A slightly different look at rock royalty.
Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is one of rock's most polarizing figures. Those who love him do so rabidly and will soak up every morsel of music (or prose or poetry) that the baritone-voiced artist releases. One can assume that's also the case with biographies, since less than two years after Sylvie Simmons' phenomenal I'm Your Man was published, here comes another study of the revered Canadian troubadour. Though Tablet writer Leibovitz (co-author: Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization, 2011, etc.) doesn’t add much new material to the Cohen biographical canon, his approach is certainly different than that of Simmons; it's considerably more academic. Religion was (and is) among Cohen's pet topics about which to write, and Leibovitz follows suit, at times even quoting the Bible to illuminate a concept. In one instance, he pulls a line from the book of Romans in a discussion about the Doors, noting, "The New and Old Testaments alike are books of waiting; the humans who populate them speak of salvation and cataclysm, but more than anything they linger in anticipation for God to act." That sort of academic verbiage permeates the discussions of Cohen's relationship with Judaica. On the plus side, Leibovitz's research and sources are impeccable, and there are plenty of good anecdotes to lighten up what could have been a dry study of this important performer. In an account of a 2008 performance, Leibovitz writes: “In true Zen fashion, it turned out that all he needed to do to let his songs state their case was nothing but accept Lorca’s definition of duende and allow the tightly closed flowers of his spare arrangements bloom into a thousand petals.”
It's a tall order to follow up what is, in effect, a definitive work, but Leibovitz delivers a different sort of biography that Cohen fanatics should appreciate.