I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
By Sylvie Simmons/HarperCollins/2012
Most important, she's infinitely better on what she‑-ponder that pronoun: she‑-has the common sense to make thematic from her title on out: women. G-d knows how many of the holy creatures Cohen has bedded in his 78 years‑-hundreds for sure, including Joni Mitchell and once Janis Joplin, unnamed seekers in that monastery, and briefly manager Kelley Lynch, who eventually robbed him of something like 10 million dollars, thus rousing him to a level of public activity and prestige few performing artists of 78 have ever achieved. Even Nadel mentions a few liaisons Simmons doesn't. But Simmons has gotten the details the major ones deserve: the saintly Marianne Ihlan of "So Long Marianne" fame; hot-headed Suzanne Elrod, the mother of his two children and his common-law wife for 10 years (the only one who seems bitter, although he's close to the kids, singer-songwriter Adam Cohen and Lorca Cohen, who has long lived downstairs in his Los Angeles duplex); distant Parisian photographer Dominique Isserman; May-December smart-beauty-with-a-dirty-mind Rebecca de Mornay; and his consort and collaborator for the first eight years of this century, Anjani Thomas.
OK, so we knew he's been quite the ladies man. But by soliciting the memories and insights of the Ihlan-Elrod-de Mornay-Thomas succession (Isserman didn't sit for an interview), Simmons portrays a man who was a remarkably intense serial monogamist no matter how much he got on the side‑-an adorer of women and a votary of beauty. No wonder, as Simmons reports, the fans at Cohen's European concerts in the '70s were three-quarters female. Yet she's equally diligent tracing Cohen's other non-artistic obsession: religious enlightenment. She details his devotion to the Jewish rituals passed down by his rabbi grandfather; fully describes the disciplines imposed by his now 105-year-old guru Roshi, who ordained him a Zen priest; devotes many pages to Cohen's substantial and decisive post-ordination studies with a Hindu teacher in Mumbai; and respects his early fascinations with Catholicism and Scientology as well.
These twin obsessions, one carnal and one spiritual, are source and content of Cohen's laboriously perfected, stubbornly prolific body of work, which Simmons doesn't neglect to analyze and appreciate. I'd say she overrates such works as Beautiful Losers, Death of a Ladies' Man, and Dear Heather. But that's a privilege she's earned. Though you'd never guess it from the awards showered on him‑-after all, he's touring at 78, and a Canadian citizen to boot‑-Cohen isn't Yeats or Lorca, and knowing the backstory of this lifelong depression fighter and belated superstar may not altogether allay your skepticism about his ultimate aesthetic import. But it will certainly induce you to understand where he's coming from, and why.
Of course, major poets fall into manner, too. Wordsworth, anyone?
But so what?
Right, your comment was so "unprovocative" that you toned it down with an edit after I posted my "much-more provocative" one.
Nothing like a much-more provocative comment to complain about a "provocative" comment -- I had to respond to Jason G.'s post because not doing so would be to let stand a statement that would argue I didn't know enough about Larkin's positions to criticize them. Or worst of all that I hadn't even read *All What Jazz* but just read about it or some such.
And I really don't want to talk about this any more -- but you can't let some stuff just lie there. I have enough trouble as it is with people misrepresenting what I've said.
"I'm really, really tired of this topic, so let me keep the discussion going by making a provocative comment..."
I read that introduction. I'm really, really, tired of the topic, but I have to say that pretending all strains of modernism -- and it's not at all clear to me that bebop and beyond really is a type of "modernism"; painters in the '20s thought trad jazz was their soundtrack, after all -- have the same cultural impact and carry the same baggage is, to me, about the same as saying "some of my best friends are non-modernist black people." (And no, I'm not saying that anybody who disliked bebop and beyond had racial-stereotype problems. But I sure feel some people did.)
And I'd miss Pazz and Jop if it didn't keep missing me. I haven't gotten anything.
People, yes, although that's a tough one, since for me it does mostly mean person, and then one of you dies . . . .
On an altogether--well, mostly--different topic, I just got a PJ ballot. Haven't opened it yet, but presume we're on. I'm glad. I'd miss it.
My inexpert guess: Larkin wrote some very good poems indeed, and no one has done a certain kind of impacted-yet-somehow-light ("light" is not nec. a pejorative in my book) ruefulness better; but I think his work might be too on-the-nose to be considered great. Better and less-known postwar English-language poets: Douglas Crase, Alfred Corn, Carl Phillips, Amy Clampitt.
EDIT: Jason beat me to this, and said it better.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.