Paperback review: I'm Your Man, By Sylvie Simmons

Leonard Cohen: too good to be true

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The Independent Culture

It's often a disappointment to read biographies of artists you admire; they can turn out to be much less admirable than their work. This is not the case with Sylvie Simmons's brilliant biography of Leonard Cohen.

In a meticulously researched book of 500 pages, Simmons hasn't found anyone with a bad word to say about him.

What's notable is the longevity of his relationships – he never ditches a friend and, tellingly, has always remained on good terms with ex-lovers. A man of strong affections and loyalties, he's also courtly, witty, enigmatic, and a consummate artist who takes infinite pains with his work ("Hallelujah" took him five years to write).

The book is full of great anecdotes – in his early teens, he experimented with hypnotism on the family maid and asked her to strip, which she duly did – consolidating a fascination with nakedness which found its way into many of his songs. When his son Adam was in a coma after a car accident, Cohen sat and read to him from the Bible for three months; when Adam finally opened his eyes, his first words were: "Dad, can you read something else?" When his manager cheated him out of all his money, Cohen responded drily: "It's enough to put a dent in your mood," and added, "fortunately, it hasn't."

Simmons does full justice to every aspect of Cohen – his Jewishness, his Canadian-ness, his fascination with religion, his poetry, novels, and above all his songs and concerts.

Buy this book and keep it by your Leonard Cohen albums.