He simply refused to let anyone from the record company into the studio and put a fake name on the tape box.

“I truly believe”, Bob Dylan once said of Bob, “that in a couple of hundred years they’ll find out he was a prophet. I think he is the only prophet we’ve had since Jesus.” Bob Johnston would have made a pretty wild prophet. I’m sure a lot of us know some of the tales he could tell and did tell – and that I daren’t tell at a memorial. And there were so many stories.

Bob and I first talked a couple of decades ago when I interviewed him for an article I was writing on Johnny Cash. Over the years there were many more interviews and conversations on different subjects, including my Leonard Cohen biography, and also many of those long telephone conversations you have with someone who becomes a friend. I’ll miss those out-of-the blue calls; there’s no conversations quite like a phone call with Bob.

The last time I saw Bob, he had plans to make a movie, to produce a young woman singer he’d discovered, to write his memoir and to work on a project far too elaborate to go into here but that was entirely in keeping with his musical ethos and would mess with the people in power and change the world. We drank a little tequila and – I had my ukulele with me – we sat outside in the back yard and sang Leonard Cohen songs.

A friend told me that, during his last days at the memory facility, Bob would be singing and dancing, telling stories and enchanting everyone around him. It wouldn’t surprise me if, wherever he is right now, that’s what he’s still doing. He was one of a kind, Bob Johnston.

And the winner is …

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Well, we don’t know who the winner is yet –  but we do know that Sylvie’s debut album Sylvie,  produced by Howe Gelb and released on Light In The Attic Records, has made it onto the ballot for Best Folk Album for the 58th Grammy Awards!!  Voting in the first round begins this week, so we’re crossing our fingers and lighting candles that she’ll make it to the next round!

Here’s some photos from a show Sylvie played with Howe and Giant Sand at the Aarhus festival last month. There was an amazine line-up  onstage in the grand finale – including M Ward, Grant Lee Phillips,  Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth,  Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, Maggie Bjorklund,  Giant Sand, Howe and Sylvie and more.

Midway through the encore – a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep”, with Howe, M Ward and Sylvie on vocals, Howe led Sylvie in an impromptu tango during an accordion solo, while managing not to knock over the violin players!

Grand finale

 

Sylvie at Howe etc show

Sylvie and Howe Town CalledDance finale copy

 

What a summer!

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Whew! Is it sweltering where you are too? It’s turning out to be quite a summer, in so many ways. First, the touring. After her performances in Bogota,  S.America Sylvie did a handful of shows in California then flew to Scandinavia  where she played three concerts in Norway – way up in the north of the country, and also in Oslo (pictured below, where the musicians included American singer-songwriter Luke Elliott and Norwegian poet Havard Rem, who translated Sylvie’s book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen) – with a few days off to climb a mountain and take a fishing boat out into the Norwegian sea and catch an enormous cod!

Now she’s headed back to S.America again – Chile this time, to play a concert with Chilean musician Matías Cena and be interviewed onstage by Santiago journalist Alfredo Lewin. And after that it’s back to Scandinavia! Three shows in Denmark as part of the Aarhus festival, one of them sharing the stage with Howe Gelb and Giant Sand,  Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and M.Ward. Check the Tour page  for details of these and also some local shows.

Despite all the traveling, Sylvie has kept to her resolution to Tweet her book Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes every day, a dozen or so tweets at a time, with the occasional commentary and picture! At last glance she was four chapters and around 700 tweets into it. Join her on Twitter or if you want the whole book, which  has been updated and is available as an e-book/kindle  after a long time out of print, it’s here:

http://www.amazon.com/Serge-Gainsbourg-Fistful-Gitanes-Expanded-ebook/dp/B00VU4ZA6Y/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Sylvie has also been compiling an album, The Rough Guide to Americana: Vol 2.’ The first volume, coincidentally, came out the same year as her Serge Gainsbourg book, in 2001, and featured then-unknown artists, now highly-acclaimed, like The Handsome Family, best-known these days for their theme song to True Detective Season 1. Season 2’s theme tune is a Leonard Cohen song!!

And of course she’s still writing about music. Here’s an essay she wrote on Iggy Pop for Radio Silence magazine and book – part personal story, part critique and the second in her series of heartbreak albums , ‘The Best Part Of Breaking Up’.  Read it here: http://ht.ly/P3Cr6

Encore 2 Oslo

Book news

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

LC bk Taiwan
The latest new translation of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen has just arrived from Taiwan! Published  by China Times Publishing Co, it’s a paperback edition, 528 pages in length, with 16 pages of photos.