By Sylvie Simmonds (Jonathan Cape)
Mention Leonard Cohen’s music and you’re quite likely to receive a gesture to slash your wrists; a musical appeal to Armageddon! Yet, in many literary and musical quarters he’s considered a genius.
As much as his music (and voice) will be associated with solemnity and introspection, of despair and angst, of tapping deep into the definitive issues of human life, Cohen commands a quite extraordinary following.
Sylvie Simmonds’ 500-page trawl through Cohen’s life is sometimes mesmerising for the light she throws on this man; someone who regularly and suddenly cut himself off from life (at one time he took five years out and lived as monk in a Buddhist retreat); of a man who was swindled out of his entire fortune (some $15 million) and yet returned at the age of 72 to embark on a mammoth set of global concerts that unearthed worldwide acclaim for his work.
Simmonds succeeds in depicting someone who agonised and inched his way into becoming one of the great musical wordsmiths of his generation. (His anthem hit Hallelujah took him five years to write!). As much as she might have achieved this, I’m Your Man also tends at times to deflect from this genius and the core moments of his turbulent, intriguing life.
At times the book errs towards a day-in-the-life account that muddies a clearer appreciation of the man and his work, yet unwraps a reclusive life that gave us songs and insights that inspired poets, authors and musicians worldwide.
Cohen is finally revealed as a genial and gracious perfectionist; a personality devoured by an exacting pursuit of poetry and song writing.