Leonard Cohen; Hallelujah-A new Biography
The blurb claims this is “Authoritative but often wryly amusing…” but more importantly: “featuring numerous new and exclusive interviews with some of Cohen’s key Associates and including brand new research which reveals previously unreported details Leonard Cohen; Hallelujah-A new Biography will remain the standard work on the man for years to come.”
So let’s see: “Authoritative” could mean any number of things.
the author does have a tendency to lay down the law about what is and isn't good about the songs or individual records. But unless you're the kind of person who wants to be told what to like, it's a bit tedious.
There’s already a very good biography of Cohen, by Ira Nadel called Various Positions. It’s more a literary biography than a piece of glib rock journalism but the list of people Nadel interviewed and consulted is a long one. The only real criticism you can level against it is that it’s almost hagiographical.
So wouldn’t you expect a book which is claiming to be “the standard work on the man” to be driven by its own agenda which would necessitate the writer moving away from what is readily available? Wouldn’t you expect it to include some interviews with the man himself, conducted by the writer? How do you write an authoritative biography of a living subject if you don’t ask him or her the questions that are driving your biography.
"So Wordsworth, what does it feel like to have been instrumental in killing off one of the greatest talents in English poetry?"
"Harold, what the hell were you thinking?"
If you simply cobble together your work from the answers to other people’s questions aren’t you just retracing the well known tracks? Wouldn’t you think that maybe interviewing the ex wife, or some of the women who figure so prominently in the songs might be a good idea? (it would be the one way to improve on Nadal’s biography). Footman did neither.
So the blurb says:
“numerous new and exclusive interviews with some of Cohen’s key Associates”
There are 200 endnotes to the biography section of the biography. Of these 5 are credited as “interview with the author[Footman]”. Is five numerous? It’s easily outnumbered by references or quotes taken from either Nadal’s Biography or Harry Rasky’s book.
"Exclusive" perhaps but “Some of Cohen’s key associates”…so if you know Cohen’s story think of “key associates“ ..Sharon Robertson, Jennifer Warnes, Rosco Beck.. or Marianne, the ex wife, the “real Suzanne”, Anjani Thomas, Dominique Isserman…? People he knew on Hydra/Nashville/Montreal?
As far as I can make out the “original interviews’ were carried out in May or June 2009 and the book was published in November 2009. Which suggests a lot. The subjects of the "numerous and exclusive" interviews were John Simon John Lissauer, and Stephen Scobie. (Scobie’s work on Cohen has been a long term academic project which actually treats the man’s work with the attention it deserves but nothing he’s quoted as saying here is of that standard.)
I’m not sure what the “previously unreported details” can be since most of the information in this book is taken from previously published and often readily available material.
I think there's a point where blurbs move from being overblown and funny towards being dishonest.