Fresh insight into gifted Cohen

November 25, 2013
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I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
By Sylvie Simmons (Johnathan Cape, RRP $38):

Leonard Cohen is many things to many people: a poet, a prophet, singer, songwriter, author, peacemaker and all-round good bloke.

Cohen has been touring the world pretty much non-stop for the past couple of years and I have to say, his concert in Christchurch just a couple of months after the September 2010 quake was the best I have been to. His audience ranged in age from a the very young loved-up couple sitting in front of us who were probably still teenagers to people of my own age and (gasp) some who were even older, and the Buddist bard held us all spellbound throughout the entire concert, leaving us in awe of the septuagenarian’s seemingly endless energy.

Of course, before he began recording music, Cohen was an accomplished author and poet and that literary skill shows through in his music, with a huge catalogue of clever, moving and poignant songs to his name.

I’m Your Man looks at all of Cohen’s life, from his childhood in Montreal, to the beginnings of his literary and music careers, which have grown and matured alongside one another.

It also looks at another aspect of his life that has had a profound impact on his creative side: his faith. Cohen spent five years at a monastery near Los Angeles and was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and author Sylvie Simmons delves into his immersion in the Jewish culture and his obsession with Christian imagery as well as his Buddhism.

With such a full life and so much to cover, this could have come off as something of a race through the past 70-odd years but Simmons has done a good job of chronicling Cohen’s life without getting bogged down and has pulled together a remarkable book that offers a fresh insight into the musical genius of the man who wrote one of the two best songs ever (The Anthem, which shares top spot with John Lennon’s Imagine).

Yes, I know Hallelujah is also a fantastic song and seems to be a favourite for many, and I still think it’s pretty special even though it tends to make an appearance at least once every season on American Idol (and please don’t tell me that Jeff Buckley’s version is better because it isn’t), but The Anthem is the Cohen song that really gets under my skin. In fact, a line from the song is about to get under my skin quite literally, being the inspiration for my next tattoo.

Jillian Allison-Aitken

I come from the other land down under, where men are men, and sheep are nervous. I'm a sub-editor and in the past have been a proof-reader, news editor and web editor. I am also an ex-columnist, and book and software reviewer for the local daily newspaper.I still read. A lot. And surf the web. Also a lot.You'll find a little about both of those pastimes here, and on By George.

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