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A Lazy Bastard Living in a Suit - I Think Not!,
This review is from: I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (Hardcover)
It isn't often that I find myself stunned and almost speechless after finishing a book, but that was the case with Silvie Simmons' "I'm Your Man" - not so much a book, more an homage to a giant of contemporary music.
As one who has followed Leonard Cohen's career since the release of his first album in 1967 and subsequently listened to his music across five decades, I feel qualified to call myself a fan. There have been biographies before, some sketchy and poorly researched, some sensationalist dealing more with the legendary womanising than the actual art, but none so far, to the best of my knowledge anyway, have got to the core and the essence of Leonard - as Ms. Simmons refers to him throughout - and she does exactly that.
"I'm Your Man" is magnificently researched and superbly written, the pacing throughout is measured and consistent, and Silvie Simmons writes with a wit and affection that should set a benchmark for any biographer. She clearly has a great deal of liking and respect for her subject, but this does not stop her from shying away from Leonard's faults, frailties and failings - these she documents with the same candour and openness that she describes his triumphs.
Every facet of Leonard's life is documented with zeal and a complete understanding of his motives, influences and intentions - yet we are never bored, in fact the more we learn about the man the more we want to learn. His early life as a poet in Montreal, his time in Hydra, his first faltering steps into song writing and recording, his drug use, the women, his depression and embracement of Buddhism - all related in a candid, pragmatic, even humorous manner (Ms. Simmons manages to weave many of Leonard's lyrics into her text in a way that I found utterly charming).
But for me the finest achievement of the book is the last section that deals with Leonard's reluctant and forced return to public performance due to his finances being plundered. This is related in such an emotive manner that one cannot fail to be moved by it. I have watched several of these concerts and listened to recordings of them on numerous occasions and am constantly amazed at the way Leonard holds his audiences in rapture with his slick yet intimate performances. Ms. Simmons refers often to his physical thinness and frailty, but on stage he is a giant.
As I read the book I was often reminded of the poetry, and one piece that kept returning to me was from Leonard's first published collection (Let us Compare Mythologies) simply called "Poem"
I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips
it is because I hear a man climb stairs
and clear his throat outside our door.
It is unlikely that Leonard saw himself as this man when he wrote the poem, as he was barely twenty years old, but he certainly became that man in later life. In her epilogue to the book, Ms. Simmons gives us two very welcome facts, the first is that there is a new album in the pipeline, and the second is a quote from Leonard himself, and it is that he has ..."no sense of or appetite for retirement." Wonderful news indeed.
This is without doubt one of the finest biographies I have ever read, if you did not love the man and his work before, you will almost certainly do so afterwards as you embrace his music and poetry with an even greater depth of understanding. I look forward with great anticipation to whatever project Silvie Simmons chooses to tackle next.
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Initial post: 2 Jun 2014 15:52:44 BDT
Jellybean Jules says:
The poem you quote is wonderful. I loved this biography of Leonard Cohen. Sylvie Symmons research is amazing. I felt such a sense of loss when I had finished it. I couldn't put it down. While I was reading it, he dominated my waking thoughts. Such a wonderful poet and songwriter. I liked the fact that the solitude he experienced at the monastery contributed greatly to a cure for his depression.
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