Phlog

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

I am, as some of you may know, a flag-flying, gold-medal technophobe. My friends at MOJO will confirm that when I walked into the office they would hug their computers close to their chests to protect them from my destructive analog energy. And my nine-year-old mobile goes to a special school for un-smart phones. So I suppose it was a bit ambitious to buy a mini i-Pad. So far I’ve managed not to break it (though I did break something digital – my big toe!).
Since I seem to be getting along better with taking photos on its camera than typing words on its little keyboard, may I present, as a tribute to my new device, a mini Phlog.

Starting with a mini video, a few seconds from the gig ‘The Night Before Leonard’ at the Marsh in Berkeley, the day before Leonard Cohen’s show at the Paramount Theatre. That’s Matthew Szemela on violin, Colleen Browne on bass and colour-coordination, and me being pale and mysterious on the uke.
— oops, just as I was feeling confident, my first failure. It won’t upload.

So let’s move straight onto: Sylvie (plus Julie, Perla and Ronee) Goes To Austin!

En route to the airport: We really must address the disturbing issue of suicidal instruments before it’s too late. At the subway station I spotted this tragic recorder just after it threw itself at the live rail.

We must address the disturbing issue of suicidal musical instruments before it’s too late. On the way to the airport I spotted this tragic recorder on the subway just after it threw itself at the live rail.

Here we are in sunny Austin, brilliant sunlight, a perfect day. Greg Ashley and I have arranged to meet up to run through a few Leonard songs together the day before my gig at South Congress Books. Since everywhere in Austin’s mobbed with people during SXSW, we drove down a back street, parked and set off on foot to find an empty sidewalk where we could sit and play, and we spotted this place on the way, which was selling a PA system. One of the songs we did was True Love Leaves No Traces – from ‘Death of A Ladies Man’, the album Leonard Cohen made with Phil Spector. Greg’s band has recorded a cover of the whole album, released in cassette-form, perfect for technophobes.

Jesus Deaf Church, Austin, TX, speakers for sale

And here’s Greg in the bookshop’s parking lot the following day. In the doorway, John Barton, my old friend from Austin who arranged the gig. Thurston Moore was there too, but I forgot to get my i-Pad out for that.

Same parking lot but me this time, with my uke and a free pair of sunglasses promoting something or other, which I’ve fallen unreasonably in love with.

Free sunglasses!

This is the poster for the gig Julie Christensen, Ronee Blakley and I did at Austin Java, a cool cafe on Barton Springs Rd. The acoustics were so sweet and warm – which I credit to them having a huge tree indoors, too big to hug, growing up through the floorboards and out through the roof.

Austin Java

And finally… I Want You, one of the newish US TV pop idol contest shows, has seen sense and become I Want Uke!

I Want Uke

Well, thanks for watching. Next stop: New York City!

Digital taping

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’m just back from taking my broken toe for a walk. Big toe, right foot, a week ago exactly, on my last day in Austin, TX but you all know the first rule of SXSW. What happens in SXSW stays in SXSW. Oddly, I broke the same toe exactly ten years ago, in London. That time it was on the way to interview Buffy Sainte-Marie, and tripped in my brand new scarlet Doc Martens and snapped my toe. Pro that I am, I jumped in a cab and hopped into her hotel room not a minute late; sweetheart that she is, she unlaced my boot, rushed off to fill her ice bucket, put my foot in it and would have probably made a splint out of the bedpost if I’d let her. Turns out that all they can do for a broken toe is tape it up, tell you not to play (English) football or let anyone step on it for six weeks, and not to take it personally when everyone falls about laughing and says you walk like a duck.

