Like those she interviewed, Simmons graciously offers personal emails and exchanges she had with Leonard that offer a compelling depiction of his non-celebrity life. I guess we were a small minority! You kinda feel nervous when you listen to him. Cohen has battled all his life to express his vision as honestly as possible, which has not always made for the happiest life for him or for those close to Spectacular. On the other hand, biographies of people famous for sustained activity that falls within the normal range of human behavior -- like recording songs or writing novels -- have tended to be pretty tedious and unrewarding. That's not to say that Simmons has written an inadequate book, just that her book doesn't scratch my itch to climb inside that mysterious head and drown in the river of Song. Briefly we're told of his panic when she does.
It reached number one in Spain in 1986. I went out on a Cohen buying binge and haven't stopped listening. All emotions are drawn in broad strokes, because anything more than that would require an access to detailed mental states that the non-telepathic biographer lacks. Leonard Cohen is the patron saint of lovers and poets. Every once in a while, after Simmons described in extensive, doubtlessly very accurate, and very boring detail the recording process of one of Cohen's albums, I'd put the book down and listen to some songs from the album itself. This is a man who always grappled with self doubt.
All the elements are there, but you get something else. It still, on some level, fails to satisfy. Rosemary Barton: I know you don't have the letter in front of you, but can you remember part of it? There's a story early on in I'm Your Man about the 13-year old Leonard Cohen, interested in magic, hypnotizing a maid and telling her to take her clothes off. I know many people love this book. That alone says so much about the man. He began singing and playing the guitar more or less by accident as recreation more than an art.
Then Suzanne Verdal takes him down to her place by the river. I know something of his family life--there are amazing parallels to the life of Diane Arbus and her brother, the poet Howard Nemerov. The world was still rejoicing over the collapse of the Berlin Wall three years earlier, and here was Cohen, whose voice by now was full-on Tom Waits, raining on the parade. Every poem that touches you is like a call that needs a response, one wants to respond with one's Whew. He needs a better biographer than Simmons. The Ian Bell I talked to was erudicate and entertaining and informative….
Simmons does not go there. . As a young man, poetry prizes and sojourns to Greek islands went hand in hand with an insecure existence and the onset of depression. At the beginning of this year, Leonard Cohen unexpectedly sprang not just a new album on the world — his 12th — but a new world tour, a mere two years after he had last hung up his stage fedora. By 2004 Cohen had come down from the mountain and was living in Montreal when, Simmons tells us, he discovered that while he was gone, Kelley Lynch, his business manager and friend, had stolen almost all of his money. Someone who would always see himself as the one who was left behind even as he was taking to the sea, putting cities and countries and oceans between himself and the goddesses who could no longer inspire brilliance, who were best preserved in memory rather than contend with their gradual transformation from muse to mere woman.
They left the world of coffee houses behind and Cohen kicked his amphetamine habit, living for a time in Montreal with his mother. But I didn't really know anything about him until I read this book. It also coincided with him getting over his depression, and led into a very productive final decade of his career. Born in Montreal, just a few years before I was, he was raised among the well-to-do Jews of that community. Select albums in the Format field.
I saw this film at the Sundance Film Festival and it was one of the best things I saw there. Me: Have you photographed Leonard Cohen? Have to keep from gulping this down at a single sitting. Leonard Cohen is an odd duck. Certainly I think what draws anyone to a book or a poem or a song is that you trust the guy, the woman. Ian Bell was in town to open a display of his photography of rock musicians and I was lucky enough to get to talk to him. I think the difference here is pretty easy to explain.
He could have been a great Rabbi of the twenty-first century, but he chose to be a poet. Simmons doesn't say more about that visit, which long ago found its way into Hydra legend. They were messy and noisy. There is little, if any, disjunction between them and the content. Was I expecting too much? How does a 21-year-old McGill Law School dropout with barely passing grades get into graduate school at Columbia? Even its cover made it clear that the razorblades guy had found his mojo again, and that he was thoroughly enjoying post-modernism. I can understand why they would, but the extent to which he just took it as his due and let every relationship go cold really started to bug me. Audiences immediately loved him and never stopped; they love him even more now he's old.
How did he survive in New York as he moved from failure to failure? But he also projected the spirit of a wanderer, a rogue, a man who was restless and eventually reckless. And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don't need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. Go back and read his poetry, his novels. I learned that the life and experience of an artist is expressed in the degree of depth, nuance, and egoless honesty of the voice. How many women Leonard has been romantically involved with: many, many! I've heard of Leonard Cohen. And if I can't get that out of a book like this, then what on earth am I reading it for? There are certain kinds of artists that blaze in a very bright light for a very brief time: the Rimbauds, the Shelleys, Tim Buckley — people like that; and Janis was one of them. Not even special cheese sandwiches.
With someone like Leonard Cohen, the nature of my curiosity is very different. I was pretty sure that this would be better, and it is, by at least one order of magnitude. That quibble aside, any fan of Cohen will be happy with this work -- and long-time devoted followers such as me will find it one of those books they hope won't come to an end. He offered them his hotel bed and, when they fell straight to sleep, watched them from an armchair, writing, and played them the song the next morning when they woke. Learning about his childhood, or his friends, or his girlfriends, doesn't have any inherent appeal beyond the light it sheds on his songs. In Britain and Europe, people love that kind of darker music. Me: Have you photographed Leonard Cohen? I will never be able to properly express my gratitude for his existencr and the gift he gave to the world by creating poetry and music.