Graphic novel shows Leonard Cohen’s many lives


Leonard Cohen didn’t have a typical rock star journey. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home in Canada, he officially began his musical career at the age of 33, only after working as a poet and novelist and living on the Greek island of Hydra for several years.

Cohen’s vibrant life – as well as the difficulties faced by the musician – are what intrigued illustrator Philippe Girard and convinced him to release a new graphic novel about Cohen titled “Leonard Cohen: On a Wire”.

“For someone with such a great aura, he was really relatable. Her resilience is what attracted me the most. “- Philippe Gérard

“He was a man of the people even though he was a big star,” Girard said. “For someone with such a great aura, he was really relatable. Her resilience is what attracted me the most.

The graphic novel begins in 2016, with Cohen’s death. The night of his death, he falls to the floor of his Los Angeles home and wonders how he is going to “die here, all alone, like a dog”. Outside his window is a bird on a wire, a reference to his 1969 aria in which he sang: “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I tried, to my way of being free. “

Philippe Girard / Photo by Beata Zawrzel

The book returns to a traumatic scene from Cohen’s childhood in which his dog crawled under the porch to die alone and Cohen discovered his body. He then takes the reader through Cohen’s early career as a writer, and ultimately up to when he became a professional musician. Along the way, he meets contemporaries like Lou Reed and Nico and has affairs with Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell. At one point, Phil Spector is holding a pistol to his head.

Although Cohen is a star, he has had his share of setbacks. “Hallelujah” only became a hit when Jeff Buckley recorded it, and in the early 2000s it emerged that his longtime manager had embezzled over $ 5 million from him. Yet that didn’t stop him from touring and writing music; he released his last album two weeks before his death.

“When he passed away I thought there would be a book coming out very quickly and I would be disappointed,” Girard said. “But the book wasn’t coming out. I thought maybe I should do it the right way, by my standards.

Girard was a longtime Cohen fan. As a teenager he visited his cousin in Montreal, a place where many famous people lived. He imagined that the famous people there wore disguises so as not to be noticed in the street. The two were walking around when Girard’s cousin pointed out that they had just passed Leonard Cohen, who was simply dressed.

“I said ‘He’s nothing special,’” Girard said. “Then I went to buy one of his records. “

The illustrator spent six months researching Cohen’s life. There was so much information that he said he “had to make a choice and decide what to say and what to leave.” Cohen used to say he lived 1,000 lives, and you realize that’s true.

Girard began his graphic novel by drawing a Star of David on a piece of paper. Cohen’s death was in the middle of the star, and each tip of the star would represent a woman, a song, and an object for each decade of the musician’s life.

Although Girard is not Jewish, while working on the book he made a trip to Krakow and visited a concentration camp.

“Leonard Cohen was with me all the time,” he said. “When you read about it, you see that [the Holocaust] was an influence, but also a great source of stress on his imagination.

Although Cohen practiced Zen Buddhism, he was a proud Jew all his life and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. His songs like “Hallelujah” and “You Want It Darker” have themes Jews; in the latter, he sang: “Hineni, hineni; I am ready, my Lord. And “Who By Fire” is based on the “Unetanneh Tokef” prayer.

Cohen’s raw honesty in his songs, along with his challenges – which have gone very public – are what made him so human, and why Girard thought he was such a fascinating subject to highlight.

“He was trying to reach out to people,” Girard said. “It’s something that I really respect. There is a great humanity in him. I hope people will be interested and read his books and listen to his music.


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