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A Broken Hallelujah - Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen Paperback – 13 Mar 2015

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In A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen, Liel Leibovitz neatly limns the spiritual quest that underpins most of Cohen s work, from Montreal to Tel Aviv and beyond. Less about Suzanne than Suzanne, Leibovitz s book highlights the novelist behind the songwriter, the poet behind the novelist, and the would-be prophet looming over them all. --Marc Dolan, author of Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock n Roll"

An elegant, beautifully crafted book that Cohen''''s fans will instinctively understand. --Ruth Rosen"

Well crafted and captivatingly written. "

A spiritual odyssey. . . . Thoughtful, ruminative . . . learned, eloquent . . . artful and precise.--David Yaffe

Lively, erudite and affecting. . . . Leibovitz makes a convincing case that Cohen has claimed his rightful place within the prophetic tradition that inspired him all along.

An elegant, beautifully crafted book that Cohen's fans will instinctively understand.--Ruth Rosen

Well crafted and captivatingly written.

About the Author

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet magazine and teaches at New York University. He is the coauthor of Fortunate Sons, Lili Marlene, and The Chosen Peoples. He lives in New York City.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars 33 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This slender volume has very specific concerns, which are rendered deftly through a number of haunting episodes 23 April 2014
By Bookreporter - Published on
Liel Leibovitz begins the preface to his biography of Leonard Cohen with the following assertion: “This is not a biography of Leonard Cohen.” What are we to make of such a claim? Pure affectation? Perhaps. It’s certainly a bold opening line, and as a critic, it rather pulls the rug from under your feet; you no longer have a fixed lens through which to view the book.

As one progresses through A BROKEN HALLELUJAH, it becomes ever clearer how this is not a conventional biography. For one thing, it is very much on the short side. Leibovitz does not cram his book with every scrap of information he can scour concerning his subject’s life; he does not present us with Cohen’s every adolescent pimple, nor do we see the poet/singer brushing his teeth at night or practicing his guitar in the mornings. This slender volume has very specific concerns, which are rendered deftly through a number of haunting episodes. Leibovitz sets out not to write yet another life of a musician, not really to see him as a singer at all, but to imagine him as a kind of Old Testament Prophet. “So what is the Prophet Cohen telling us?” he asks at the end of his preface. “And why do we listen so intently?”

To a secular Jew such as myself, this is both an appealing and a suspect premise. On the one hand, Laughing Lenny is just the sort of prophet I can get on board with. After all, one does not recall Isaiah or Elijah writing about getting “head/ On the unmade bed” the way Cohen does. On the other hand, there is the nagging fear that this is another tired attempt to make religion “cool” to an increasingly secularized society. This gives Leibovitz a precarious road to follow, and he treads it judiciously.

The religiosity of Cohen’s lyrics has been apparent from his first record. The archetypal stranger is in his words “just some Joseph looking for a manger”; in another early song, a woman clutches her lover desperately, as though he is “some kind of crucifix.” Despite the overtly Christian bent of these allusions (and many of Cohen’s other lyrics), Liebovitz does a fine job of setting Cohen up as a figure whose home is really amidst the leaders found in the Torah. The grandson of a Talmudic scholar, Cohen never renounced his Jewish identity despite spending long periods studying with a Zen Buddhist. In a few glittering moments, Leibovitz brings Cohen the prophet standing magnificently before us. At the disastrously anarchic Isle of White festival, he tames an angry mob of 600,000 people by telling them a “goddamn bedtime story.” Shades of Daniel taming the lions abound. As a child whose father has just died, Cohen writes a message to his deceased parent, wraps it up in his father’s tie, and buries it in the garden of the family home. It is a ritual no less moving than the chanting of the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Inevitably, the grandeur of Leibovitz’s vision of Leonard Cohen sometimes overstretches itself. For instance, on Cohen’s decision to ditch the classical guitar in favor of those now hopelessly dated keyboard-generated backing tracks, Leibovitz writes, “If the guitar had been the instrument to write songs that played out like diary entries, the Casio was a portal to a higher plain of consciousness.” If spiritual transcendence were so easily achieved, it would be a wonder we needed prophets at all. Still though, overreaching is far from the greatest fault in a biographer, and this unusual synthesis of Jewish theology and pop music history makes for an amusing and thoughtful little book. Finally, Cohen’s message to us, as transcribed by Leibovitz, is one that is simple enough but quite beautiful. “All that humans [can] do” he writes, “[is] go about life, admit defeat, and try to find beauty in all that remained.”

Reviewed by Frederick Lloyd
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars for any Cohen fan. 2 Jun. 2014
By Marge's Opinion - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's great to ride along to explore his youth, failures, aging and successes. I am not a lover of poetry, but for his I convert. I think his poetry in music is the highest level achievable for listening and understanding. He thinks and writes in a manner so incredibly touching that one can almost experience what he lived in order to get to those lines. The author does a very good job of comparing and relating the music and lyrics of other performers with Leonard's. Mr. Cohen's fresh and unique creations help us be a little more insightful, clever and unusual in our own thinking. Reading about the evolution of some of the lyrics exposes how. I should have taken notes along the way because now I have to read it again to save some of the great lines Mr. Cohen has said and or written. Loved it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful 3 May 2014
By AudreyLM - Published on
A beautifully written, soulful work, worthy of its subject. I bought it on Audible so also had the pleasure of hearing it read by the author.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Survey of the Life, Art and Times of Leonard Cohen 15 Jan. 2015
By Loves the View - Published on
This unconventional artist needs an unconventional book. Author Leil Liebovitz has delivered, mixing his chronology with artistic and social commentary. You learn how Leonard Cohen was shaped by his Jewish heritage and his Canadian upbringing, how he became a poet and how he put the poems to music. At times the author is as poetic as his subject.

The book has only 246 short pages. The content is good but not all of it is on Cohen. There are pages devoted to related subjects such as Canadian literature, Jewish history and Bob Dylan. In the first chapter "Prelude", Cohen does not emerge for 12 pages.

There are some good insights such as the difference in Canadian and American artists, the concept of "duende" (which suits Cohen's voice and content) and Cohen's views on his work. There are amazing episodes such as the visit to/escape from Cuba, recording with Phil Spector (dinner with Phil Spector!) and the two performance tours in Israel.

Liebovitz, in some places uses Cohen's own words to describe him. His opening to his audience in Poland shows how he refuses to be used by anyone (to me, they related to the episode where Dylan seems to expect Cohen to perform at his concert); his speech in support of the Bereaved Parents for Peace in Israel shows his long apolitical view; and his reflection on the embezzlement of most of his assets show his forgiveness and resilience.

Each chapter is introduced with a full page photo of Cohen, so you watch him mature. As of this writing he is 80 and has maintained audiences through at least 4 generations (depending on how you count, maybe 5). He has just released a new album and in 2013 performed in tours in Europe and the US.

If you are a fan of Cohen you probably know all the biographical material that is eliminated or pruned and will appreciate the commentary and insight.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars although I would guess that Leonard wants to tell his own story if it's to be told at all other than through his music and the b 11 July 2014
By Gina Bloom - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was an insightful and fascinatiing view of Leornard Cohen, the artist and the man. It was also a glimpse of history -- of the music scene in the 60s and beyond, as well as the influence of Cohen's Jewish heritage on his life. However, there were no interviews with Cohen himself, although I would guess that Leonard wants to tell his own story if it's to be told at all other than through his music and the brilliant, moving poetry of his lyrics.
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