Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years

S. & S. Oct. 2020. 496p. ISBN 9781982152628. $30. MUSIC
Sex, drugs, and poetry permeate this oral history of Leonard Cohen (1934–2016). The first of three projected volumes, this collection takes Cohen from his childhood in Montreal to his emergence as a singer/songwriter in the late 1960s. Posner (The Last Honest Man) talked with friends, acquaintances, “occasional girlfriends,” poets, artists, and others who knew Cohen during this period, most of whom are unknown to the general public, though a few famous names appear (e.g., singers Joni Mitchell and Buffy-Sainte Marie). Posner covers Cohen’s family life, his involvement in Montreal’s intellectual and artistic circles, his desire to become the “Canadian Bob Dylan,” his drug use, and his romantic entanglements—though longtime lover Marianne Ihlen figures prominently, so do countless other women with whom he was intimate. Interviewees discuss Cohen’s poems, novels, and early songs, and describe him as a reluctant performer who was himself seduced by “celebrity, groupies, and standing-room-only audiences.” With so many stories, however, the book is often repetitive as countless interviewees attest to his charm, sexual magnetism, kindness, humility, and moodiness.
VERDICT This book offers a seductive blend of sometimes contradictory insights into Cohen but will be sought after only by his most devoted fans.
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