What to see, read and listen to in September
HEMISPHERES: As a music journalist you’ve interviewed everyone from Muddy Waters to Michael Jackson. What made Leonard Cohen stand out to you?
SYLVIE SIMMONS: Leonard’s always been one of the household gods in Europe and specifically in Britain, where I’m from. All these really dark albums that never bothered the top 200 in the U.S. were, like, 2 and 3 on the charts in England. But after his tour—
HEMI: The landmark 2008–2010 world tour?
SS: Right, his first in almost 15 years. Three-hour-a-night shows. Absolutely remarkable. And it seemed like suddenly everyone was discovering him and thinking “Was he always this good?” “Was he always this sexy?” All that started nudging me to the edge of the cliff, where I had to write the book.
HEMI: What was Cohen’s role in it?
SS: He never asked me to write the book, never asked to read it, but that didn’t stop him from being supportive. After about a three-year process of interviewing people from his life, I sat down with him too, so I was getting the final word on things. And he granted you access to his personal archives. Yes, and loaned a pile of personal photos, many from childhood—and in every one he’s beaming ear to ear, the happiest-looking kid you could imagine.
HEMI: Not what you’d expect for someone whose lyrics tend toward “… like a beast with his horn / I have torn everyone who reached out for me.”
SS: The thing is that while Leonard’s work is certainly deep and often dark … he’s also very lighthearted, very funny in a dry way. If you’re in his presence, mostly he’s smiling and laughing.
HEMI: Among the more than 100 interviews you did—including the likes of Philip Glass and The Pixies—who were you most excited to include?
SS: What seemed very key to understanding Leonard was how much he loved women. Not horizontally, necessarily, but just in every way, shape and form. I wanted to make sure they were represented, from Judy Collins, who helped launch his career, to his muses, like the original Suzanne and Marianne.
HEMI: Favorite discovery?
SS: I outed Leonard as a ukulele player—nobody else has ever done that! He’d played as a child, and I learned that Anjani, his last significant partner, had too. So I was able to introduce them to each other as ukelele players.
HEMI: You’re something of ukelele fiend yourself. Did the three of you get together and jam?
SS: We did not. I wish that were the case. Maybe that’s for further down the line. SEPT. 11
Never ones to miss an opportunity to innovate, the veteran funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers have decided that rather than just put out another album, this time around they’ll drip-feed fans their new material. The band is releasing nine double-sided singles within a six-month period—on 7-inch vinyl as well as digital—with the second drip due this month. In case the project’s countercultural credentials were ever in doubt, each of the singles features an original cover by microbiologist-turned-psychedelic-surfer-dude-turned-abstract-folk-artist Kelsey Brookes. And there’s more: The nine covers, when combined, will make up a larger work of very swirly, very colorful art. Whew! SEPT. 11