Friday, July 12, 2013

Biography of Leonard Cohen: holiday reading

Holiday reading has focused on Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. It’s a comprehensive (at over 500 pages), yet elegant examination of creativity and contemporary culture.

I picked it up at Auckland Airport, suddenly aware I was on holiday with only some work reading in my bag. I’ve only got one Leonard Cohen album, a variety of artists singing his songs. He’s always seemed to me a better song writer than singer.

The book, with over 100 interviews, is an illuminating insight into a very complex man. He comes across as both incredibly selfish, yet highly disciplined all at the same time.

Here is Cohen on writing- and the relationship between creativity and perfectionism and deadlines:

It’s never come easily. I’ve never been particularly confident about the process and I was never able to exactly get what I wanted…And you keep notching your standards down…Not, is it going to be beautiful, is it going to be perfect, is it going to be immortal, Can I finish?” became the urgent question.

So one of his best known songs, Hallelujah, took five years to write, with around 80 verses in the editing process. So much for creativity as inspiration!

Consider also the reflection on the impact of his time in the monastery, including how the discipline becomes so important to the creative process:

It is a popular belief that an artist or writer needs an element of disorder, misery and improvisation in order to create…But the highly structured existence, in conjunction with his desire to forget who he was and overcome his ego, appeared to free up Leonard’s creativity.

Well worth reading!

Posted by steve at 04:49 PM

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