“In some people, talent and character are separate. [Leonard Cohen] is a man [for whom] character was just as impressive as his output.… He embodied the word mensch.… Only years later did I fully realize the depth, insight, spirituality, and compassion of the person .… He spoke right to the heart of the matter — and the heart of the person.”
Such are the words of Cohen’s friend, the music broadcaster Elliot Majerczyk. They allow author Michael Posner to capture a man who was elusive and guarded. “Everyone was close to Leonard,” film-and-music producer Steve Machat explains, “but no one knew him.”
This third and final volume covers the last thirty years of Cohen’s life, from the mid-1980s to his death in 2016 at the age of eighty-two. It follows his extensive touring, his experiences recording and writing, his love affairs, his struggles with depression and substances, his troubled relationship with his two children, and his illness and death, among other things. Unlike a conventional biography, which looks to written historical sources, Posner’s oral biography relies on the memories of others. Since memories are frequently unreliable — as Posner readily acknowledges — the results can be contradictory, inexact, impressionistic, and/or just plain mistaken.
Because Posner draws on so many voices, including Cohen’s Canadian Jewish family, his friends, associates, and acquaintances, it is possible to experience some confusion while reading. That being said, we ultimately benefit from having access to these various points of view, which paint a multidimensional picture of Cohen.
Although he refrains from editing conversations outright, Posner inserts explanatory notes where they are necessary for clarification. Also helpful is a list of everyone he quotes, with brief descriptions of who each is in relation to Cohen.
Cohen’s final concert tour was in 2013, when he was seventy-nine. He was then diagnosed with ITP, a blood disorder that progressed to leukemia over the next few years.
Asked about his work, Cohen on several occasions answered in his typically modest manner: “If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.”
He went there often enough to give his work what Bob Dylan called “a celestial character and melodic lift … As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.”