By Diane Cole
Musician, heal thyself. Over the course of his long career, the Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) honed a distinctive style that infused joy with melancholy and mixed outward calm with edgy bursts of rage at a universe unwilling to yield its meaning. He had a gift for hypnotic song lines and for sexy lyrics that flirted with the metaphysical. A constant seeker after spiritual solace and artistic inspiration, he was widely celebrated at his death as a wise prophet whose musical language could reach the soul.
But the 39-year-old Leonard Cohen to whom the acclaimed Canadian-Israeli author Matti Friedman introduces us in his latest book, “Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai,” has not yet become that idolized figure. He is, instead, an artist who at midlife feels stuck, stalled and riven by inner demons.
How Cohen finds his way through this personal impasse is an intriguing, parable-like tale of a pacifism-leaning troubadour who rediscovers his purpose in the Sinai desert during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. But it is more than that. As viewed through Friedman’s reportorial lens, Cohen’s journey also becomes part of the much broader historical saga of Israel and the Jewish diaspora. And as Cohen’s many fans can attest, the music that resulted from this uncanny intersection is almost revelatory.
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