“It seemed important to me to know more about him, so that people could more readily connect the dots between the life he lived and his work.” Michael Posner, Author Of Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years

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I wrote this book about Leonard Cohen for a number of reasons, not least my conviction that, as good as the previous biographies are, there was still more to be discovered about his life. I feel strongly that his work will last for a very long time and will continue to be explored by fans and cultural historians. For that reason, it seemed important to me to know more about him, so that people could more readily connect the dots between the life he lived and his work. I don’t regard my books as definitive, but I hope they will make a contribution to the Cohen dialogue.

 

Michael Posner

 

Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years by Michael Posner (Simon & Schuster: October 20, 2020) focuses on Leonard’s boyhood in Montreal, his university years, and the beginning of his literary and music careers.

This is the first of three volumes. Michael Posner’s response, when I asked about the future volumes, follows:

Volume two, God willing, will appear next fall…. At least as long as volume one; volume three, the autumn after that — 2022.

Volume two is mostly done. Volume three substantially done. But I’m hoping to add a few voices. 

Volume two will likely end with the 1988 I’m Your Man release and tour. 

 

Via interviews with family, friends, rivals, partners, and lovers—this book offers insights into Leonard’s public and private lives. And, as Michael points out, the interviews are numerous:

I think I’m now at 530 interviews, though only about 250, perhaps a few more, appear in the first book. A number of people contacted me after publication with new stories — a guy who collected the money for LC’s 1970 tour…a woman he was at summer camp with, a woman he met in India….a few others…

 

Why Read Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years?

This is indeed a multi-faceted portrait. In fact, the two most compelling reasons to read Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years are

  1. Even the most ardent Cohenite will find at least a handful of brand new Leonard Cohen anecdotes. As a trivial example, I composed an entire series on Cars Of Leonard Cohen but was unaware of the black Volkswagen Beetle Leonard owned in 1956. Yeah, the Volkswagen isn’t a big deal – that’s what “trivial example” means. There is a lot of important stuff in these pages as well. Heck, the author himself discovered issues that surprised him:What surprised me? The degree of private suffering he experienced …of course, he alluded to depression frequently, but I think it was much worse than most of us would have anticipated or understood. Also, his ability to juggle relationships…with women…astonishing…seamless and seemingly effortless though it could not have been.
  2. The perspectives of the various interviewees are not homogeneous. Some accounts are contradictory, some describe Leonard in distinctly non-iconic terms, and some are just hard to believe.  Kind of like real life. Those conflicting contemporaneous accounts of what happened — in contrast to the way-too-neat and linear histories we’re often offered in quickie articles — would alone justify the reading. For example, while I liked and admired Marianne, I nonetheless loved Brian Sidaway’s comment, “I never saw the fuss about Marianne.”

 

So, if you are craving a Leonard Cohen hagiography, Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years ain’t that. On the other hand, if you are invested in exploring a broad perspective on the Canadian singer-songwriter with a promise of more to come, this is a must-read.

One thought on ““It seemed important to me to know more about him, so that people could more readily connect the dots between the life he lived and his work.” Michael Posner, Author Of Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years

  1. This is a fascinating book chock full of exact quotes from real people who were in Leonard Cohen’s life from birth through 1970. It could be subtitled ‘The Good, The Bad, The OMG!’
    I was hoping this book would answer the one question I haven’t been able to lock down after reading Ira B. Nadel’s and Sylvie Simmons’ books: Did LC meet Suzanne Elrod in NYC in spring 1968 or spring 1969? I think spring 1969 is more likely and hoped for the definitive answer from Michael Posner . . . alas, that was not to be . . . exactly. In his book, the encounter between them appears after LC sends Marianne a letter and certified check in early May and says he may soon join her in Greece. In the Christie’s auction, we see that letter, and it’s dated May 6, 1969.
    BUT Posner also includes information from Michael Harris about an interview Harris did with LC in Montreal in ‘October’. Since the article from that interview appeared in Duel Journal in the Winter 1969 issue, the interview would have happened in October 1968. I read the article itself, which only states that LC arrived an hour early with a friend. No info about who the friend is. BUT in Posner’s recent interview with Harris, he identifies the friend as Suzanne. DRAT! Of course, ‘Suzanne’ is a common name . . .
    Perhaps the definitive answer will be found in the Leonard Cohen Archive at the University of Toronto . . .

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