digital taping

digital taping


So far I’ve followed their advice. But now I’m faced with a wardrobe dilemma. This evening I have to be at Walnut Creek’s Authors under the Stars Gala – it’s a benefit for their library system, where people pay a couple of hundred dollars apiece to sit with me or the participating author of their choice (see list below – and hooray, my table’s sold out!) – and I’m expected to dress for the occasion. Hmm. So it looks like it’ll have to be a little black dress and… Uggs.
But let’s time travel back to the day when all my digits were fully-functional and high heels an option: South by Southwest. I had a brilliant time. There was the usual insane scrum of people, of course (an aerial view of 6th St on Friday night would definitely have been a contender for the Bosch painting lookalike award) and long lines outside a lot of the cool shows, but one of the great things is that you keep running into people on the street that you know and like and don’t expect to see. Like my friend Phil from London, who’d popped over at the last minute on an assignment for Q. Or Thurston Moore, who just happened to drop by South Congress Books – where I was doing a reading and playing some Leonard Cohen songs with Greg Ashley – to buy something. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him at any length since my Serge Gainsbourg book.
But the big highlight of the week for me was my panel ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’, with three of my favourite such women, Julie Christensen, Perla Batalla and Ronee Blakley. We ended up going overtime, and closed with a few spontaneous songs. To sit next to Ronee while she sang Hank Williams, acapella (Leonard Cohen loves Hank) and Julie and Perla as they duetted on Anthem – and then have them sing backing vocals to me and my uke on Famous Blue Raincoat (and thank you Colin Gilmore for being my uke roadie) is so many kinds of wonderful. If and when SXSW posts their video, I’ll pass it on.

SXSW: ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’

http://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2013-03-15/leonard-cohen-and-his-women/

Inquisition, cyber-style

Monday, March 18th, 2013

It once was lost, but now it’s found: a facebook interview I did with Roch Parisien one recent Sunday which, by accidentally hitting the kind of delete button that can nevermore be undeleted, he consigned to a black hole in cyberspace. Usually that’s the sort of thing I do, being a gold medalist in technophobia. So, sad as it was that two hours of speed-typing answers to his questions had been for naught, it did give me a secret smile that I wasn’t the one to blame!
But Roch, with the help of various facebook users, managed to retrieve bits and pieces of the interview, a question here, an answer there, and finally put it back together, almost-whole. And here it is:https://www.facebook.com/events/478882812161108/479778318738224

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
My guest for today’s ‘Facebook Music Interview’ session is music journalist SYLVIE SIMMONS, author of the recently published definitive biography ‘I’M YOUR MAN: THE LIFE OF LEONARD COHEN’ (McClelland & Stewart).

Sylvie is an award-winning writer and one of the foremost music journalists working today. Born in London, she moved to LA in the late-’70s and started writing about rock music for magazines such as ‘Sounds’, ‘CREEM’, ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Kerrang!’ and ‘Q’. She is the author of acclaimed fiction and non-fiction books, including the biographies ‘Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes’ and ‘Neil Young: Reflections in Broken Glass’, as well as the short-story collection ‘Too Weird for Ziggy’. Residing at various times in the UK, US and France, she currently lives in San Francisco where she writes for ‘MOJO’ magazine and the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’, and plays the ukelele.

Sylvie’s latest biography, ‘I’M YOUR MAN: THE LIFE OF LEONARD COHEN’, chronicles the career of the courtly, elegant singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist, from his first band in Montreal (a country-and-western trio) and his early days in New York, where he lived at the famous Chelsea Hotel, to his most recent world tour, during which the 70-something Cohen literally skipped onstage. Sylvie includes fascinating anecdotes – Leonard meeting Judy Collins, who would later record one of his signature songs, Suzanne; encountering fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell in Greenwich Village (Mitchells A Case of You was inspired by Leonard); scary recording sessions with the gun-toting record producer Phil Spector, and spending time at a Zen monastery. She also discusses at length Cohen’s impressive body of work, including poetry and prose as well as songs (his iconic Hallelujah has been covered by more than 300 artists), mentions his numerous bouts of depression, and recounts his unfortunate financial difficulties when his former manager stole funds from his retirement account.

Thank you for ‘taking this waltz’ with Sylvie and me today as we contemplate the current state of music journalism and all things Leonard!

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications

Ok all, we’re ready to start…thanks for joining us everybody…and welcome Sylvie! Let’s kick off with a couple of standard questions I Iike to warm up with: what was your first single and/or album that you bought as a youth with your own money? And what was the first concert you attended?

Sylvie Simmons
The first record I remember buying (so many records, so many years…) was one I got with a record token I won for clarinet playing. Yes, in my secret life before the uke. It was The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”. The first concert I went to was in London, at the Finsbury Park Astoria. My dad took me. It was one of those package shows, with Joe Brown & The Bruwers, [Bruvvers] Heinz & The Saints, and PJ Proby. The trouser-splitting episode still stays with me, and warms my heart on lonely nights!

