Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius

Bloomsbury Continuum. Nov. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781472987273. $28. MUSIC
Leonard Cohen’s creative and personal life has been endlessly studied, yet Freedman (The Talmud: A Biography) takes a fresh approach by focusing on Biblical and Torahic references in Cohen’s lyrics. Freedman writes that Cohen was a spiritual man who combined Jewish and Buddhist practice and felt a great affinity for the stories and messages of the Bible. He writes that Cohen also understood the Bible to be “a collection of stories that everybody knew,” which allowed him to communicate through and add to the cultural consciousness. Yet Freedman covers only 21 songs out of at least 150 possible compositions, slightly lessening the impact of his thesis on the importance of these allusions to Cohen. Freedman’s background as a scholar of Judaism is apparent; his discussion of Cohen’s “Story of Isaac” goes into great detail about the tale of Abraham. His interpretations are certainly fascinating, but he’s clearly drawing many less-supported conclusions (as he admits in the foreword).
VERDICT An intriguing and specific look at the traditions and stories that influenced a brilliant songwriter.


This review has been edited to correct a sentence that originally erroneously stated that all of Cohen's compositions were religious in nature.

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