Cohen Bio 'Exquisitely Researched,' 'Elegantly Written'

Article excerpt


Deep inside, Leonard Cohen wrestles with a restless soul.

In "I'm Your Man," rock journalist Sylvie Simmons' exquisitely researched and elegantly written biography, she depicts a man in perpetual motion, hellhound on his trail, living a life filled with turmoil and self-doubt, love, sex and fleeting relationships, spiritual searching and rare moments of peace.

Through it all, Cohen has remained an icon and a unique voice in both literature and music, with his friend Bob Dylan perhaps the only other artist who compares.

Simmons uses almost 600 pages to meticulously trace Cohen's life. And in a refreshing change for a modern biography, she begins at the beginning, with Cohen's birth to a prosperous and proper Jewish family in Montreal. Their affluence, Simmons points out, was relative. After all, the Cohens' chauffeur drove them in a Pontiac, rather than the Cadillacs favored by families farther up the hill.

His mother doted on him, especially after his father's death when Cohen was 9. And even as a teen, he'd leave his house late at night and ramble through the dark streets of the city, knowing that forgiveness waited at home.

Cohen's talents were evident early, and although he was a so-so student at McGill University, he won two literary awards and excelled at debate. With two friends, he formed his first musical group, the Buckskin Boys, and developed in his own idiosyncratic way as a guitar player.

After graduation, Cohen's life shifted to a much faster gear. His first book of poetry garnered good reviews; his second was a flat- out success. Well-dressed and charming -- the word appears repeatedly in the book -- Cohen settled in New York for a time, then Europe, eventually finding himself on the storybook Greek island of Hydra.

The book tells how he finds love and a muse with a Norwegian model and young mother, driving her to Norway at one point for her divorce hearing, but then inviting her and her son to Montreal where he largely ignores her before disappearing completely. He surfaces in Cuba, drawn there by the revolution. …