The legend behind such songs as “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Hallelujah” and the poet and novelist behind such groundbreaking literary works as Beautiful Losers and Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen is one of the most important and influential artists of our era, a man of powerful emotion and intelligence whose work has explored the definitive issues of human life—sex, religion, power, meaning, love. Cohen is also a man of complexities and seeming contradictions: a devout Jew, who is also a sophisticate and ladies’ man, as well as an ordained Buddhist monk whose name, Jikan—“ordinary silence”—is quite the appellation for a writer and singer whose life has been anything but ordinary.
I’m Your Man is the definitive account of that extraordinary life. Acclaimed music journalist Sylvie Simmons crafts a portrait of Cohen as nuanced as the man himself, drawing on a wealth of research that includes Cohen’s personal archives and more than a hundred exclusive interviews with those closest to Cohen—from his lovers, friends, monks, professors, rabbis and fellow musicians to his muses, including Rebecca De Mornay, Marianne Ihlen, Suzanne Elrod and Suzanne Verdal—and most important, with Cohen himself, whose presence infuses these pages.
Starting in Montreal, Cohen’s birthplace, where he first found fame as a poet in the fifties, Simmons follows his trail, via London and the Greek island of Hydra, to New York in the sixties, where he launched his music career. From there she traces the arc of his prodigious achievements to his remarkable retreat in the mid-nineties—when on the cusp of marriage to a beautiful actress and enjoying the success of his best-selling album to date, he entered a monastery on a rocky mountaintop above Los Angeles—and finally to his reemergence for a sold-out world tour almost fifteen years later. Whether navigating Cohen’s journeys through the back streets of Mumbai or the countless hotel rooms where he has stayed along the way, Simmons explores with equal focus every complex, contradictory strand of Cohen’s life—from the halls of academia to the arenas of rock ’n’ roll—and presents a deeply insightful portrait of both the artist and the man whose vision, spirit, depth and talent continue to move people like no one else.
About Sylvie Simmons
Sylvie Simmons is an award-winning writer and one of the foremost music journalists working today. Born in London, she moved to Los Angeles in the late seventies and started writing about rock music for magazines such as Sounds, Creem, Kerrang! and Q. She is the author of acclaimed fiction and non-fiction books, including the biography Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes and the short-story collection Too Weird for Ziggy. She has lived at various times in England, the United States and France, and she currently lives in San Francisco, California, where she writes for MOJO magazine and plays the ukulele.
With the resurgence of his career in the last decade, Cohen has been the subject of several new books, but it’s hard to imagine a better one than veteran music journalist Simmons’ (Neil Young: Reflections in Broken Glass, 2001, etc.) work. Born into a wealthy family of Jewish clothiers in Montreal, Cohen became one of Canada’s leading young literary lights with his early volumes of poetry and two well-received novels. He was already in his early 30s when he became a professional musician, after folk singer Judy Collins brought his songs to the world’s attention with her cover of “Suzanne.” Beginning in 1968, the globe-trotting, seemingly driven Cohen recorded a series of wise, dark albums that made him a star in Europe and brought him a far smaller but devoted following in the United States. He was enjoying renewed commercial and critical success in the mid-’90s when he withdrew into a Zen Buddhist monastery for more than five years. Upon his return to the world, he discovered that his longtime manager had embezzled millions; his unexpected penury prompted a wildly received 2008-2009 world tour that grossed $50 million and finally lifted him, as a septuagenarian, into the top echelon of international stars. Simmons follows every step of Cohen’s peripatetic artistic journey with acuity and no small measure of poetic observation. Drawing on interviews with Cohen and most of his important collaborators and paramours, she paints a deep portrait of a man seemingly torn between the spiritual and the worldly, deeply gifted but plagued by abiding depression and frequent self-doubt. Simmons offers an abundance of revealing stories about Cohen’s ardent womanizing, restless pursuit of enlightenment through sex, drugs, alcohol and spirituality, and sometimes excruciating artistic perfectionism. He emerges in his full complexity, brimming with both seemingly boundless brilliance and abundant human imperfection. – Kirkus Reviews
Searching the Soul of a Soulful Singer - ‘I’m Your Man,’ Leonard Cohen Biography by Sylvie Simmons
The New York Times Book Review – September 13, 2012 (Excerpt)
Writing about a living subject, Sylvie Simmons says, means having “to immerse yourself in that person’s life to a degree that would probably get you locked up in any decent society.” It can also mean abandoning all hope of objectivity. But despite her simpatico feel for the life and work of her subject, Ms. Simmons’s “I’m Your Man” is the major, soul-searching biography that Leonard Cohen deserves.
As recently as this January, when his“Old Ideas” album arrived, an idiotic news release described Mr. Cohen as “a spiritual guy with a poetical streak.” So even now, nearly 45 years after the release of his first record (“Songs of Leonard Cohen”) and a week before his 78th birthday, Mr. Cohen is not universally understood. Neither is the need for a biography as thorough as this one, perhaps — but Ms. Simmons doesn’t care, and neither will her readers. “I’m Your Man” is a mesmerizing labor of love.
She may be a fan, very conversant with the most devoted of her subject’s fan sites. But she is no pushover. Ms. Simmons, a seasoned rock journalist whose warm-up to writing about Mr. Cohen was a book about that other grand lady-killer, Serge Gainsbourg, is careful to incorporate the many facets of Mr. Cohen’s complicated story. [Read the full article...]
‘I’m Your Man,’ by Sylvie Simmons
The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review – September 24, 2012 (Excerpt)
Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and novelist who decided, in the mid-1960s, to move to New York City and become a singer-songwriter at the height of the pop-rock era, seemed as unlikely a candidate for stardom as Tiny Tim. He spoke-sang his downbeat ballads of erotic and spiritual angst in a low and somber voice, to the accompaniment of a Spanish-tuned acoustic guitar, and was so shy he trembled at the prospect of performing in public. When John Hammond, the renowned recording-producer and talent scout, told colleagues at the Columbia label he intended to sign Cohen, one of them exclaimed: “A 32-year-old poet? Are you crazy?”
Indeed, Cohen’s evocative but mordant songs, more reminiscent of dead bards such as Lorca or Brecht than of Greenwich Village folk-rockers, though popular when done by other artists, especially Judy Collins (“Suzanne,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag”), proved on his own discs to be out of sync with American tastes. He was perceived as moody, self-absorbed, “serious” – a downer. Cohen’s LPs should come packaged with razor blades, music folk joked, because he wrote songs to kill yourself by. [Read the full article...]
Crazy for Love - ‘I’m Your Man,’ Leonard Cohen Bio by Sylvie Simmons
The New York Times Book Review – October 12, 2012 (Excerpt)
He is poet and prophet, Buddhist bard “born in a suit,” a wandering Jew ever searching. A man of many generations, Leonard Cohen is still debonair, “looking like a Rat Pack rabbi.” His languorous voice grows deeper year by year as he gets us on his wavelength with recurring themes of love, religion, sex and loss.
Leonard Norman Cohen was born in Montreal in 1934, into an upper-middle-class Jewish family. His mother was the daughter of a Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Solomon Klonitzki-Kline, his paternal grandfather, Lyon Cohen, a leader of the Canadian Jewish community. Nathan Cohen, his father, worked in the clothing business and died when his son was 9 years old. Cohen has talked about having had a “messianic” childhood and the strong sense that he was going to do something special, that he would “grow into manhood leading other men.” He was also “well aware that he was a Kohen, one of a priestly caste.” [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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