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Lions Roar : May 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 38 in a room, plumbing the secrets of the interior, the more he sees how much externals are beyond his grasp. If he’s always evinced a keen, tough-minded, unyielding interest in control, it’s because he knows how much cannot be controlled, in love or faith or solitude. One of the beauties of Silvie Simmons’ new Cohen biography, I’m Your Man, which instantly becomes the definitive sourcebook for all material on the man, is that she brings to Cohen much of the discretion, perceptiveness, tight focus, and wit that he brings to the world. The deeper strength is that she doesn’t just dig up Cohen’s water-safety certificate in summer camp, or point out that he recorded parts of his first album in the same converted Greek– Armenian Orthodox Church where Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue. She traveled everywhere to speak to more than a hundred of the singer’s oldest associates. Nearly every one, whether child- hood playmate or former lover, cousin, or record producer, inde- pendently presents us with a portrait of an uncommonly courtly, gracious, and impeccable soul who’s never liked to be at the cen- ter of attention and who, having grown up with great wealth and expectation, has always hungered for less. “He’s humble, but also fierce,” says Rebecca de Mornay, his onetime love. “He has this subtext of ‘Let’s get down to the truth here. Let’s not kid ourselves.’” Marianne Ihlen, the Nor- wegian beauty who shared a simple room on the Greek island of Hydra with him, says, “He was a gentleman, and he had that stoic thing about him and that smile he will try to hide behind: ‘Am I serious now or is all this a joke?’” If a man is known by the company he keeps, Cohen seems to have found—or helped encourage—people who reflect back his elevation and determi- nation to see things on a larger canvas. And he has remained as unswervingly loyal to them as they, in pretty much every case, have been to him. COHEN WAS RAISED, as Simmons aptly points out, “in a house of suits.” His father was the very proper owner of a high-end clothing business who became one of the first Jewish commissioned officers in the Canadian Army, his mother a Russian rabbi’s daughter who was warm, volatile, and occasionally subject to depression. That mix of formality and emotionalism is what gave his work its edge, its polish from the beginning; here was a passionate man in a fancy suit. And his deep sense of connection to his priestly forebears—his grandfather was president of a syna- gogue—seems to have left Cohen with an innate respect for disci- pline and ceremony, steadfast Judaic roots that have allowed him to bring Jesus and the Buddha and St. Paul into his songs of longing.