Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

British- born music journalist Sylvie Simmons has written a comprehensive biography of the poet/songwriter and unlikely rock star Leonard Cohen.  The well respected Simmon’s early work in the 70’s and 80’s covered the likes of Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Steely Dan and Michael Jackson among others.  More recently she has gravitated toward conducting skillful interviews with quirky, enigmatic personalities such as Tom Waits, Lou Reed and the elder statesman Johnny Cash shortly before he passed on.  There was even another biography of the French pop star Serge Gainsbourg, called Fistful of Gitanes.   What these artists have in common , regardless of what Scott Fitzgerald may have opined, is that they have all managed  to have second acts, and in the case of Leonard Cohen,  a significant transition nearly every decade since the 1950’s.  As you read these lines a 78 year old Cohen is touring the world, selling out large theatres and reaching new audiences.  Since he appeared on the scene in 1956, a relatively unknown Canadian poet in his early 20’s, Cohen has gone on to become a songwriter, a singer, a novelist, and Zen monk, and rather than drop any one of these vocations for another, he has remained active in all of them.
  In the midst of reading I’m Your Man I serendipitously happened upon a PBS broadcast of Leonard Cohen: Live in London 2008.  Seeing the concert footage made it clear that this man has something special to offer his audiences.   His poems are powerful, his delivery is passionate, and the band and backup singers deliver the vision fully realized.  It’s a long time since the 1969 debut of the album Songs of Leonard Cohen, but his songs from that time and beyond have lived on and continue to attract new and younger audiences worldwide.   Had his career in poetry and music gone another way, we might be asking ourselves today   “What ever happened to Leonard Cohen?”  What happened was that this artist created his legacy in a large body of poems, songs, recordings and memories that will endure.   I’m Your Man:  The Life of Leonard Cohen is a rich and worthwhile documentation of that legacy.
Richard Mayer  6-18-13

(This Review Appeared previously in the Brattleboro Reformer)