Correction to This Article
The Spotlight article in today's Weekend section, which was printed in advance, incorrectly says that "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" is playing at the Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14. It is actually playing at four other area theaters.

At 71, Leonard Cohen Finds His Voice Anew

Leonard Cohen is the subject of a new documentary called
Leonard Cohen is the subject of a new documentary called "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man." (By Lorca Cohen)
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2006

Leonard Cohen's not touring right now -- the 71-year-old pop icon and bard of the boudoir hasn't toured in a dozen years -- but he's otherwise close to omnipresent, notably as star and inspiration of "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man," the Lian Lunson concert film/documentary opening Friday nationwide (and here at the Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14). (See review on Page 31.)

In it, Cohen sings only one of his classics -- "Tower of Song," backed by an adoring U2 -- leaving the catalogue excavation to the likes of Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Teddy Thompson and a gaggle of Wainwrights and McGarrigles. But he appears in generous interview footage that inspires reconsideration of someone who has acquired sobering sobriquets over the decades: poet laureate of pessimism, godfather of gloom, agent of anguish, sentry of solitude, master of miserabilism, harbinger of the heart, so on and so forth. All deserved, of course.

By contrast, "I'm Your Man" exposes a worldly figure with a twist of self-deprecating humor and mischievousness, as well as the serenity and wisdom expected of an internationally revered poet and songwriter. A fuller portrait, the notoriously private Cohen agrees, "would be good."

Cohen was in Washington recently for BookExpo America to publicize "Book of Longing," his first collection of new poetry in 22 years. In his book-signing line, one of the event's longest, Cohen carefully tapped each book with a red stamp bestowing on its owner instant membership in the "Order of the United Heart."

Over tea and chips (no oranges), Cohen concedes: "I haven't been out hustling like this in years. The way I get through it is I think of it as a social occasion, because I rarely leave my neighborhood." (Cohen has apartments in Los Angeles and his native Montreal.)

There's also the just published 50th anniversary edition of "Let Us Compare Mythologies," the volume of poetry that launched Cohen's career as a 22-year-old undergrad at McGill University in Montreal. "Sometimes I come across some of those poems that I wrote at 15 and think it's been downhill ever since," Cohen sighs sweetly.

There's even a new Cohen album of sorts: "Blue Alert" by Anjani Thomas, Cohen's longtime friend, former backup singer and current paramour. Cohen wrote the lyrics and produced the album; Anjani, 46, wrote the music and plays most of the instruments. Anjani has been Cohen's companion for six years but has recorded and toured with him since 1984 (that's her singing backup on one of his signature songs, "Hallelujah.") "Blue Alert" began when she set a scrap of Cohen's poetry to music and blossomed from there through a mutual excavation of his notebooks and journals. And though Cohen doesn't sing a note on the album, Anjani's soprano seems to have dropped enough naturally that it almost sounds as if Cohen has been reincarnated as a woman.

"It's a happy coincidence that Anjani's record and the book and the film are coming out at the same time and that it benefits me in many ways," the silver-haired, impeccably groomed Cohen says, adding, "I haven't really gone beyond the superficial sense of gratitude that there is some activity."

Activity is good, particularly on the financial front. In the past few years, Cohen experienced crippling money woes after he accused his longtime manager (and former lover), Kelley Lynch, of stealing more than $5 million in retirement savings, reportedly leaving him with only $150,000. He sued Lynch for fraud, negligence and breach of contract; earlier this year, a Canadian court awarded him $9.5 million, but collecting it is another matter. He also sued his former investment and tax advisers. (Those suits are pending.)

Now, partly out of necessity, activity abounds: Besides promoting the book, Cohen is recording his own album (he's four tracks into it) and entertaining the notion of a concert tour. "The devil laughs when you make plans, but I would like to go out again," he says.

The writer also thanks the reporter for actually buying "Book of Longing."

"It helps," Cohen says ruefully, insisting the situation hasn't affected his work. "It hasn't hit me yet, and I hope it never will. But talk about getting back into the world with a vengeance. It certainly is a component."

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