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
How about on the music journalism side? What music journalists would you consider your most influential at a formative stage, and was there one music biography or work of music journalism in particular that made you say “wow, I want to do this”?

Sylvie Simmons
I’m sure I was a sponge, absorbing everything around me, but looking back, I felt more like own little island floating in the same water. I loved music – I mean loved it, obsessively. When I was a tiny girl, I was onstage singing and tap dancing to it. When I was a doe-eyed melancholy teenager, I plunked away at the four chords I could play on guitar and sang it. I collected records and memorized the liner notes. I even kept them in alphabetical order – I guess I have some male genetic code or something. But I wasn’t a guy, and most of the British rock journalists were, so I guess I copied bits of their style and then acquired my own. But certainly it had to be music writing: I could think of no other life I wanted.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
What would you consider the best, and/or most entertaining music biography of all time?

Sylvie Simmons
Hah! That bit of male genetic code I mentioned was unfortunately not the part that predisposes me to ‘Best Of’ lists. Working for MOJO, I used to have problems with those lists all the time. Okay, now I’m going to cheat and look at the bookshelves behind me which are stacked with books – ‘Shakey’, Jimmy McDonough, love that one, Willie Nelson (Joe Nick Patoski), the Marianne Faithful autobiography, ‘Hammer of the Gods’ of course, Rod’s new one – I’m currently reading and enjoying Ginger Baker’s ‘Hellraiser’. My least favorite so far has been Neil Young’s memoir.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
The music industry has been shifting dramatically in recent years, and so has the world of the print and publishing. What’s your view of the recent evolution of music journalism from inside the trenches? What do you foresee for the future of the genre and what advice would you give a keen young writer wanting to break into it today?

Sylvie Simmons
The music business and the publishing business are f***ed. Sorry, but I’ve not been awake long enough to find a politer version. Okay, to tone it down a little, it’s the ‘Wild West’ out there, and maybe at some point the bloodshed will settle down a bit and we’ll know what’s going on. My advice would be to write because you want to write…which is really the only reason to write anyway. I’ve been blessed in never having to do a regular job in my adult (I use the term loosely) life, but now it’s a damn hard way to even live like an undergrad, let alone a graduate, student on music writing income.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Sylvie, there have been a number of Leonard Cohen biographies already published over the years, many relatively recent. What led you to choose him as a subject, and what did you believe you could bring new to the table?
…and Will Birch asks:
Sylvie, what really attracted you towards Leonard as a biographical subject?

Sylvie Simmons
It’s hard to answer the first part without coming across as arrogant – “Hey, what Leonard Cohen needs is a biography by a music-loving, uke-playing woman, so I did it.” Though I did decide to write one because I felt he was more than a little underserved by the biographies available. Some would be drily (or worse, pompously) academic, focusing on Cohen as a poet who dabbled in the world of pop music; others would be rock biogs that alluded to the poetry, and others were good but outdated, etc. I’ve a shelf and a half of good books on Dylan, but couldn’t think of that many on Leonard.
I’d been thinking of writing one since 2001, when I did a three-day interview with Leonard in London for MOJO magazine – ah, those were the days of rock journalism! And, like every other interviewer, male and female, I came out with a blush in my cheeks and an imaginary cigarette and the feeling that I had the best LC interview ever – only to read through the pages upon pages of transcript and realize that, though I did have the odd new insight, the old charmer had hoodwinked me just as he’d done with all the rest. I started reading books on him in earnest then. And when I had, that made me feel I had to do one myself. It just took me a while.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
You apply a very creative style to biography writing, integrating descriptive and structural elements of story-telling that are more common to good fiction. Is this an approach that came naturally to you, or something that you had to work deliberately to develop?

