For a different take on tonight's concert, which primarily considers the perspective of Cohen biographer Sylvie Simmons, check out this preview of the show -- or, "meeting of the faithful" -- from The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' daily newspaper:
(Here's the link, but subscription required: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/20 ... ranscends/
'A genre of one': Leonard Cohen biographer weave strands into portrait of artist renewed
By Bob Mehr
Since returning to performing five years ago amid financial troubles, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has enjoyed some of the best reviews of his career and cemented his place among the pantheon of pop greats.
As Leonard Cohen’s most able biographer, Sylvie Simmons’ opinion of the singer-songwriter doesn’t come as a great surprise. “To me he’s in the pantheon; he’s up there with the greats,” says Simmons, author of the recent study “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” (Ecco).
“But what’s most interesting about him is he’s a one-off; he’s sui generis. Those people are the ones who’ve always fascinated me. Neil Young is like that — he’s a genre of one. You could use the same description for Bob Dylan and for Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen simply can’t sound like anybody but Leonard Cohen.”
Over the course of his 78 years, Cohen has been many different things but always himself: a poet, novelist, folk singer, louche pop performer. His catalog is loaded with songs that have become standards, transcending genres and generations: “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire,” “Everybody Knows.”
His life — or more accurately, his many lives — have found him as a man of letters, a soldier, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a spiritual seeker (Cohen is a dedicated Jew, has explored Scientology, and has been ordained as a Buddhist monk). On Sunday night, he will make his very first concert appearance in Memphis, performing at Downtown’s Orpheum theater.
For Simmons — a native of London, now based in San Francisco — “I’m Your Man” was a lifetime in the making. “My love of Leonard Cohen began when I was not even quite a teenager,” she says. “I bought (the 1968) compilation called The Rock Machine Turns You On, an album that came out in England. I heard Leonard Cohen’s voice, and for some reason it picked me up and threw me against a wall. The musical love has gone back that far.”
A pioneering female music journalist — she worked as a correspondent for magazines like Sounds, Creem and Kerrang! — Simmons wrote a story on Cohen in 2001 for the British magazine MOJO. Her interview with the singer lasted three days and continued in a lengthy e-mail correspondence. She walked away from her encounter feeling it had been an incredible experience but also that Cohen had blown “smoke in my eyes,” she says. “He’s an opaque guy, a man of mystery.”
Afterward, Simmons began reading the various biographies and histories of Cohen that had been published, “but I still didn’t feel I knew him very well. Her desire to gain a deeper understanding of the singer ultimately led her to write “I’m Your Man.”
In 2008, after 15 years — some of which Cohen spent in spiritual seclusion at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California — he finally returned to the road. His comeback tour was a forced engagement, as his former manager had misappropriated more than $5 million of his savings, basically his entire fortune. Cohen spent much of 2008 and 2009 touring the world to a rapturous reception wherever he went. “After I saw the wave of love that greeted him, I thought this is the moment to do the book,” Simmons says.
She would spend the next three years working on the project, interviewing friends, family, lovers, muses and collaborators, and tracing Cohen’s life from his middle class Canadian-Jewish upbringing to a career that would find him revered in the worlds of high art and pop culture.
“What I wanted to do, if I could, was try and get the whole man,” Simmons says of her goals for the project. “When I started, there were all these strands of his life that I knew existed. For example: the women, the religion, his depression, his interest in the military, his poetry, and his songs. All these things were there, but they weren’t just stations along the way. Each one couldn’t exist without the other. It was almost like taking apart the helix of his DNA and getting it back together again at the end. That sounds a bit grandiose, but it did seem a bit like that.”
Simmons’ book was published last fall to great critical acclaim and commercial success (it’s been reprinted in four English editions and a dozen different languages so far). The responses from readers further confirmed Simmons’ assessment of Cohen’s uniquely diverse appeal. “Just as I identify with different parts of Leonard, people pick out different parts of him, and they’re attracted to those things. There are so many sides of him that people can relate to — as writer, as a person — and they do.”
As Cohen makes his way to Memphis for the Orpheum performance, he continues to draw unusually reverent crowds.
“Sometimes, it is a bit like a papal visit when he comes and plays somewhere,” Simmons says. “When you go to see a show now, it’s very much a meeting of the faithful.”
Though Cohen’s initial reason for returning to the road was financial, and while he had much trepidation about performing again, he’s clearly relishing his resurgence late in life. “When I saw him last, he looked 10 years younger,” Simmons says. “He was so glad to be back on the road. To him, it’s almost like the discipline of being in the army or being in the Buddhist monastery. It’s a routine, and a wonderful routine that’s freed up his spirit. After the last tour, he came in and bashed out an album in record time. So, clearly, it’s been good for him creatively.”
Reviews of Cohen’s recent concerts have been especially glowing, noting his easy command of the stage and his catalog.
“This time, he seems to be taking much more control of things, especially with the (older) guitar songs,” Simmons says. “In the past, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to inhabit them in quite the same way. He was much happier behind his synthesizer or crooning. But now, even playing some of the very old songs that he’s been adding to the sets, he’s really able to inhabit them totally.”
Although Cohen is approaching octogenarian status — he will turn 80 next year — he remains the picture of poetic, sexy cool, a Rat Pack rabbi of sorts.
“He’s almost presetting himself as an aging icon like a Sinatra or a Dean Martin,” Simmons says. “But yet he’s still totally Leonard Cohen.”
Looks like about 100 or so tickets remain: http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/1B004 ... entKeyword
I can't wait for tonight!