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November 22, 2012 - Image 43

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-11-22

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arts & entertainment




Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen
returns to the Motor City
for a concert at the Fox Theatre.

Don Cohen

I Contributing Writer


hen Leonard Cohen takes the
stage at the Fox Theatre in
Detroit on Monday, Nov. 26,
it will be almost 19 years to the day he
gave his most extensive interview ever on
his Jewish influences and beliefs. It is a
thoughtful, enlightening and entertaining
look at the man and terribly relevant to his
art and his identity, even today.
A poet, novelist and singer-songwriter
who began an up-and-down career in the
late 1950s, Cohen, at age 78, is at the height
of his popularity. The musician responsible
for legendary tunes like "Suzanne popu-

He's Our Man


Don Cohen

Contributing Writer


he new biography I'm Your Man:
The Life of Leonard Cohen (Ecco:
$27.99) by the British rock
journalist Sylvie Simmons attempts to go
where no book on Cohen has gone before
and succeeds brilliantly at telling the
story of her brilliant subject.
"As a music journalist, I read his
interviews about himself as a musician:'
Simmons says, "but I just wanted to know
things about him that I hadn't found in
other books:'
Simmons, who discovered Cohen in the
1960s on a Columbia Records compilation
marketed in England, found "something
real special about Leonard, and that fasci-
nation stayed with me.
"He fascinates you as a human being
who also happens to be an artist and a

larized by Judy Collins, and "Hallelujah:'
pretty much immortalized by the late Jeff
Buckley and among the most ubiquitous
tunes heard on reality-show singing com-
petitions, sold out most of his two-year
six-leg 2008-2010 tour, which brought him
to the Fox in May 2009.
He has been back on the road since
August 2012 with a new album, Old Ideas.
His 12th studio album, Old Ideas debuted
at No. 1 in 17 countries, including the U.S.
and Israel, and is the highest-charting
album of his career.
Cohen is the subject of an illuminating
new biography, I'm Your Man: The Life of
Leonard Cohen, by British rock journalist
Sylvie Simmons (see accompanying sidebar).

Jewish Bona Fides
It was Nov. 27, 1993, when Cohen sat
down with Arthur Kurzweil, an author,
teacher and pioneer in Jewish genealogy
and then editor-in-chief of the now-
defunct Jewish Book Club. Kurzweil, who
like Cohen has explored Eastern spiritual
practices in the service of his Judaism,
was promoting Cohen's then-new book,
Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs,
to his club's membership.
Kurzweil's fascination with Cohen is
clear, but whatever your spiritual beliefs, it
makes for a fascinating exchange. It begins
with Cohen sharing his Jewish bona fides.
"Both my grandfathers were distin-
guished:' Cohen said, explaining that his

mother's father, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-
Kline, was a principal in a yeshiva in
Kovno, Lithuania. "My mother always
used to tell me that 'people came from
100 miles' to hear him speak:' The rabbi's
thesaurus of talmudic interpretations of
the Five Books of Moses and his dictionary
of Hebrew synonyms and homonyms were
published after he came to the U.S.
Cohen's paternal grandfather, Lyon
Cohen (1868-1937), was a successful
businessman and renowned Canadian
Jewish communal leader, who, following
his father, Lazarus Cohen, emigrated from
Poland to Montreal.

Hallelujah! on page 44

New bio examines the life of Leonard Cohen.

musician. There are all these elements to
grandfather and great-grandfather, and
his life that seem to have equal impor-
their names were throughout the build-
tance. If you took one of them out, you
ing:' says Simmons, who is not Jewish.
wouldn't have Leonard Cohen"
"There were families that were richer, but
It unexpectedly took
his family had status.
Simmons three years of
"All the things were laid
research and writing to com-
out for him [to do], but he
plete the biography because
didn't do them. He went off
she had "to knit together
to become a poet. He was a
a life of literature, music,
man who knew what he was
celebrity, singer, songwriter"
destined to do:'
among other elements. The
The book covers several of
500-page book covers many
Cohen's visits to Israel, begin-
life events, including Cohen's
ning in 1972 — when he
private battle with depres-
almost didn't go on stage —
sion, which has expressed
and his return there the next
An insightful look at a year on the second day of the
itself in many public ways.
complicated man
"I found out fairly early
Yom Kippur War to entertain
in the research how Jewish
Leonard was. I started in Montreal at a
Then there is the story of his sold-out
huge synagogue that took up two blocks.
concert before 50,000 at Ramat Gan
Stadium in 2009 in spite of calls for him
There was the registry of his parents,

to adhere to a cultural boycott of Israel.
He responded by performing "A Concert
for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace"
and committing all proceeds to joint
Israeli and Palestinian projects.
The concert took place with Cohen
speaking some Hebrew and giving the
crowd the three-fold priestly blessing.
However, Palestinian groups were so
dedicated to boycotting Israel, they would
not take any of the funds.
After writing the book, Simmons met
Cohen for the first time to fact-check
what she couldn't confirm from multiple
sources. It didn't result in any major
changes, and Cohen didn't ask for any.
"He is a very gracious man. What you
see is what you get:' Simmons says. "He
loves women and is flirtatious but in an
elegant way that you could not be insult-
ed. He is very focused on your well-being.
He is such a gentleman:'


November 22 • 2012


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