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A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen Hardcover – April 14, 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Leibovitz presents a thoughtful examination of the music of Leonard Cohen, the elegant Canadian wordsmith and musician, through a strong Jewish perspective. Tellingly, Leibovitz calls Cohen a prophet. He examines the musician’s life and work through the angles of Jewish eschatology, Zen Buddhism, Canadian poetry, and American rock and roll, as well as “lust and lucre.” Yes, there are biographical details here, but A Broken Hallelujah offers something else: a finely etched musical portrait of a complicated man—both highly spiritual and sensual—and the often exquisite music that he has created over many decades, austere and melancholy songs that dare to find beauty amid ugliness. Leibovitz himself has a distinctive voice and approach to Cohen’s work as he looks at the influence two Jewish scholars had on Cohen, the Canadian poets Irving Layton and A. M. Klein. He explores the evolution of Cohen’s public persona as the Poet, and states that the one theme that has consistently preoccupied Cohen is redemption, which he describes as “a discretely Jewish affair,” “a wholly Canadian affliction,” and unquestionably universal. “It was more than enough for a lifetime of work,” he concludes. A sparkling and psychologically insightful perspective on a unique artist. --June Sawyers

Review

“In A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen, Liel Leibovitz neatly limns the spiritual quest that underpins most of Cohen’s work, from Montreal to Tel Aviv and beyond. Less about Suzanne than ‘Suzanne,’ Leibovitz’s book highlights the novelist behind the songwriter, the poet behind the novelist, and the would-be prophet looming over them all.” (Marc Dolan, author of Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ’n’ Roll)

“This is a wise book, and it asks poignant and incisive questions… The time is right for an elegant examination of the man’s work: his passions, his fears, his poetry, his anger, his loneliness, his redemption. The time is right for Leibovitz’s A Broken Hallelujah.” (Alan W. Petrucelli - Examiner)

“Absolutely outstanding.” (Naomi Tropp - Jewish Book Council)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393082059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393082050
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Liel Leibovitz begins the preface to his biography of Leonard Cohen with the following assertion: “This is not a biography of Leonard Cohen.” What are we to make of such a claim? Pure affectation? Perhaps. It’s certainly a bold opening line, and as a critic, it rather pulls the rug from under your feet; you no longer have a fixed lens through which to view the book.

As one progresses through A BROKEN HALLELUJAH, it becomes ever clearer how this is not a conventional biography. For one thing, it is very much on the short side. Leibovitz does not cram his book with every scrap of information he can scour concerning his subject’s life; he does not present us with Cohen’s every adolescent pimple, nor do we see the poet/singer brushing his teeth at night or practicing his guitar in the mornings. This slender volume has very specific concerns, which are rendered deftly through a number of haunting episodes. Leibovitz sets out not to write yet another life of a musician, not really to see him as a singer at all, but to imagine him as a kind of Old Testament Prophet. “So what is the Prophet Cohen telling us?” he asks at the end of his preface. “And why do we listen so intently?”

To a secular Jew such as myself, this is both an appealing and a suspect premise. On the one hand, Laughing Lenny is just the sort of prophet I can get on board with. After all, one does not recall Isaiah or Elijah writing about getting “head/ On the unmade bed” the way Cohen does. On the other hand, there is the nagging fear that this is another tired attempt to make religion “cool” to an increasingly secularized society. This gives Leibovitz a precarious road to follow, and he treads it judiciously.

The religiosity of Cohen’s lyrics has been apparent from his first record.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's great to ride along to explore his youth, failures, aging and successes. I am not a lover of poetry, but for his I convert. I think his poetry in music is the highest level achievable for listening and understanding. He thinks and writes in a manner so incredibly touching that one can almost experience what he lived in order to get to those lines. The author does a very good job of comparing and relating the music and lyrics of other performers with Leonard's. Mr. Cohen's fresh and unique creations help us be a little more insightful, clever and unusual in our own thinking. Reading about the evolution of some of the lyrics exposes how. I should have taken notes along the way because now I have to read it again to save some of the great lines Mr. Cohen has said and or written. Loved it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was an insightful and fascinatiing view of Leornard Cohen, the artist and the man. It was also a glimpse of history -- of the music scene in the 60s and beyond, as well as the influence of Cohen's Jewish heritage on his life. However, there were no interviews with Cohen himself, although I would guess that Leonard wants to tell his own story if it's to be told at all other than through his music and the brilliant, moving poetry of his lyrics.
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Format: Hardcover
This unconventional artist needs an unconventional book. Author Leil Liebovitz has delivered, mixing his chronology with artistic and social commentary. You learn how Leonard Cohen was shaped by his Jewish heritage and his Canadian upbringing, how he became a poet and how he put the poems to music. At times the author is as poetic as his subject.

The book has only 246 short pages. The content is good but not all of it is on Cohen. There are pages devoted to related subjects such as Canadian literature, Jewish history and Bob Dylan. In the first chapter "Prelude", Cohen does not emerge for 12 pages.

There are some good insights such as the difference in Canadian and American artists, the concept of "duende" (which suits Cohen's voice and content) and Cohen's views on his work. There are amazing episodes such as the visit to/escape from Cuba, recording with Phil Spector (dinner with Phil Spector!) and the two performance tours in Israel.

Liebovitz, in some places uses Cohen's own words to describe him. His opening to his audience in Poland shows how he refuses to be used by anyone (to me, they related to the episode where Dylan seems to expect Cohen to perform at his concert); his speech in support of the Bereaved Parents for Peace in Israel shows his long apolitical view; and his reflection on the embezzlement of most of his assets show his forgiveness and resilience.

Each chapter is introduced with a full page photo of Cohen, so you watch him mature. As of this writing he is 80 and has maintained audiences through at least 4 generations (depending on how you count, maybe 5). He has just released a new album and in 2013 performed in tours in Europe and the US.

If you are a fan of Cohen you probably know all the biographical material that is eliminated or pruned and will appreciate the commentary and insight.
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Format: Hardcover
My eyes were opened to Leonard Cohen, his genius and the painstaking years this "overnight" success, Hallelujja put him thru. I was brought closer to Cohen and his other works by discovering how many different ways people translated this work, how they were moved by it and how it changed their lives. I think the man is the most underrated writer/poet of our time!
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