Thursday, February 14, 2013

I'm Your Man: the Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

I just spent a whole week with Leonard Cohen -- in book form, that is. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (Harper Collins, 2012) by music journalist Sylvie Simmons is not some cut and paste celebrity bio. She must have spent years amassing all the information for this wonderful book, interviewing not only Leonard but hundreds of his fellow musicians, poets, lovers and friends.

I first became hypnotized by Leonard Cohen in 1968 as a lowly college freshman. Leonard lived in his native city of Montreal, just over the Canadian border from my college town of Plattsburgh, NY, and somehow that geographical nearness made him seem like a compatriot. I pictured him suffering through blizzards and gray rainy days in his famous Burberry raincoat, the very same moody weather systems I endured. How to explain his elegiac hold on me? I played his first record, Songs of Leonard Cohen, over and over on the portable turquoise leatherette record player in my dorm room in a daily rite of initiation into the mysteries of adulthood. Leonard was not just some rock idol. He'd been a poet first! Cohen is a master of metaphysical mystique and has continued to keep me intrigued and attuned all these years.

I learned so much about Leonard from reading Simmons' book, including that fact that he played many gratis concerts at mental hospitals. Self-deprecating, modest, gentlemanly, almost universally liked and loved, even by his dozens of ex-girlfriends, Cohen suffered debilitating rounds of depression and self-doubt. The things he loved about turning words into poetry and song seemed to dissolve under the pressures of celebrity. He needed his hideaways, be they on the island of Hydra in Greece or in some small metropolitan hotel room. Cohen is a born escape artist. Dozens of times he left women, the music business, even the material world when he entered a Zen monastery, until finally in his elder years, serenity erased at least some of his flight instincts. Influenced not only by Judaism and Buddhism, but also Hinduism, Cohen is both holy man and antihero. His songs speak of pain, euphoria, alienation, love, loneliness and betrayal.

Inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, Adreienne Clarkson, former Governor General, had this to say of Leonard: "He gets inside your brain, your heart, your lungs. You remember him, you feel him, you breathe him. He is our connection to the meaning of ecstasy, our access to another world we suspected existed but which he puts into song."

You'd think I might have had enough of Leonard having completed this long book, but now I want to take my fascination further with extensive browsing through the Leonard Cohen Files website. I'd also like to take a look at some of the many documentaries now available. A couple of years ago I did an assemblage in a Valentine's candy box honor of Cohen. It seems fitting to post it today.

                                               L'chaim, long live Leonard!


Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

 - Leonard Cohen, from the song, Anthem