Leonard Cohen:
Prophet of the Heart

by L. S. Dorman, C. L. Rawlins,
384 pages,
ISBN: 071192774X

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Not Our Man
by Daniel Jones

AT 57, Leonard Cohen is seven years older than Bob Dylan, and nine years the senior of Mick Jagger. The last few years, however, have seen Cohen's songs reaching a larger and more diverse audience than he has known in the 24 years since the release of his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. Jennifer Warnes's Famous Blue Raincoat, on which she performed nine of Cohen's songs, was a huge commercial success in 1987. The following year, Cohen's I'm Your Man topped the charts in numerous countries, holding the number one spot in Norway for 17 weeks. This past year, younger, post-punk musicians from around the world recorded 18 of Cohen's songs for an album entitled I'm Your Fan.

Cohen's international fame as a songwriter and performer has largely eclipsed his reputation as a poet and novelist. His second novel, Beautiful Losers, first published in 1966, is certainly one of the most important and best novels ever to be published in Canada. To date it has sold more than three million copies and has been translated into 20 languages. His Selected Poems: 1956-1968 - for which Cohen was awarded a Governor General's Award, which he declined - sold out its first printing of a quarter of a million copies in a few months. Since 1968, books by Cohen have appeared infrequently - his most recent collection of poetry, Book of Mercy, was published in 1984 - and have met with mixed, and often indifferent, reviews.

Stephen Scobie has written - in his 1978 monograph Leonard Cohen -- "Cohen's public career and the facts of his biography are largely irrelevant to an understanding of his writing" Loranne S. Dorman and Clive L. Rawlins disagree. First published in England in 1990, Leonard Cohen: Prophet of the Heart is the first substantial biography of Cohen. The authors interviewed Cohen extensively, as well as many of his friends and associates. It is therefore surprising that there is so little biographical detail included in the 416 pages of this book.

Dorman and Rawlins offer a compelling portrait of Cohen's early life. Born into an affluent family in Montreal, he was heavily influenced by Judaic traditions. Thereafter, the authors lose sight of their subject and instead approach Cohen through his books and songs. In attempting to reveal the artist through his art, Dorman and Rawlins take literally Cohen's "prophetic" image. By failing to distinguish between the public and private personas, they miss one of the central characteristics of Cohen's work -irony.

Stylistically, Leonard Cohen: Prophet of the Heart is rambling, poorly structured, and often less than literate. The names of major writers are repeatedly misspelled. The authors spend much of the book attacking Cohen's critics - especially Scobie, Tom Wayman, and George Woodcock - but in most cases the works referred to are not cited in the bibliography. The bibliography of Cohen's works lacks his 1972 poetry collection The Energy of Slaves, among other omissions. And the authors have not provided an index.

Cohen and his many fans deserve much better.


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