Tag Archives: Cohen

Leonard Cohen: He’s Your Man

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Listening to a song by Leonard Cohen or reading a line of his verse is a deeply immersive experience – enchanting and enlightening in equal measure – suffused with wisdom and grace, witty and subversive. This biography has a similar feel. Sylvie Simmons’ thoroughly-researched paean to the “Bard of Montreal” is steeped in admiration for her subject; the writing flows effortlessly and the reader will quickly become absorbed in the diverse tapestry of Cohen’s life; the rich Jewish-Canadian/Russian/Lithuanian heritage, the influences, the environment etc. There are plenty of revelations – so much so that as I read, not only did I think Cohen’s place as one of the most compelling figures of culture, music and poetry of the 20th/21st centuries is lucidly re-affirmed but his life brings to mind a line by Albert Camus, on the nature of personality and self, “We continuously shape our personality all our lives.”

Simmons is especially good at highlighting the themes that run like constant refrains in the fabric of Cohen’s life and work; sex, love, relationships, religion, depression, power, compassion etc. whilst accentuating what is, perhaps, his most salient trait: his resilience, “Leonard was a lover, but when it comes to survival he was also a fighter.” At times, it feels like there is a sense of destiny to Cohen’s actions, a knowingness laced with humility; anyone who has had the fortune to see Cohen perform live will testify to this. The blend of intelligence and humour is palpable, the mix of power and vulnerability hugely magnetic. Somehow, it feels no surprise that the flaneur who walked the streets of Montreal as a young man, questing for knowledge and fresh experiences would always end up as a legendary troubadour, displaying his gifts of observation and insights – about the great issues of life – to the world. His avenue? The open road of the globe.

The infectiousness that Sylvie Simmons has for Cohen shines out so much that one wonders whether she hasn’t been mesmerised by his fabled hypnotic powers. She is equally good at showing what makes Cohen tick as a man and as an artist. Yes, she is a fan but she writes with great skill and sensibility, “the great songs, the ones that keep drawing us back again and again are mysteries.” In many ways, Cohen’s output can best be described as a type of “assisted living”. Like Samuel Johnson’s perceptive quote on writing that it “enable[s] the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure”, Cohen’s songs have a similar pull. Or, as a fan from Cohen’s tour in 1974 starkly puts it, “I was suicidal and I put on one of your records and you saved me.”

For many, this book will just confirm what Leonard Cohen already is in their eyes: a man blessed with a singular talent for poetry, lyricism and songwriting. The eloquence and compassion – central elements of his character- are manifest. As ex-lover and fiancée Rebecca de Mornay articulates, “he is so fully present, with compassion for the underdog, as well as genuine compassion for the enemy – which is very hard to do and hard-won.” Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this terrific biography is that Simmons has unshackled Cohen from “banal” stereotypes that have attached themselves to Cohen over the years, like hackneyed labels which have become threadbare through repetition, and presented a rounded portrait of a highly sensitive, charismatic and intelligent man, whose greatest gifts have been for language and distilling experiences with a finesse of expression. In a nutshell, the opening line of this biography captures the essence of the man perfectly, “He is a courtly man, elegant, with old-world manners.” This is the kind of the book that will make readers want to rush out and grab some of Leonard Cohen’s books or listen to the albums. There can be no greater tribute.

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Leonard Cohen, a troubadour for our times

Leonard Cohen’s new album, “Old Ideas” is due for release on the 31st January. This is enough to set the pulse racing. Indeed just looking at the Track List brings a smile to my face, with song titles like Crazy to Love You and Come Healing destined to strike a chord. As an appetiser, you can watch and listen to this delightful lyric video for Show Me The Place and sample the haunting beauty of Darkness, which will enchant the weary heart. Like all great writers, Cohen’s words transcend time, giving voice to universal themes: love, longing, desire, death, freedom, jealousy, man’s inhumanity to man and the quest for meaning in an often senseless world. The genius is in the wry wisdom that comes from a cumulative well of experience, reflection and observation. The strength of any artist is surely their back catalogue and since he dazzled the world with his debut album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” in 1967, L.Cohen hasn’t failed in his quest to enlarge the minds, hearts and souls of his myriad followers.

The words “greatness” and “legend” are tossed around too freely today. Yet “Laughing Len” fully justifies the tag of living legend. I was fortunate to see him perform, twice, in 2008 at the O2 arena in London. Ever the master craftsman, consummate performer and bard of mordancy, rolled into one, this poet of the night soon had the audience eating from the palm of his hand. “Hello London” he growled in his rich baritone, “it’s good to be back. Last time I was here I was 60. I was just a kid with a crazy dream”. Throughout his supreme performance, Len kept on reminding us that life, despite all its vanities and crudities, is a beautiful thing and that no matter how bleak existence at times can be, “there’s a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in”. Both nights fizzed with electrifying intimacy.

Long live Leonard Cohen. I was going to conclude that just like a vintage wine, L Cohen gets better with age. But this misses the point for this Canadian maestro was wise when he was young. Treasure this fedora-wearing lyrical icon, he is a genius.

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