Sylvie Simmons
I never thought about it, Roch, so I guess the answer is that it came naturally over time. Actually my last book before this, halfway between Serge Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen, was fiction, a series of interlinked short stories, ‘Too Weird for Ziggy’ (which, incidentally, was originally titled ‘Too Weird for Iggy’ until Iggy Pop objected, so his then-manager said, on the grounds that it was too weird for him. The best bit about writing stories about fictional people was that I could make up what they say; you don’t have to transcribe endless interview tapes, and you don’t have to double- and triple-check everything you read or hear. There was a time, back when I first started writing about rock in the mid-late seventies, when pretty much you could write whatever you wanted, in whatever style you liked, at whatever length you felt like (no doubt to the chagrin of many readers). I miss that element of creative freedom; music journalism has become so much more micro-managed these days.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
How did you secure Leonard’s approval and participation in your project, and has he reacted to the finished book yet?

Sylvie Simmons
I borrowed the book I found in his archives on teaching yourself hypnotism and put it into action…it worked!

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Ha ha! And his reaction to the book?

Sylvie Simmons
When I last saw him, briefly, backstage at the Austin TX show last Halloween, neither of us mentioned the book. I was gratified to see how many members of his band had read it though. You know, I don’t even know if he read it. I was in the very happy position of him giving his support without him ever asking to read it for approval. The one thing he said on the subject, during our last interviews for the book, was that he didn’t want a whitewash. A very decent man, that Leonard Cohen.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
As the book more than confirms, Leonard is a seductive figure on many levels. Was it difficult to maintain journalistic objective and distance? To not succumb to his charms and ‘fall in love’, metaphorically speaking, with your subject while writing the book?

Sylvie Simmons
Okay, let’s start with ‘literally': the Petraeus question. Fortunately, having been a music writer for 35 years and having spent not just days but nights, on tour buses, with rock stars, I quickly learned to resist temptation. ‘Metaphorically’? Well, I was already ‘in love’, if you like, with the artist, and the man is very difficult to dislike. But when you examine a life in as much depth, and for such a long time as I did on this biography, in a way you start identifying with them, more than actually loving them. The distance seems to disappear. And you can’t fall in love with yourself (well I suppose you can, but hey, it’s not a lot of fun!)

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
The flip side of this, is that sometimes when an author is submerged in the years of research and writing of a biography, the after affect can be that the author does not love the subject anymore. Was there anything that you wished you had not found out about Leonard? A failing or disappointment that might have tarnished any initial perceptions?

Sylvie Simmons
Yes, that is always the fear. Yes, he had failings, but if he hadn’t then it would have been a hagiography, which would be so lacking in humanity that we’d have all been very disappointed.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
You state in the book that “writing is about uncovering”. What was your single most treasured personal moment of revelation as you put the book together? And what did you learn about yourself in the process?

Sylvie Simmons
The ‘revelations’ that come instantly to mind range from the sublime – that he used to be a ukulele player (!); that he was not, in fact, cured from depression by his five years living on a mountain in a hut in a Buddhist monastery but that the experience made him so depressed that he went off to Bombay and found a new Hindu guru – to the ridiculous: that he liked to wash down a McDonalds Filet of Fish with a glass of good Margaux; that he enjoyed the Jerry Springer Show. So many things. What did I learn about myself? Hmm, I guess I realised that I was as stubborn as my exes always said I was (mostly fighting to keep my book as I wrote it, and not change it to what editors and publishers felt they wanted.)

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Our main interest here at ‘The Facebook Music Interviews’ is, obviously, the music side, but with Leonard, it’s difficult to divorce literature and music, isn’t it? From the very beginning of his career, his poetry would often be described in terms of ‘song’, and of course his songs have always been considered highly poetic…there’s this constant cross-pollination.

Sylvie Simmons
Absolutely. He bought his first guitar at the same age that he discovered Lorca, the poet he has always said gave him a voice, or allowed him to find his own voice. When he read that first poem of Lorca’s, outside a secondhand bookshop in Montreal, its effect on him was to make him think of the music of the synagogue, which likewise made the hair stand up on his arms. He has said often that there is music behind every word, and doesn’t feel there is a difference between poetry and song (other than of course the expected practicalities of applying words to music).

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
You write, “the great songs, the ones that keep drawing us back again and again, are mysteries.” Which do you believe is Leonard Cohen’s greatest song, and album, and why?

