The Upshot: Photo-rich oral-history-styled coffeetable volume that serves as a wonderful tribute to the Bard as well as a worthy addition to your Cohen bookshelf
BY FRED MILLS
Although Sylvie Simmons’ 2012 authorized biography, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, is rightly considered the definitive Cohen account, everybody knows that when it comes to musicians there’s never any “final word,” and if you don’t believe that, then I’ve got three dozen Dylan books I’ll be glad to loan ya. (True story: in 1991 I came very close to writing a Doors bio, having interviewed the surviving members and numerous associates of Jim Morrison to mark the release of the Oliver Stone film. I ultimately shelved the idea, thinking to myself, “Eh, there are already too many Doors books out,” only to watch no less than four separate volumes get published that same year. So much for my journalistic instincts and business savvy.)
Enter Everybody Knows, by veteran L.A.-based journalist, author (of books on the Beatles, Laurel Canyon and Los Angeles music) and former A&R exec Harvey Kubernik, and it’s definitely a case of yes, this is a must-own for all stripes of Cohen fans. The 224pp, 8 ½” x 11” volume, in fact, serves as a wonderful companion to the Simmons book, in particular adding to Cohen file a massive trove of photos (both black & white and color) and reproduction of record sleeves and book jackets, all exquisitely laid out amid the multiple-fonts text designed for maximum visual impact.
Kubernik’s narrative also takes a different tack, structured as ten lengthy chapters that are each introduced by an annotated Cohen time-line (for example, the second chapter covers key events from 1959 to 1966, essentially the pre-musical period during which he was a celebrated poet from Canada; the ninth chapter is devoted to his latter-day career resurgence, 2008-2014) then are fleshed out by quotations from fellow journalists, other musical artists, producers, sidemen and Cohen himself, with Kubernik providing connecting narrative that provides context and additional details. In that regard it’s less a bio and more an oral history, although Kubernik skillfully avoids the key pitfalls that plague most oral histories; his aforementioned connecting text includes notes on his respondents so the reader understands their significance and relevance, while the aforementioned time-line structure proves to be the book’s greatest strength in terms of providing a real sense of the arc of Cohen’s career. There’s also an exhaustive discography (and DVD filmography) along with a list of all the known Cohen guest appearances.
As both a solid reference work—one could easily use this as a primary source when researching specific details and events of Cohen’s life—and a handsome volume suitable for thumbing through, Everybody Knows is a rousing success. The photo selection in particular is to die for, such as the images of Cohen in a monk’s robe during his mid-‘90s “retirement” from the music world, or the full-page color spreads of Cohen and band onstage during the 2012 world tour, or even the numerous candid shots from throughout his entire career. One of my favorites is of him playing the guitar surrounded by Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War of ’73; another is of him backstage in ’72, holding a shaving razor and with only a towel wrapped around his waist, glowering intently at the camera. And yes, assorted girlfriends and lovers pop up here and there.
Kubernik (above) has clearly done right by the artist and by the Cohen fanbase here. Coming this fall is a similar volume about Neil Young, Heart of Gold (also on Backbeat), that should be on your list for additions to your music bookshelf as well, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Kubernik photo by Heather Harris, via Cohen fan site Cohencentric.com