Manning up

Following in his famous father’s footsteps, singer Adam Cohen has established himself as the genuine article.

December 9, 2011 15:33
3 minute read.
Adam cohen, son of Leonard Cohen

Adam Cohen 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It’s not surprising that Adam Cohen has a streak of stubbornness. After all, he’s the son of that stubbornly independent poet/songwriting icon Leonard Cohen.

“It took me a long time to acknowledge that I was in the family business,” says the 39-year-old Cohen, who chose his father’s path of a musical career early in life but was insistent on not riding his father’s coattails to success. Instead, he attempted to find his own voice – a process that was mired with obstacles.

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“I was so damn preoccupied with sex, drugs and rock and roll and adulations and feeling desirable – being a pop star and kind of ignoring my lineage and relying on arrogance, youth and an appetite for success,” says Cohen, talking last week from Malmo, Sweden.

When he finally brushed those preoccupations away, he was surprised to discover that the voice that eventually rang true for him had a very familiar tinge to it – it sounded like his father’s. The result of that awakening is Cohen new album Like a Man, an emotionally lush and loving tribute to his father’s musical style. There’s the same husky voice, poetic and sensual lyrics and understated accompaniment that Leonard Cohen fans can identify with earmuffs on.

“This album was not only an exercise in sharing material of mine that resembles my father’s work but also an exercise in celebrating that influence,” says Cohen, who is on a month-long tour of Europe in support of the album. He and his two accompanists will be arriving in Israel next week for a show on December 13 at the Barby Club.

Making an album that skirts so closely to his father’s themes, moods and sounds would have previously been unthinkable for the Quebec native, whose musical career has seen him make indie rock with the band Low Millions and delve into French music on his 2004 album Melancolista.

“Perhaps [frequently changing styles] might have hurt me, but I’m a Francophone from Montreal, and I spent 12 years in France. I was trying to throw the anchor off the shores of the Francophone world, but unfortunately a terrible wind blew and it wasn’t successful,” says Cohen, who spent much of his childhood in France with his mother after his parents separated.

He did, however, visit his father frequently, and by the age of 12 he was immersed in music, having learned to play guitar, piano and drums. He admits, though, that it wasn’t Leonard Cohen’s music that attracted him.

“I didn’t pay enough attention to my father’s work – not until later. Certainly not at the beginning,” says Cohen. “But he always gave me advice about songwriting. He was always generous with his thoughts and guidance and filial devotion.”

After lying low in the music business in recent years, Cohen began tentatively testing the waters, surprisingly using his father’s music as a barometer. A 2007 performance in Barcelona marked the first time he performed one of Leonard Cohen’s songs, and in 2009 he recorded a cover of his father’s song “Take This Waltz,” which appeared on the benefit album War Child Presents Heroes. That evidently opened the floodgates that led to Like A Man, whose title is possibly a play on words of Leonard’s “I’m Your Man.”

He admits that he was apprehensive about identifying with his father’s sound so closely but adds that the inevitable comparisons have always been there.

“That’s been the case, whether I was wearing a tutu or a clown costume. So I figured I might as well ante up,” he says.

Based on the reactions to the album and his recent shows, Cohen is walking away with a full house.

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