Sylvie Simmons
I refer to my previous answer about “best” lists. My favourite of his albums are the ones I heard as an adolescent, the first three, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’, ‘Songs from A Room’ and the wonderful ‘Songs of Love and Hate’, which in my mind make up a kind of trilogy. There have been wonderful albums since, but I guess there’s something about music you hear as a youngster, at a time of your life (and at a time in history) when there were few distractions, few anything, that could have that kind of power and impact on you as a record, a voice and a song. There was a kind of nakedness to his recordings back then – even on the quite highly-produced debut – that had a kind of intimacy and authority that made you feel you were hearing something important (even if you didn’t entirely understand what it was.)

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
The nominations for Canada’s Juno Awards were announced just last week. Do you think Leonard would appreciate the humour and irony of being up against Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen for ‘Artist of the Year’ and ‘Fan Choice Award’?

Sylvie Simmons
Oh yes!

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Who was the most interesting of Leonard’s ‘muses’ for you to meet and interview?
(You mention that Marianne would likely be the ‘People’s Choice’ award winner…)

Sylvie Simmons
Loath as I am to dive into another of these ‘bests’ lists, among the most important muses I spoke to were Marianne Ihlen, who lived with Leonard during the key period when he moved from the literary ‘business’ into the music one, Suzanne Elrod, the mother of Leonard’s children, Rebecca de Mornay, the actress to whom he was engaged to be married before he decided instead to become a Buddhist monk (as Rebecca told me, laughing, “It’s done wonders for my reputation with men: ‘After you they become monks, what did you do to them?'” and Anjani, Leonard’s most recent partner. Each was a fascinating interviewee.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
In my recent session with Barney Hoskyns about his oral history of Led Zeppelin, we were discussing the quote “music is always the best excuse for bad behavior”, that society often condones excess from artists and celebrities as a way of vicariously breaking the rules and taboos of mundane everyday life. Do you believe Leonard got a free ride in this way for the aspects of his own ‘bad behavior’ over the years?

Sylvie Simmons
Well it’s certainly true that many of us have the tendency to live vicariously through artists and celebrities. It’s also true (and this is a subject that inspired by MY book of short stories, actually) that celebrity has a tendency to corrupt and absolute celebrity to corrupt absolutely. But with any grand statement of this kind, there are many exceptions, or at least nuances. Leonard took a great deal of drugs in his day – acid, speed (!), Mandrax – but you could argue that they were a (not always useful) form of self-medication as much as they were recreation, for his depression, or even as a form of ‘doping’ to help him write a novel or get through stage-fright. Yes, all good excuses I know. As for sex, his celebrity certainly made women available, and he availed himself of them often. But I never got the impression of him using his celebrity to (excuse the expression) thrust himself upon someone.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
When Leonard’s longtime manager stole his entire fortune, some saw it as a tragic event; others expressed disbelief that Leonard could be so naive and trusting; and yet others suggested there was karmic justice of sorts for his single-minded self-absorption over so many decades and the people who were hurt along the way. And yet, if this had not occurred, we would have been robbed of his incredible comeback and some of the most dramatically spectacular concerts of the ages. What are your thoughts on the interrelationship between these two events?

Sylvie Simmons
I’m going to be that annoying author and say, ‘It’s all in the book’, because it is, and it’s too long to summarise, other than with a glib oversimplification. First of all, I take issue with it being karmic justice for Leonard’s bad behaviour. I have no evidence that he hurt or used people any more than the average human being, and I’d say much less than the average artist/poet/musician/ celebrity. You cannot be an artist without some sort of self-absorption, and the laws of Karma, if they are just laws, would know that. My contention is that the laws of Karma worked in Leonard’s favour, and far more efficiently in the courts of law, in getting his money back. As I wrote in the book, somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not entirely, if it were a bible and not a biography, Kelley Lynch (the manager who emptied his accounts) would have the Judas role – yes she betrayed him for money, but at the same time her betrayal led to the resurrection of his career as a performing artist and to this mass, worldwide adoration ever since.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
You mention that in the past, Europe has traditionally been a better fit for Leonard’s “dark humour, old-world romance, existential gloom and poetry.” Why is North America now “getting” the new Leonard, in terms of broader commercial acceptance?

