Interview with Sylvie Simmons

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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by dick » Sun Sep 09, 2012 5:11 pm

Commenting on the positive press, Sylvie noted that "Kirkus gave it not only rave reviews but a star, ie as Kirkus says, only awarded to 'a book of remarkable merit'! I'm going to be an impossible diva soon!"

I don't think the praise will go to her head. :D She also reports on a few west coast promotional efforts starting 9/11, Montreal and Toronto possibilities, and a trip to Nashville around the time of the LC tour. Am really hoping she will also make it to New York
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by lizzytysh » Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:14 am

Haha... love your comments here, Dick... and agree.
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by dick » Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:32 pm

From LA Times --

September 10, 2012, 4:25 p.m.
"I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen"

Sylvie Simmons

Ecco: $27.99, publication date Sept. 18

One challenge of assessing Leonard Cohen's musical legacy is that there's so much non-musical stuff to unpack. From his vast body of literary work to his religious triangulation — Jewish by birth, artistically obsessed with Christian imagery and later ordained as a Buddhist monk — Cohen's music is just one facet of a creative and inner life in which each element could warrant its own book treatment.

Sylvie Simmons' "I'm Your Man" tries to synthesize all these stories into a new gold standard of Cohen bios. She's given similar treatments to Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young, but this might be her densest source material yet. In it, she goes deep into his Montreal upbringing, his writing process and the slow burn of his musical prowess and rise to fame.

But "I'm Your Man" also gives considerable credence to Cohen's creative writing as a major part of his life's catalog. And though it's easy to scoff at rock stars' post-fame religious conversions — see Bob Dylan's late-career Christianity — Simmons' book takes Cohen's contradictory interests in Jewish tradition, Buddhist dispassion and Christian myth as part of a larger creative and philosophical architecture that seeps into every corner of his varied works.

— August Brown
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by DrHGuy » Tue Sep 11, 2012 2:20 pm

Sept 18, 2012: “I’m Your Man” By Sylvie Simmons
Becomes The Definitive Leonard Cohen Biography

I posted a review of "I'm Your Man" by Sylvie Simmons this morning. In case the above title is ambiguous, the short version of the review follows:
“I’m Your Man” is a conspicuously, unequivocally marvelous book
The entire review can be found at ... biography/
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by dick » Tue Sep 11, 2012 3:31 pm

Thanks Heck

Great review!
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by Joe Way » Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:05 pm

Many thanks to Jarkko for the great interview and to DrH for the terrific review-I can hardly wait to read it!

"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by dick » Fri Sep 14, 2012 3:13 pm

Realize the review from the Times has been posted elsewhere too, but think it is worthy of repeats.

Another triumph for Sylvie in this New York Times review by Janet Maslin. Follow the link for great photos in the print edition, and also note the new Alan Light book coming out in December on Hallelujah. ... .html?_r=1
September 13, 2012
Searching the Soul of a Soulful Singer
The Life of Leonard Cohen
By Sylvie Simmons
Illustrated. 570 pages. Ecco. $27.99.

Writing about a living subject, Sylvie Simmons says, means having “to immerse yourself in that person’s life to a degree that would probably get you locked up in any decent society.” It can also mean abandoning all hope of objectivity. But despite her simpatico feel for the life and work of her subject, Ms. Simmons’s “I’m Your Man” is the major, soul-searching biography that Leonard Cohen deserves.

As recently as this January, when his “Old Ideas” album arrived, an idiotic news release described Mr. Cohen as “a spiritual guy with a poetical streak.” So even now, nearly 45 years after the release of his first record (“Songs of Leonard Cohen”) and a week before his 78th birthday, Mr. Cohen is not universally understood. Neither is the need for a biography as thorough as this one, perhaps — but Ms. Simmons doesn’t care, and neither will her readers. “I’m Your Man” is a mesmerizing labor of love.

She may be a fan, very conversant with the most devoted of her subject’s fan sites. But she is no pushover. Ms. Simmons, a seasoned rock journalist whose warm-up to writing about Mr. Cohen was a book about that other grand lady-killer, Serge Gainsbourg, is careful to incorporate the many facets of Mr. Cohen’s complicated story.

“Darling, I was born in a suit,” he tells her, alluding to his prosperous, scholarly Montreal family with garment-business connections. He showed early talent as a hypnotist; obviously, it has never left him.

In his teens he was a plumpish fraternity president and cheerleader who played in a country and western trio. “A square-dance band?” Ms. Simmons inquires, in one of their conversational volleys that she injects throughout the book. “What possessed you?” Well, he seems to have enjoyed playing “Turkey in the Straw.”

Mr. Cohen was a man of letters, both poet and novelist, long before he set words to music. His fellow Canadian Michael Ondaatje was one early, attentive critic of his work. “The gospels diverge on exactly when and where Leonard decided to become a singer-songwriter,” Ms. Simmons writes, but she credits Judy Collins, in her early days as “an aristocrat of the Greenwich Village scene,” as the person most responsible for paving his way to a musical career.

Ms. Collins, one of many trenchant interviewees, says she fell not for him but for his songs. (“That was enough trouble.”) She appreciates “the fact that a Jew from Canada can take the Bible to pieces and give the Catholics a run for their money on every story they ever thought they knew.”

“I’m Your Man” goes on to provide glimpses of a well-chosen few of Mr. Cohen’s relationships with women (that’s all, because this isn’t an encyclopedia); his search for spiritual enlightenment; the experiment in terror that was his collaboration with Phil Spector on “Death of a Ladies’ Man”; the extravagant drug and alcohol use that explains some of his stranger recordings; the financial scandal that robbed him of his savings; and his miraculous comeback — an unexpected fringe benefit of that larceny — as a septuagenarian live performer.

