Love Songs: “I’m Your Man”

From The Paris Review:

The other night I streamed Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song, a documentary by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. In most of the footage, we see a Leonard who’s reflective and doubting. As I watched his Jewish man’s face age and his dark hair turn gray, I wondered what I could learn from him about drawing no conclusions. That might be the motto of his life and music—draw no conclusions. It’s a sexy, freewheeling stance. I’d like it to be the motto of my life, except I draw conclusions all the time. They happen to be wrong, which saves me.

I always wondered what women wanted from Leonard. I think they wanted what they thought the songs were about. In the songs, a man is thinking about how to get the woman, and he thinks he can get her by figuring out what she wants. Leonard is imagining what it would be like to be a woman with a man coming on to her.

This is great. This is basically the opposite of every other song written by a man about a woman. For example, in his entire life, Bob Dylan has never imagined the effect of his lyrics on a woman, or else, you know, the words would not be so sneering, and he would give us a picture of the woman and not just her effect on him. Bob doesn’t address women. He writes to men about women.

. . . .

There’s a clip in the documentary of Leonard singing “I’m Your Man,” the title song of an album he released in 1988. The gravel in his voice has settled. In interviews, he said he felt he could sing at that point with the “authority and intensity” the song needed. He’s trying to win back the woman. He’s screwed up in some way. Gee, I wonder how? He’s grown aloof? He’s slept around? He stands there, holding the mic like it’s her hand, and he lays himself out. He doesn’t care if he looks vulnerable. Actually, he doesn’t. He’s in control of the show. The song is the blindfold. The song is going to lead you to the party.

. . . .

In 2008, when Leonard is seventy-three, he hits the road again to perform. He needs to reinvent his life and he’s broke. A woman who isn’t named in the documentary has stolen all his money while he’s spent five years in a Buddhist monastery. When he plans the tour, he’s afraid of the reception he’ll get, although it turns out tons of people love him. He doesn’t know how this has happened. He doesn’t believe he has anything to say except this is the way an artist makes a life, by staying in the game. And he hopes to give pleasure.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review