(photo credit: Sivan Farag)
Deep inside, Leonard Cohen wrestles with a restless soul.
In I’m Your
Man, rock journalist Sylvie Simmons’s exquisitely researched and elegantly
written biography, she depicts a man in perpetual motion, hellhound on his
trail, living a life filled with turmoil and self-doubt, love, sex and fleeting
relationships, spiritual searching and rare moments of peace.
all, Cohen has remained an icon and a unique voice in both literature and music,
with his friend Bob Dylan perhaps the only other artist who
Simmons uses almost 600 pages to meticulously trace Cohen’s
life. And in a refreshing change for a modern biography, she begins at the
beginning, with Cohen’s birth to a prosperous and proper Jewish family in
Montreal. Their affluence, Simmons points out, was relative.
the Cohens’ chauffeur drove them in a Pontiac, rather than the Cadillacs favored
by families farther up the hill.
His mother doted on him, especially
after his father’s death when Cohen was nine. And even as a teen, he’d leave his
house late at night and ramble through the dark streets of the city, knowing
that forgiveness waited at home.
Cohen’s talents were evident early, and
though he was a so-so student at McGill University, he won two literary awards
and excelled at debate. With two friends, he formed his first musical group, the
Buckskin Boys, and developed in his own idiosyncratic style as a guitar
After graduation, Cohen’s life shifted to a much higher gear. His
first book of poetry garnered good reviews; his second was a flat-out success.
Well-dressed and charming – the word appears repeatedly in the book – Cohen
settled in New York for a time, then Europe, eventually finding himself on the
storybook Greek island of Hydra.
The book tells how he finds love and a
muse with a Norwegian model and young mother, driving her to Norway at one point
for her divorce hearing, but then inviting her and her son to Montreal where he
largely ignores her before disappearing completely. He surfaces in Cuba, drawn
there by the revolution.
Over the years, there are similar relationships,
with Cohen loving the idea of love, and certainly the sex that comes with it,
but finding the reality chafing. I’m Your Man is liberally sprinkled with
Cohen’s relationships, some long-standing and others one-night stands. The
latter include a night with Janis Joplin, recounted in sharply different ways in
two of Cohen’s songs, including this barbed reference in “Chelsea Hotel #2”: “I
can’t keep track of each fallen robin... I don’t think of you that
Cohen’s emergence as a musician of note didn’t come until he was
in his 30s, almost ancient in that world. And at first, his songs, sung by
others – most notably Judy Collins with “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire” – brought
As with Dylan, with whom parallels abound, Cohen has a
somewhat limited vocal range, but a compelling style.
singers might approach a song like “Hallelujah” with greater vocal gifts,
Cohen’s version will raise the hair on the back of your neck.
perhaps Cohen’s most covered, points to the other major theme in I’m Your Man:
Cohen’s relentless search for spiritual meaning. Though he remains adamantly
Jewish, singing the traditional songs on holidays with his children, he spent
some time in the Church of Scientology, knows and appropriates the images of
Christianity and immersed himself in Buddhism – even being ordained as a
Now 78, Cohen continues to tour regularly, again, much like
Time has taken its toll on both of their voices. Dylan’s is rough
and raspy on his latest recording; Cohen’s baritone is as dry as a tobacco leaf
too long in the barn.
But Cohen seems to have found a level of
“I have come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I am going
to die,” he said.
Asked about reincarnation, he said he didn’t fully
understand the concept. But just in case, he said, “I would like to come back as
my daughter’s dog.”
– The Dallas Morning News/MCT