The new book “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” by the London-born, San Francisco-based music journalist Sylvie Simmons has been called a “mesmerizing labor of love” and “the major, soul-searching biography that Leonard Cohen deserves” by Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Simmons is no stranger to charismatic subjects (see her previous biography of Serge Gainsbourg), and this examination of Leonard Cohen’s various roles as poet, novelist, singer-songwriter, visionary, and ladies’ man reveals a devotion to honoring his talent and exceptional integration of emotion and intellect, made so clear in these lyrics to his song “Anthem.”
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Simmons’ nuanced view of Cohen, supported by exhaustive research and unprecedented access to Cohen’s personal archives and interviews with more than a hundred sources closest to Cohen — including lovers, friends, monks, professors, rabbis, fellow artists, and muses, along with Cohen himself — follows him from a devout Jewish childhood in Montreal to New York, Mumbai, and the Greek island of Hydra.
Signature asked Brooklyn-based illustrator Nathan Gelgud to share his take on the book. Below, he illustrates some moments from the chapter about Cohen’s years spent living at a Zen center on a mountaintop above Los Angeles in the 1990s. At the peak of his worldly success (which has included induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sold-out world tours), he became an ordained Buddhist monk and took the name Jikan, translated as “ordinary silence.”