A new biography retraces Leonard Cohen’s longings for the flesh and spirit

Cover00Rhett Miller at Bookforum:

“So what is the prophet Cohen telling us? And why do we listen so intently?” Liel Leibovitz asks at the outset of A Broken Hallelujah, his moving portrait of the songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. The author pursues the answers to these questions with the diligence and reverence of a religious scholar. Thank God. But Leibovitz recognizes that Cohen deserves more than mere rock biography, and so he structures A Broken Hallelujah around the premise that his subject is, indeed, a modern-day prophet.

Leibovitz’s account abounds with proof of this assertion, even as it charts the many other personae that Cohen has assumed through his long life and distinguished career. Still, to grasp the man’s peculiar sense of spiritual mission, one really need look no further than the greatest hymn of the rock ’n’ roll era, Cohen’s “Hallelujah”; in its closing verse, the singer proclaims, “I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you / And even though it all went wrong / I’ll stand before the Lord of Song / With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

Leonard Cohen grew up in a wealthy Jewish family in Montreal. When he was nine years old, his father, Nathan Cohen, died from lingering injuries sustained in World War I. Young Leonard was left with his sister and mother, as well as an extended family that included his maternal grandfather, a fiery rabbi named Solomon Klinitsky-Klein, “a celebrated scholar who was known as Sar haDikdook, or the Prince of Grammarians.”

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