I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen – Sylvie Simmons

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

  • sylvie-uk2Title: I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
  • Author: Sylvie Simmons
  • ISBN: 0061994987 (ISBN13: 9780061994982)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: September 18th 2012 by Ecco (first published October 18th 2011)
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Genre/s: Non-Fiction/Biography
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Source: Purchased

DESCRIPTION –  (from Goodreads) The legend behind such songs as “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Hallelujah” and the poet and novelist behind such ground-breaking literary works as Beautiful Losers and Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen is one of the most important and influential artists of our era, a man of powerful emotion and intelligence whose work has explored the definitive issues of human life—sex, religion, power, meaning, love. Cohen is also a man of complexities and seeming contradictions: a devout Jew, who is also a sophisticate and ladies’ man, as well as an ordained Buddhist monk whose name, Jikan—“ordinary silence”—is quite the appellation for a writer and singer whose life has been anything but ordinary.

I’m Your Man is the definitive account of that extraordinary life. Acclaimed music journalist Sylvie Simmons crafts a portrait of Cohen as nuanced as the man himself, drawing on a wealth of research that includes Cohen’s personal archives and more than a hundred exclusive interviews with those closest to Cohen—from his lovers, friends, monks, professors, rabbis and fellow musicians to his muses, including Rebecca De Mornay, Marianne Ihlen, Suzanne Elrod and Suzanne Verdal—and most important, with Cohen himself, whose presence infuses these pages.

Starting in Montreal, Cohen’s birthplace, where he first found fame as a poet in the fifties, Simmons follows his trail, via London and the Greek island of Hydra, to New York in the sixties, where he launched his music career. From there she traces the arc of his prodigious achievements to his remarkable retreat in the mid-nineties—when on the cusp of marriage to a beautiful actress and enjoying the success of his best-selling album to date, he entered a monastery on a rocky mountaintop above Los Angeles—and finally to his re-emergence for a sold-out world tour almost fifteen years later. Whether navigating Cohen’s journeys through the back streets of Mumbai or the countless hotel rooms where he has stayed along the way, Simmons explores with equal focus every complex, contradictory strand of Cohen’s life—from the halls of academia to the arenas of rock ’n’ roll—and presents a deeply insightful portrait of both the artist and the man whose vision, spirit, depth and talent continue to move people like no one else.

leonard-cohen

HallelujahLeonard Cohen

You finish listening to a song of Leonard’s and you know he’s said everything he had to say, he didn’t let the song go till he was done with it.”
Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen

REVIEW

CohenFive hundred pages deep into Sylvie Simmons biography I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, she describes the 75 year-old Canadian icon as he steps onto a small stage in a Fredericton, New Brunswick theatre at the start of his 2008 tour. He is “in his sharp suit, fedora and shiny shoes, looking like a Rat Pack rabbi, God’s chosen mobster”. He is playing to an intimate audience of 700, It’s a tune-up. Weeks later, he will be at the Glastonbury Festival in England in front of over 100,000 people. He is on a wave that will last almost two years and cross continents. It will become the biggest, most successful, most critically-acclaimed tour of his career, grossing over $50 million. After 50 years of work and conflict, drugs and depression, always searching for truth, always fleeing from convention, the poet/writer/singer-songwriter/performer is at his pinnacle. He is loved and respected worldwide. He is the epitome of cool.

cohen-beadsLeonard Cohen has lived a remarkable life and it is intimately documented in I’m Your Man by Simmons, a music journalist and author of both fiction and non-fiction. From his early years of privilege, growing up in an affluent Montreal community in a household that included a butler, a gardener and a chauffeur, she traces his most unusual path, having amassed an astounding amount of detail from over 100 interviews with Cohen’s friends, lovers, family, acquaintances, and with Cohen himself.

As a child, “he seemed conventional, respectful of his teachers, the least likely to rebel”. But while his appearance was conformist, his mindset was to seek. As a teenager, he would wander the streets of Montreal at night, passing bars, cafes and strip clubs, looking through windows at the otherworldliness of a strange subculture. His searching would become international as well as spiritual, literary and chemical. By the time he was in his early ‘30s, a published poet and novelist, Cohen had lived in New York, London, Paris and Greece. He had socialized with Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, played guitar with Jimi Hendrix, and had a 24-hour “relationship” with Janis Joplin. His relationships with hash, speed, opium, acid and alcohol lasted much longer. His spiritual searching has included Judaism, Scientology, Hinduism and, most importantly, Zen Buddhism, where he lived in a California monastery for five years and was ordained as a monk.

BLThe accolades that Cohen received in his later years were a long time coming. In 1966, his second novel, Beautiful Losers, was described by the Toronto Star as ‘the most revolting book ever published in Canada”. Some of his early music was called “blatantly bad…deliberately ugly, offensive”, also “matter-of-fact to the point of being dull…just irritating”. But by 2009, Cohen had received virtually every award and honour possible – Junos, Grammys, countless accolades for his poetry, the Order of Canada and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His song Hallelujah, which took five years to write, has been covered by over 300 artists in the last 20 years.

By 2012, the year I’m Your Man was published, and in his late ‘70s, Cohen was in more demand than ever. He had risen, fallen, and risen again. After a lifetime of complicated and intense relationships – with women, with record and publishing companies, with his words and music and with himself – he was also, finally, at peace.

LCQ

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

simmonsSylvieSylvie Simmons is a London-born, San Francisco based music journalist, named as a “principal player” in Paul Gorman‘s book on the history of the rock music press In Their Own Write (Sanctuary Publishing, 2001). A widely regarded writer and rock historian, she is one of very few women to be included among the predominantly male rock elite. She is also the author of a number of books, including biography and cult fiction. – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Email – sylvie@sylviesimmons.com

CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

 

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