Book Review: “Leonard Cohen – Almost Young”

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“Leonard Cohen – Almost Young” is labeled an “Illustrated Biography” on its title page.  The operative word here is “Illustrated.”

The official blurb from publisher Schirmer/Mosel, in fact, makes it clear that the book’s raison d’être is the collection of photographs of Leonard Cohen:

A tribute to Canadian-born poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen who will be 80 in September 2014: Pictures by famous and unfamous photographers portray Cohen’s career of 50 years, from his early years on the Greek island of Hydra to his 2008 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his most recent concerts.

The 75 color and duotone plates that populate the 168 pages are expertly reproduced. Almost all are displayed in large formats on 21.5 x 24 cm (8.5 X9.5 inch) pages. A number of photos extend across two facing pages.

The photos from the front and back book jacket (the image atop this post and the image below this paragraph, respectively) are representative of the quality of the book’s graphics. slogan2They are also representative of the mix of photos offered in “Leonard Cohen – Almost Young.” While the front cover photo has been sporadically published online (usually as background for a Leonard Cohen quote – see photo on right), it is certainly not commonly found, and it is certainly a striking image.

On the other hand, the back cover photo of Leonard Cohen kneeling beside Javier Mas will seem familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the press coverage of the 2008-2013 tours. Similar shots can be harvested in quantity by simply running a Google Image Search for “Leonard Cohen Javier Mas.”1 That is not to argue that the image itself isn’t captivating – it is undeniably dramatic and, well, eminently photogenic. Unfortunately, it is also a classic photo on the verge of becoming a cliche.

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Knowledgeable Cohen fans will find that “Leonard Cohen – Almost Young” comprises a group of high quality, striking images with a few delightful surprises interspersed among many well known photographs. Among this group of readers, “Leonard Cohen – Almost Young” may suffer because its publication follows the recent release of several books about Leonard Cohen,2 none of which is designated a photo collection but all of which contain several never- or rarely-seen Cohen photos.

Readers who are less jaded than, say, a blogger who surveys scores of pictures of Leonard Cohen photos daily, will find this a substantial and rewarding gallery of Leonard Cohen photos.3

The photos are accompanied by text by Jens Sparschuh, who begins the book with his fetching personal perspective on Leonard Cohen. Also included are perfunctory appendices: a biography, a discography, a list of Cohen’s tours, a bibliography of six books about the Canadian singer-songwriter, and a listing of Leonard Cohen Cohen’s own novels and poetry volumes.

The text contains at least two significant errors:  (1) A man in a James Burke photo taken on Hydra identified as Axel Jensen (Marianne’s husband) is actually Norwegian artist/painter Berentz Pedersen.4 (2) A 1972 photo taken in Amsterdam is said to depict Leonard Cohen wearing the “Famous Blue Raincoat” after which the song is named. I confess to having no insider knowledge about the titular Famous Blue Raincoat, but the coat shown in the photo is tan rather than blue.5 Moreover, according to Various Positions, Nadel’s biography of Cohen, the original raincoat was stolen in New York in 1968. The liner notes to The Best of Leonard Cohen album has the coat’s theft taking place in the “early seventies” but also states he “wasn’t wearing it very much toward the end.” In any case, Marianne Ihlen confirms that “The photo in … “Almost Young” is another raincoat.”6

Note: Originally posted June 20, 2014 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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  1. Allowed free rein to shoot only during a concert’s first song, press photographers nearly always grab a photo of that scene. []
  2. E.g., “I’m Your Man” by Sylvie Simmons, “Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life” by Anthony Reynolds, “Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen” by Jeff Burger, “So Long, Marianne: A Love Story” by Kari Hesthamar [English edition] []
  3. As for hard core Cohen fans – well, we’re not going to risk missing out on anything Cohen-related so we’re likely to buy the book regardless. []
  4. Ongoing readers may recall that Marianne Ihlen recently wrote this site to correct the misidentification, which originated in the original Time/Life caption for the photo. See Marianne Ihlen Corrects Misidentified 1960 Photos Of Leonard Cohen & Her In Hydra. []
  5. See a color photo from same shoot at Photos: Leonard Cohen 1972 Amsterdam Gallery Expands []
  6. Marianne Ihlen, personal communication: 19 June 2014 []

One Reply to “Book Review: “Leonard Cohen – Almost Young””

  1. Ali Andrea-Wagemaker

    hoe beroemd kan een mens zijn! Een c.d.in de auto en in de kamer heerlijk om naar de muziek te luisteren. Het leven en song van Leonard Cohen is echt doorleefd, velen voelen de emoties in de songs.
    Vorig jaar ben ik begonnen mijn levensverhaal te schrijven, aangespoord dank zij de songs van Cohen, een merkwaardig leven, vertoevend in de Jungle in Suriname, daarna een melanoom overleefd. maar het werken 21 jaar in de psychiatrie heeft mijn leven nog meer verrijkt.