Best of all, there is the wild tale of how “Halleluljah” became his biggest hit, though it has been interpreted as everything from raw erotica to Christmas carol to elevator music, depending on who performs it and how much it is altered. There are so many twists to this story that a whole book about “Halleluljah” is due late this year.

Among those heard from in Ms. Simmons’s book are the women who have found near-mythic status as muses to Mr. Cohen. By far the most gracious is Marianne Ihlen, the Norwegian beauty who met Mr. Cohen on the Greek island of Hydra and lived with him in a simple, serene style he would come to romanticize. (A ravishing photograph of her, wearing a towel and sitting at a typewriter, appears on the back of Mr. Cohen’s second album, “Songs From a Room.”)

“I feel very lucky to have met Leonard at that time of my life,” says Ms. Ihlen, who met him early in the 1960s and heard him singing “So Long Marianne” well before they actually separated. “He taught me so much, and I hope I gave him a line or two.”
The unstated price of such access to Mr. Cohen’s friends and lovers is a degree of discretion on Ms. Simmons’s part. So when it comes to Suzanne Elrod, the mother of his two children, Adam and Lorca, the author sits back and lets Ms. Elrod do the damage. Fifteen years his junior, she met him at a Scientology class in 1969 — the same year he would meet Joshu Sasaki Roshi, his future Zen master. (Mr. Cohen’s searches for enlightenment have been many and varied; this, too, could be the subject of a separate book.)

Soon enough, Ms. Elrod would be on Hydra, redecorating. “I kept the authenticity of the house,” she says, speaking highly of “its Greek peasant simplicity.” When the two of them wound up in People magazine (really?) she complained that she felt very alone because “the proof of the poetry just wasn’t there.”

The other Suzanne — Suzanne Verdal, she of the tea and oranges that came all the way from China — is in these pages too. Ms. Simmons found her in Santa Monica, where she was at work on her autobiography and still espousing unhappiness about the song “Suzanne” and its fallout.

“Leonard the poet transformed the physical Suzanne into the metaphysical ‘Suzanne’ and made her an angel,” Ms. Simmons observes. “Leonard the magician sawed her down the middle, then put the two parts of her back together — the carnal and the spiritual — and made her more perfect than before. Leonard the composer made a hallowed melody of her, both implausibly intimate and ineffably spacious.” And none of those Leonards saw to it that she benefited from the song’s vast commercial success.

Mr. Cohen did not safeguard his own rights to “Suzanne,” either. A good deal of this book is about the minutiae of his professional life, and arguably some of that material belonged in an appendix. But Ms. Simmons is stubbornly detailed about unpublished and unreleased work, alternative lyrics, studio personnel, tour musicians, documentary footage and musical arrangements.

The arrangements matter because Mr. Cohen fought so long and hard to get them right, particularly on his first album. ”Leonard, poor guy, would be, ‘We don’t want the glockenspiel’ — because on every one of those tracks it sounded like two orchestras and a carousel,” one participant says.

Ms. Simmons is very generous about Mr. Cohen’s recent career. But she is hardly alone in feeling that way; in the words of a recent reviewer in The Independent, “at least the old smoothie’s going down swinging.” When he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, Mr. Cohen managed to look younger than he had at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event two years earlier. He claimed to have had “a sublime experience.” The old smoothie posed for a picture with his arm around Taylor Swift before moving on to the next of his overdue triumphs.
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by WiTS » Wed Sep 19, 2012 6:10 am

To N.A. in loving memory

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2008-06-29 Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury Festival; 2008-07-17 O2 Arena, London
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by comehealing » Wed Sep 19, 2012 12:25 pm

What a beautiful interview. Thanks Jarkko, for sharing.

I particularly love Sylvie's summation:
A serious writer; a smiler; an artist who sees no borderline between music and words. And a deep man, very deep. Two sentences.
"Who, being loved, is poor?"
(Oscar Wilde)
"That love is all there is" (Emily Dickinson)
"A miracle, just take a look around: The inescapable earth" (Wislawa Szymborska)
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by dick » Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:36 pm

Amazon corrected a mix-up on my order, and made up for it with a special delivery that arrived at my door about 7pm on release date.


Love the heft and the photos.......WOW. :D
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Re: Interview with Sylvie Simmons

Post by holydove » Wed Sep 19, 2012 10:43 pm

Jarkko, I just re-read your wonderful interview, & as my first thank you is buried somewhere in another (probably inappropriate) thread, I will take this opportunity to thank you - & Sylvie Simmons - again, for a really intriguing interview - complete with fantastic questions & fascinating answers - which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I also just got around to reading through this thread & now more thank you's are in order: to Dick, for posting all the great reviews & to Allan for your brilliant, hilarious interview & review - loved every juicy word of it!

I just received my copy of the book today, a couple of hours ago (arrived sooner than I thought it would - yay!), & so excited, can hardly wait to drink it all up! I did have a quick look at the photos as soon as I brought it in from my doorstep & yes, as Dick already mentioned - what can one say, but "WOW!".

And last but not least, thank you so much to Sylvie Simmons for your long years of dedication, hard work, & immersion (for which I hope you do not get locked up - & if you do, don't worry, I'm sure you can count on all of us to testify on your behalf, in regard to the obvious & unquestionable sanity - not to mention the great healing & transformative power - of obsession with Leonard Cohen).
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