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I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen Hardcover – September 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As a teenager in Montreal, Leonard Cohen learned six chords on a guitar from a young Spanish teacher that would form the foundation for all of his songs. In this compelling biography, Simmons chronicles the career of the courtly, elegant—“I was born in a suit”—singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist, from his first band in Montreal (a country-and-western trio, no less) to his early days in New York, where he lived at the famous Chelsea Hotel, to his most recent world tour, during which the seventysomething Cohen literally skipped onstage. Simmons includes fascinating anecdotes—Cohen meeting Judy Collins, who would later record one of his signature songs, “Suzanne”; encountering fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell in Greenwich Village (Mitchell’s “A Case of You” was inspired by Cohen); scary recording sessions with the gun-toting record producer Phil Spector, and spending time at a Zen monastery. Simmons also discusses at length Cohen’s impressive body of work, including poetry and prose as well as songs (his iconic “Hallelujah” has been covered by more than 300 artists), mentions his numerous bouts of depression, and recounts his unfortunate financial difficulties when his former manager stole funds from his retirement account. A must for anyone interested in one of the most influential songwriters of our time. --June Sawyers


I’m Your Man is the major, soul-searching biography that Leonard Cohen deserves... a mesmerizing labor of love.” (Janet Maslin, New York Times)

“A thoughtful celebration of the artist’s life...Simmons has deftly narrated Cohen’s evolution... In the end, this biography has the oddest effect: as soon as you finish reading it you feel an overwhelming impulse to go back and begin again, revisiting the story with what you’ve learned along the way.” (A.M. Homes, New York Times Book Review)

“A new gold standard of Cohen bios.” (Los Angeles Times)

“This is the bio Cohen has long deserved, and it makes every prior Cohen book practically unnecessary.” (Rolling Stone, 4 1/2 Stars)

“The book is a seductive tribute to a master seducer.” (The Onion A.V. Club)

“A deep, enlightening book. . . Simmons, a music journalist and short-story writer, knows how to research and write and keep a critical distance from Cohen, who opens up some but uses his usual weapons, politeness and self-deprecation, to maintain an air of mystery.” (The Oregonian (Portland))

“Leonard fought darkness through his work and... the light ultimately prevailed when he triumphantly toured the world for three years beginning in 2008... ‘You could hear the hairs stand up on people’s arms,’ writes Simmons of the hushed reverence of his audience. This book demands a similar reaction.” (MOJO Magazine, 5 Stars)

“This is a revelatory biography that investigates not just an artist’s life, but the life of his art.” (Shelf Awareness)

“In I’m Your Man, we see not only the life of one man who was transformed by words, but how we ourselves may be transformed by them.” (New York Jewish Week)

“Simmons’ rich, compelling and provocative book... is a star-studded but also frank account of how the music industry really works and, at the same time, a discerning portrait of one especially important musician.” (Jewish Journal Los Angeles)

“Simmons is a wonderful writer... the book informs like carefully researched non-fiction, but engages like enchanting fiction... Like listening to one of Cohen’s songs, this complex, beautiful biography requires you to think about it. This book will stay with you. It will change the way you hear Leonard Cohen.” (Paste Magazine)

“[A] vibrant and enthusiastic chronicle... Carefully weaving the threads of all of his songs and albums through the patterns of his life, Simmons craftily explores the themes that regularly mark Cohen’s work: desire, regret, suffering, love, hope, and hamming it up.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“In this elegantly crafted biography, Simmons captures the artist who, in spite of all his highs and lows, is still sharp at the edges, a wise old monk, a trouper offering up himself and his songs.” (BookPage)

“Exquisitely researched and elegantly written.” (Dallas Morning News)

“The success of Simmons’ book is the way it deftly integrates each facet in a unified portrait.” (San Jose Mercury News)

“Cohen is a complex man and Sylvie Simmons has captured every essence of it in her remarkable book. This is a deeply insightful portrait that is guaranteed to haunt the reader much like his “Suzanne” and “Bird on the Wire.” (The Tuscon Citizen)

