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An overly intellectualised examination of the man and his material that tips over into the incomprehensible
on 23 August 2014
There is a dichotomy here. The opening line of the Amazon review refers to this book as a biography, yet the first sentence of Leil Leibovitz's preface in "A Broken Hallelujah" says this is not a biography of Leonard Cohen. Yet, the book does progress chronologically through his life. What is it then if not the story of the poet and singer's life? I fear it is an overly intellectualised examination of the man and his material that tips over into the incomprehensible. It is fine when it does come back to earth with accounts of his tour of Israeli armed forces outposts in 1973 and in the description of what sounds like one of the great mismatches of modern times: the perhaps gnomic Leonard Cohen and the almost certainly mad, bad and dangerous to know Phil Spector.
Otherwise, I fear that Mr Leibovitz only succeeds in proving that most artists, musicians and similar talented people are best appreciated when they do what they do and not being described in a book. One exception I can think of is John Lennon. The biography written by Ray Coleman was very good, mostly because by then Lennon was more interesting for what he did outside of music. Much of the music he produced post-Beatles, "Imagine" apart, was fairly banal. Put it another way, in his excellent but slim volume, "The Painted Word", the author Tom Wolfe imagines a situation where a 6in x 6in painting on a gallery wall has a descriptive piece 6FT x 6FT next to it.
I think I'm safe in saying that colleges offer degree courses in Dylan studies these days. He wrote some wonderful songs but we are all capable of getting from them what we want as we are from looking at great works of art and as we are from the poems and songs of Leonard Cohe. As David Gates wrote in "The Guitar Man": "You find yourself a message and some words to call your own".
There is, perhaps, scope for an understandable analysis of the thoughts and work of Leonard Cohen, but in its over-intellectualisation Leil Leibovitz's book is not it.