Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen

Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen

by Ira B. Nadel
     
 

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Already well known in Canada as a poet and novelist when his first record album appeared in 1967, Leonard Cohen saw his reputation grow internationally through the release of eight more albums. Recent sold-out concerts and two tribute albums attest to his continually expanding popularity. But Cohen has kept his life private: what we know we have learned primarily… See more details below

Overview

Already well known in Canada as a poet and novelist when his first record album appeared in 1967, Leonard Cohen saw his reputation grow internationally through the release of eight more albums. Recent sold-out concerts and two tribute albums attest to his continually expanding popularity. But Cohen has kept his life private: what we know we have learned primarily from his often abstract, always highly charged lyrics. With this biography we are finally able to see and understand the man behind the work. Given access to Cohen's private archive of unpublished letters, journals, songs, and other writings, and incorporating interviews with Cohen and his closest friends and colleagues, Ira Nadel gives us a detailed and insightful portrait of this singular artist. We follow him from his Montreal childhood in the 1930s and 1940s to his years spent traveling the world; and from his first book of poetry, published at age twenty-two, through the experimental novels in the 1960s and the start of his singing and songwriting career in 1966. We observe Cohen's spiritual journey: the lifelong exploration of his Judaism, the three-decades-long practice of Zen Buddhism, the quest for perfection and order that characterizes all his actions and his art. We learn about his friendships and collaborations with other musicians and singers, his tumultuous relationships with women, his bouts of depression, and his use of drugs. And Nadel reintroduces us to Cohen's poetry and songs, plumbing the raw emotion and intensity of feeling in the lyrics for their significance in the context of his life. "Various Positions" is a rich and revealing account of one of the most daring, literate, and deeply admiredsongwriters of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The flamboyant life of Canadian singer/ songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen (b. 1934) is given straightforward treatment in this authorized biography by Nadel, a book reviewer for the CBC and professor of English at the University of British Columbia. The chief virtues of the book are its thorough research and its honesty. Clearly an admirer of Cohen's work, Nadel is unstinting in his depiction of his subject as one who has "led a life of unfettered romance, largely free of obligations or responsibility." From Cohen's precocious childhood in the Jewish community of Montreal through his years as one of Canada's most promising young poets, to his intermittent career as a sort of lugubrious rock star"the prince of bummers"the artist comes across as egotistical, charming, dilettantish and moody, swinging wildly between vainglory and self-pity. He was an improbabale singer: even Cohen compared his voice to a bumblebeein theory it shouldn't fly, but it does. The melodrama of his life seems manufactured to fit his gifts as both singer and songwriter, but these talents are difficult to evoke in prose, and Nadel isn't likely to convince anyone who isn't yet a fan of Cohen's abilities. The faithful, however, will light scented candles as they follow the well-traced turns of the artist's life. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Canadian poet/singer/songwriter Cohen has had an unconventional career, culminating in pop music stardom at the age of 54. Nadel expands on his earlier Leonard Cohen: A Life in Art (ECW Pr., 1994) and updates Loranne S. Dorman & Clive L. Rawlins's Leonard Cohen: Prophet of the Heart (Omnibus Pr., 1990) in this biography, which was "benignly tolerated" by Cohen, whose somber songs have been described as "music to slit your wrists by." Nadel used interviews with Cohen and his friends and extensive excerpts from his prose, poems, letters, and lyrics to reveal insights into Cohen's enigmatic life and career. Obsessions with beautiful women, bouts of depression, and an ascetic exploration of Zen Buddhism are all recounted. Occasional factual errors (e.g., Nadel implies that Judy Collins composed her Joni Mitchell-penned hit "Both Sides Now") do not prevent the book from being the most authoritative work yet on the "poet laureate of pessimism." Recommended for popular music collections of public libraries.-Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., Cal.
Booknews
Besides incorporating hours of interviews with Cohen and obtaining access to unpublished letters, journals and songs, Nadel spoke to many of the people closest to him throughout the years, including Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Jack McClelland, Irving Layton, and Cohen's Zen master, Joshu Sask Roshi. He guides readers through Cohen's physical and spiritual journeys<-->from his early years in Montreal, under the mentorship of Louis Dudek, F.R. Scott and Irving Layton, to the island of Hydra, New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679442356
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/08/1996
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
325
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.12(d)

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