Sunday, October 31, 2021

Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius (Harry Freedman)

Leonard Cohen’s work has been the subject of many pieces of writing from individuals trying to guess or figure out the meaning of his words. Cohen was known for poems and songs often filled with spiritual and sexual meaning and often, the two themes were unified into one. Cohen could also wax political, personal, philosophical and interchange between those themes within a song.  Harry Freedman’s book, Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius, is an attempt to tackle Cohen’s musical works from a spiritual and mystical perspective.

Freedman divides the book into four sections, starting off with a central theme behind each of the categories and then citing songs from Cohen’s several decades of work as examples. For example, “Bible as Allegory”, one of the categories, dives into several songs where Cohen takes a biblical account and reshapes it into a different context. In addition to Cohen’s heavy biblical references, he also draws upon the Talmud and Kabbalah as influences in his music, the Talmud being a major historical repository of Jewish law and custom and Kabbalah as Judaism’s mystical side that has influenced pieces of New Age and modern Christianity as well. Freedman incorporates timely and appropriate quotes from interviews Cohen gave to help guide the book’s narrative.

Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius is heavily researched and well-written. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Freedman interpreted Cohen’s multi-faceted musical mind and how Cohen drew strongly on his faith and spiritual side to help shape much of what he wrote.