Sylvie Simmons
Being British, I could never understand why North America didn’t get him before. Leonard was loved in the UK and across Europe from the outset, touring there regularly, selling out venues, then returning to a vast blank of incomprehension as soon as he came back. Who knows? Certainly his popularity in the US picked up in 1988 with I’m ‘Your Man’, where the humour was more obvious, less dark, and there were those cheery, Eurodisco synthesisers rather than rumbling Spanish guitar. It stayed up with ‘The Future’ – dark and apocalyptic, but yes, somehow cheerier-sounding than ‘Songs of Love and Hate’, say – but then he disappeared to the monastery for five years – and stopped touring for 15 years – and did not release albums whose songs a postman could whistle on his rounds. Certainly the press attention from the lost bank accounts helped get him back into people’s consciousness, as did the Hal Willner tribute concerts, the film, and the crazy story of “Hallelujah”. And for some happy reason, when he came back the audiences were there for him, everywhere he went.
Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Sylvie, time to respond to some of the questions posted by our visitors!
Hans Kloss asks:
What surprised you most when you met Leonard Cohen for the first time?

Sylvie Simmons
Hi Hans. Sometimes, when I meet an artist, they’re not how you expected them to be, but what surprised me was how entirely and utterly ‘Leonard Cohen’ he was: immaculately dressed, humorous, flirtatious, impeccably good manners (stood up when a woman entered the room, etc.) and spoke in those perfect answers he gives.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Will Birch asks:
When you set out on a biography like the Leonard one do you do the research first, before you commence writing, or do you research and write as you go? Or a bit of both?

Sylvie Simmons
Hi Will! I started with the research – and I started the research where Leonard started his life, in Montreal, in Winter, wandering around like a bag lady in fifty layers of clothes, two hats, two pairs of gloves, and still freezing to death. (Canadians, you are a mighty people). This went on for about nine months, going to the many and various places he lived, then I started writing. But the research and new interviews were going on right throughout the next few years of work, some important ones coming very near the end of the process. I decided to wait until the very end before I spoke to Leonard, because then I’d know exactly what I needed to find out.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Dan Derbridge asks:
Was working with Phil Spector all that bad for Leonard?

Sylvie Simmons
Hi Dan. Yes it was – but at that time things were bad for Leonard even if he hadn’t been working with Spector. Leonard was going through a very dark and depressing period (if you’ve read his poetry book Death of a Lady’s Man you’ll see what I mean), as was Phil Spector, and both were drinking heavily. The combination was not good. The writing process was relatively easy, but the record process was the opposite – and yes, guns were used in the making of that album.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Carl Schultz asks:
‘Hallelujah’ has been recorded by everyone and their dog. A happy situation as far as Cohen’s bank account but how do you think he feels about the amount of exposure that song has gotten?

Sylvie Simmons
Hi Carl. Leonard’s always spoken with gratitude about anyone who’s covered one of his songs – yes, even those most of us would consider atrocities – but when a journalist asked him about the outbreak of Hallelujahs everywhere from sex scenes in superhero films and on X-Factor/American Idol and suggested a moratorium, Leonard agreed that that would be a fine idea. It certainly helped win Leonard a new, younger audience though (I was at the Coachella festival a couple of years back, and when he played it you could see a few kids scratching their heads and wondering why this old bloke in a suit was covering a Rufus Wainwright/Jeff Buckley/American Idol song).

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
James Sharp Roberts asks:
How would you sum up Leonard Cohen in one sentence?

Sylvie Simmons
Hi James. If you white-out all the full-stops/periods in my book, that 195,000-word sentence will say it all. But if you want the Twitter version: A serious writer, a survivor, someone who believes there’s no borderline between music and words, and who knows darkness but still sees the funny side. And a deep man, very deep. Two sentences.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Sylvie, to sum up – the need to love (or at least, be loved) and yet the need for solitude so he could ‘miss his muse'; an equal passion and instinct for love and fighting, and fleeing; the desire for an audience coupled with a need for self-abnegation…do you feel you have succeeded in not only uncovering, but resolving any of the paradoxes that make up Leonard Cohen?

Sylvie Simmons
Resolving? Ah, if only I could do that I’d be elevated to sainthood. Uncovering? Well, I did my best. Mostly it was a case of taking all these strands, all these elements of his life, that some have treated as if they took parallel lines through his life, and bring them together into some sort of helix, because it seemed to me they were all essential parts of what makes Leonard Cohen Leonard Cohen – because without one of these strains, the music, the word, the depression, the religion, the women, the need for discipline, self-abnegation, even for war, the whole thing would crumble.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
You quote Virginia Woolf…”a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand.” Have you done a head count on many Leonard Cohens you’ve managed to capture within the pages of ‘I’m Your Man’?

