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Book review: Tim Footman, Leonard Cohen—Hallelujah—a New Biography

Tim Footman's erudite bibliography of the great songwriter.

Tim Footman
Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah: A New Biography
[Chrome Dreams (2010). ISBN-978 1 84240 472 0 (Paperback, 272 pp.)]

Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s five-decade career has long been a source of fascination for music journalists. Footman’s erudite biography, Hallelujah, traces Cohen from his early days in Montreal, through his initial career as a wunderkind poet and novelist who didn’t take up music as a vocation until his early 30s. Footman portrays Cohen as a study in contradictions—the gentleman who used hard drugs for years, the literate balladeer who gained mass popularity with rock audiences and recorded his most definitive work with Nashville session musicians. Footman pays equal attention to Cohen the man, whose most enduring and tempestuous relationships were described in his songs, and Cohen the musician, whose checkered career included a number of recording experiments, including an ill-fated collaboration with legendary producer Phil Spector for Death of a Ladies’ Man, and whose already ungainly voice deepened to a velvety growl as he moved past his middle years.

Footman also deals with Cohen’s long involvement with Zen Buddhist teacher Roshi, which included five years largely spent in the monk’s Southern California retreat. The book concludes with a description of Cohen’s triumphant return to performing in his mid-seventies, which found him playing nearly three-hour sets for months on end to some of the biggest and most adulatory crowds in his career. Footman does not appear to have interviewed Cohen directly, but the book is built on extensive research, and Footman does not lionize or fawn over his subject. Hallelujah is a perfectly satisfactory and comprehensive portrait of one of popular music’s most enigmatic and enduring figures.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved

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