“Compelling biography. . . A must for anyone interested in one of the most influential songwriters of our time.” (Booklist (starred review))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition first Printing edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061994987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061994982
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (223 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sylvie Simmons is a renowned British rock writer who misspent her youth and several subsequent decades hanging with bands and taking notes. Her writing has appeared in countless publications and collections including the legendary US magazine Creem and UK's MOJO, for whom she still writes today. Along the way, living variously in London, Los Angeles, France and San Francisco, she acquired an award or two, became the subject of a BBC documentary (The Rock Chick) and wrote a number of highly-acclaimed books. She is the author of Neil Young, Reflections in Broken Glass; the cult short story collection Too Weird for Ziggy; and, most recently, the prodigious international bestseller I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, which she promoted by going a world tour for a year with her book and ukulele, talking about Cohen and singing his songs. Since November 2014, when she released her debut album Sylvie on Light In The Attic Records, she has been back on the road, this time singing her own songs.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Author/Reviewer Geri Ahearn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Sylvie Simmons follows the life of Leonard Cohen as she delivers a remarkable account of one extraordinary life. A famous poet, a great artist in music, his personal life, and much more. Cohen's goals and achievements are noted as well as his success in music and poetry. The author includes interviews from the people who were closest to Cohen from the start of his career, following his accomplishments. This insightful, brilliant story reflects on his dreams, his motivation, and his persistence to perform well. Simmons tracks his footsteps from the young man who just started his life to one of the most important artists in the world. An inspiring and enjoyable portrait of a famous artist that grabs the reader's attention in the first chapter. Highly Recommended to music and poetry lovers!
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By haregrog on September 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Recent years have seen a number of attempts to produce Cohen biographies for an intelligent reading public, to follow up Ira Nadel's excellent but necessarily incomplete work of almost two decades ago. This one succeeds definitively. Simmons has done it with restrained, professional writing, deep research, and access to key players including Cohen himself. Some of the details are well known at this point, but even those are intriguing in the re-telling. A fresh perspective and a mature pen--not to mention the engaging narrative of the life of a beloved, humanly flawed, immensely appealing protagonist--make this the Cohen biography we have been waiting for.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Michael Simmons on September 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Simply put, the finest biography of Leonard Cohen ever writ. Simmons (no relation to moi) covers the waterfront, spending equal time on Cohen's music and literary work, as well as the chronology of his life. The personal anecdotes are numerous and revealing, from teenaged Leonard hypnotizing the clothes off the family maid, to jamming on "Suzanne" with Jimi Hendrix, to his many love affairs. The writing is smart, sharp, funny. By book's end, I was left wanting more.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Clay Kallam on November 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I seldom buy books, and I can't recall the last hardcover I paid for, but I was more than willing to buy this one -- in part because I've always thought Leonard Cohen was the finest songwriter of his era, and in part because I spent so many years writing about pop music, and I wanted to reward an author with a sale.

As it turned out, this was money very well spent, as "I'm Your Man" is an exhaustive biography of Cohen that is more concerned with his work than with his many love affairs. Along the way, it illuminates his songs and poetry by placing them in the context of his life -- which was more troubled that his public persona would suggest.

And of course, Sylvie Simmons does talk with the women who populate his songs (though the Suzanne of the song is not the Suzanne of his long-term relationship) as well as with the musicians who have helped him develop his work.

In the end, though, Cohen is not fully revealed, but I don't think that's Simmons' fault. He is a private man, despite the revealing nature of his work, and his intelligence and control of language allows him to deflect questions and control his image.

That quibble aside, any fan of Cohen will be happy with this work -- and long-time devoted followers such as me will find it one of those books they hope won't come to an end.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It was in the winter of 1969, June to be precise, and it was refreshingly cool for a change. An interlude. Seven days away from the war, and I am not speaking of the one between the sexes. As would happen so often in subsequent years, the lyrics rolled around in my brain, as I stood on the shore of Sydney harbor: "...and the sun poured down like honey, on our lady of the harbor." The sun indeed felt like honey in the coolness... and there was so much more, just in that one song: that eternal aspiration for someone who liked his physics: "...and she gets you on her wavelength, and makes the river answer, that you have always been her lover..." `Lo these many years later, and thanks to the truly excellent biography by Sylvie Simmons that I finally learned that the harbor was Montreal, and the China that had been (relatively) so near to me, for the past ten months, the origin of those famous teas and oranges that Suzanne so graciously provided, had a local market run by some folks equally far from home, in that most beautiful of Canadian cities. Sure, the version that I loved was sung by Judy Collins, but I had tucked away in one of those cranial recesses, that the man who had provided a bit of peace, tranquility, inspiration, and even a bit of hope was Leonard Cohen.

Cohen actively collaborated with Simmons in this impressive work. Typical of the ever so self-deprecating Cohen, he just wanted to make sure it was not a "hagiography," and it is not, and is all the stronger for it. It is a fitting tribute to him, and proved to be an essential read. There were so many missing pieces between the lyrics, and so much background for them, and Simmons provides much, but is content to leave some ambiguity on the table, just as Leonard would have.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By lila on November 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm a devout fan of Leonard Cohen's words and music, and really looked forward to reading a biography of his life so far. I got lots of information about the what, where and when of events, but very little about the man himself. I understand that he was not involved in the writing of this book, so I shouldn't be disappointed that it had very little heart, but I was.
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