14 September 2012

Imprint Friday: I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

Ecco publishes a number of genres, and I find myself particularly drawn to their books by and about musicians and the music world. Although I have been a fan of Leonard Cohen's from his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), I knew very little about him as a person. Sylvie Simmons's I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (in stores on September 18) introduced me to a complex, talented, and fascinating man.

Here's most of the publisher's summary:

The legend behind such songs as "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," and "Hallelujah" and the poet and novelist behind such groundbreaking literary works as Beautiful Losers and Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen is one of the most important and influential artists of our era, a man of powerful emotion and intelligence whose work has explored the definitive issues of human life—sex, religion, power, meaning, love. Cohen is also a man of complexities and seeming contradictions: a devout Jew, who is also a sophisticate and ladies’ man, as well as an ordained Buddhist monk whose name, Jikan—"ordinary silence"—is quite the appellation for a writer and singer whose life has been anything but ordinary.

I’m Your Man is the definitive account of that extraordinary life. Acclaimed music journalist Sylvie Simmons crafts a portrait of Cohen as nuanced as the man himself, drawing on a wealth of research that includes Cohen's personal archives and more than a hundred exclusive interviews with those closest to Cohen—from his lovers, friends, monks, professors, rabbis and fellow musicians to his muses, including Rebecca De Mornay, Marianne Ihlen, Suzanne Elrod and Suzanne Verdal—and most important, with Cohen himself, whose presence infuses these pages. . . .
At the core of Simmons's biography is the chronological account of Cohen's life from his birth in Montreal to his recent worldwide tour. Woven around and through that core are the threads she weaves to show how life events, relationships, spiritual issues, and depression have reflected, influenced, and directed Cohen's writing and music.

That may sound complicated, but from both a reader's and an editor's perspective, the approach works, and works well. Cohen is such a complex person, it'd be near impossible to tell his story as if he had walked a straight, well-marked path. He is a man of dichotomies: both old-fashioned and cutting edge; accomplished poet, novelist, and musician; solitary and private but connects to his audiences; Jewish and Buddhist.

Although Simmons relies on interviews, archives, and other firsthand material, she writes in an easy-to-read narrative style. She often steps back so Cohen himself can take center stage, either as part of their conversations together or through his prose, poetry, and songs. And in this way we get to know the man himself, not just the facts of his life.

Several things stood out to me. First were some of the little-known (at least to me) pieces of Cohen's personality, such as the fact that he's athletic (he played hockey, for example) and has a tendency to wander city streets in the wee hours. I was also fascinated with his spiritual journey, which bridges different religions, customs, and cultures, and how this journey may have helped him overcome his struggles with depression.

Of course I loved reading about Cohen's encounters with fellow musicians, writers, and artists as well as the details of the music world. He was often in the thick of things, living in the Chelsea Hotel at the time when Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and others made it their home and (years earlier) attending one of Jack Kerouac's poetry readings. I was also happy to learn something about the real people, including Suzanne and Marianne, who appear in Cohen's songs and writings.

Sylvie Simmons's I'm Your Man is well-researched, literary biography that not only sensitively explores the life of Leonard Cohen but takes us back to a prolific and exciting era of music and the arts.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

I'm Your Man at Powell's
I'm Your Man at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, September 18, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061994982


bermudaonion 9/14/12, 7:57 AM  

This sounds right up my alley - I love memoirs and biographies. I find that I enjoy them the most when I don't know much about the subject.

caite 9/14/12, 7:59 AM  

all I know about Cohen is Hallelujah, but sadly memoirs and I rarely get along.

Beth Hoffman 9/14/12, 9:42 AM  

My BFF's husband loves Leonard Cohen. I'll send her a link to your post. I bet she buys this for him.

Happy Weekend, Candace!

Aonghus Fallon,  9/14/12, 11:20 AM  

I'm a big Cohen fan myself - I saw him play over here in Dublin. It's funny how little we know about him, given the way Dylan's life has been exhaustively analysed. There's a clip on youtube in which he chats to an old acquaintance on a parkbench in Montreal - 'Picnic in the Park' that captures something of his charm.


Sandy Nawrot 9/14/12, 11:29 AM  

I'll just echo Kathy. I love learning about these complex people, and even when I THINK I know everything about them, turns out I don't. Really excited about this one.

Daryl 9/14/12, 12:23 PM  

interesting ... this morning as i came out of the Times Sq subway station I looked toward 8th Avenue and there was a sign announcing a concert in the early days of January .. Leonard Cohen! coincidence?

Diane Estrella 9/14/12, 12:51 PM  

Sounds like a great book. Thanks for your thoughts and the review. Hope you have a great weekend!

Diane :O)

rhapsodyinbooks 9/14/12, 2:14 PM  

Michael Chabon refers to Buddhist Jews as Juddhists, which strikes me as very clever!

Jenners 9/14/12, 2:14 PM  

Wow … he looks just like I'd expect him to look based on his voice. I have one Leonard Cohen album and it is amazingly good. I can't resist that VOICE. I just can't imagine him playing hockey though!

Carole 9/14/12, 4:08 PM  

I have to get this book. Love his music but don't know much about the man. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Have a lovely weekend.

Leslie @ This is the Refrain 9/15/12, 8:16 PM  

I'm a huge fan of Leonard Cohen, so this book is definitely going on my TBR. I'm glad you featured it here, because I hadn't heard about it.

Anonymous,  9/16/12, 5:43 PM  

He sounds fascinating. I didn't realize he was also an author.

Julie P. 9/17/12, 5:48 PM  

I know absolutely nothing about this man but the book does sound interesting.

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