Book of Longing
A Book by Leonard Cohen
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
If, in his restless pursuit of love and meaning, Bob Dylan somehow encapsulates all of the disparate tendencies of old, weird America, Leonard Cohen has his shaking, aging finger on the pulse of the Canadian soul. Moody and aloof one moment, overeager, like a puppy waiting to be kicked, the next, Cohenís plaintive cries evoke something from deep within the northern psyche. To the uninitiated, the fuss surrounding Cohen and his work can be perplexing. "Music to slash your wrists by" and other dismissive summations that routinely are dished out completely miss the humor that lies beneath the pathos in much of his work.
Cohenís new volume Book of Longing should do much to quell this shallow understanding of his canon. Anyone whoís ever witnessed Cohen ply his trade in concert knows that if he hadnít chosen to be a musician and poet, he could have done well as a standup comedian. The manner in which he introduces his songs forces the listener to reconsider his underlying motivations as an artist simply because heís so damn funny and self-deprecating. This slender book deals mostly with the disappointments of old age in such a way that the reader doesnít know whether to laugh or cry when reading them. The sentiments reflected in the following poem are typical of the collection:
The living poet
In his harness of beauty
Offers the day back to G-d
The back story of how Book of Longing came into being is as dramatic as the work itself. At the age of 71, after living for five years in a Zen monastery in California, Cohen came back into "civilian" life only to discover that he had been swindled out of over $5 million by his lover and longtime manager and had been left with almost no money with which to retire. Reluctantly, heís gotten back into the saddle, gutted his notebooks and sketchbooks for inspiration, and published this collection ó his first in 22 years. This seemingly haphazard method has, ironically, led to his most focused and powerful book since The Energy of Slaves, which was published in the early í70s. Recently, Blue Alert, a new song collaboration with Anjani, his backup singer of more than 20 years, also was released, and it provides readers with a chance to hear some of the poems contained in Book of Longing set to music. In addition, the release of a new documentary Iím Your Man as well as a concert tour of Canada that is planned for 2007 will keep Cohen busy as he takes an unexpected diversion away from the path of planned retirement.
While Cohenís private suffering unintentionally has propelled him back into the spotlight, long past the time when he sought to be in it, it also acts as a catalyst in calling for a reappraisal of his considerable career. Cohenís loss is our gain. While his voice has deepened and his understanding of suffering has ripened, his words come as predictably as a Montreal snow and as reassuringly as the first flowers of a Vancouver spring. Book of Longing is the monumental work of a grizzled lion in the winter of his life, and it is an important and vital collection that no fan of Cohen should be without.
Of Further Interest...
Book of Longing is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box