When Leonard Cohen returned to the world stage after 15 years’ absence, he might have been replenishing coffers mercilessly drained by a past manager, but also found himself embraced as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century; a revered legend in his 70s.
Cohen’s life and work seems to have escaped the kind of literary overkill associated with Dylan, the only other singersongwriter of his generation to enjoy such wide acclaim so late in life. But whereas Dylan’s mysterious ways have ensured his every move being chronicled since the 60s, Cohen’s ascension to his 21st-century mega-status followed years in the doldrums after his initial breakthrough, some spent secluded in a monastery. After Footman himself points out that the definitive epic remains to be written (preferably by Cohen himself, who’s said to be sitting on an archival “mountain”), his upbeat account skims through the years of sex, drugs, poetry and variable music with frequent jollity, mixing cut-and-paste technique with academic analysis and often harsh criticism, finishing with in-depth essays on the Hallelujah phenomenon and Dylan angle. Apart from the unforgivably cursory treatment given to Cohen’s first early champion, DJ John Peel, the book should keep the new Cohen army poring pages for a weekend.