Sylvie Simmons
Haha! Counting is another skill, along with technical ability, that was not granted to me. If anyone finds out, perhaps they’ll let me know…

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
If we were to frame your book as “The Fable of Leonard Cohen”, what would you want the ‘moral’ or key message to be at the end for the reader?

Sylvie Simmons
Hmm, there might be an answer for each of the Leonard Cohens. In some ways it’s a story of undying faith, of perseverance, of redemption, if you like, or of finally finding a way to get through life, which isn’t always something a ‘tortured artist’, in other words a serious artist, manages to do. Most stories about musicians and celebrities tend to have an unhappy ending, and Leonard’s doesn’t. To quote Leonard, “This world is full of conflicts and things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess.” See, he always says it better than the rest of us.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
What’s on deck now, for the book in terms of promotion, readings and the like?
…and Hans Kloss asks:
Any plans of you reading your book in Europe especially in Berlin/Germany?

Sylvie Simmons
In tribute to Leonard (though I guess Dylan started it), I’m on a never-ending tour with my book and ukulele. I’m still running around the US with my book and my uke, snatching up some poor unsuspecting musician in every town to accompany me on some Leonard songs. (Every now and then, some kind soul in the audience does a video, and you can see some of them on my website sylviesimmons.com under ‘Sounds’.)
I’ll be in Austin at SXSW in March, doing a panel called ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’ with the lovely Perla Batalla, Julie Christensen and Ronee Blakley, all of whom have sung with Leonard, and doing a couple of music and reading events of my own which are free and open to the public. (See sylviesimmons.com under ‘Tour’ for details.) Then I’m going back to New York to perform at a salon in the E.Village, accompanied by the fine Fred Nicolaus on guitar, and after that to New Zealand and Australia for book festivals and all sorts.
But Hans asked about going to Berlin. I wish I could. But the flights from San Francisco are too expensive – and, with the exception of Canada and New Zealand, the publishers won’t contribute any money towards travel expenses, which is why (since I’m paying, and because I keep getting invites) that [DELETE] my tour’s mainly been in the US.
I do hope to get to London in June though – around the same time Leonard goes back to the 02 – so I’ll see what I can work out.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
And what’s next for Sylvie Simmons? Do you already have another music biography underway or planned? Are there others you have your sights on for the future?

Sylvie Simmons
Nothing planned. I’ve never been one to go straight from writing one book to the next (reading books, that’s a different matter!) My brain is still full of Leonard Cohen.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Where is the best place for people to exchange currency for multiple copies of ‘I’M YOUR MAN: THE LIFE OF LEONARD COHEN’ as gifts to all their friends and family?

Sylvie Simmons
I’m a big fan of independent bookshops, so if you have one such bookshop near where you live, be happy and proud of it and, if you can afford to pay the mark-up, show your love by buying it there. I think there’s a link on my website to Amazon; I’ve not tried it, but maybe someone can give it a go and report back. I’m thinking of buying an ebook myself, so I don’t have to keep carrying the book on trips. There’s going to be an audio-book too, very soon – I won’t be reading it, though; apparently my voice isn’t male enough! – and, at last count, 12 foreign language editions.

Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications
Sylvie, thanks so much for your time today…and big thanks to all our visitors for sticking with us through this session…Cheers all!

Sylvie Simmons
Thanks Roch and everyone. Hope to get to see you one of these days.

(This interview was first published by Roch Parisien’s Rocon Communications music chat page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Roch-Parisiens-Rocon-Communications/208757673971)

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For more information on ‘The Facebook Interviews’:

http://www.suzemuse.com/2010/02/music-journalist-finds-clever-use-for-faceboook-comments/

For more information on Sylvie Simmons and her latest book:
www.sylviesimmons.com/

http://www.sfweekly.com/2013-01-09/music/sylvie-simmons-on-leonard-cohen-black-sabbath-music-journalism/

www.mcclelland.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780771080425