Review: Sylvie Simmons’ ‘I’m Your Man’ takes on Leonard Cohen

“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