Volume 92, Issue 46
Wednesday, November 25, 1998
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Younger Cohen peeks from Leonard's shadow
Photo by K. Westenberg
By Andrew Sparrow
You could say Canadian guitarist Adam Cohen has music in his blood.
"I never really took any other propositions seriously," Cohen begins. "One skill after another dropped to the wayside and I was left with one thing standing which was this obsession and love for music."
The son of poet/musician Leonard Cohen and artist Suzanne Elrod, Adam knew his biggest challenge in pursuing a career in music would be forging an identity distinct from his father's. The younger Cohen welcomes his father's influence and considers it less a stigma than an inspiration. He also admits there's no way to avoid the shadow cast by the elder Cohen.
"It's terrorizing at times because no one, myself included, can be another Leonard Cohen. He's done so much for the identity of a certain genre of music. He created a niche for himself. He is the Beethoven of a certain genre," Cohen explains.
His mother also had a huge impact on his musical tastes. She would listen to artists like Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield incessantly, while his father was playing George Jones and Hank Williams.
"The literary booty and beauty came from [my father] but it was my mother who gave me the toe-tapping, shake your hips and move to the groove aspect," Cohen explains.
"I had two incredibly creative, artistic and expressive people around me at all times. Their lifestyles were expressive, their aesthetic and their outlook was artistic, creative and liberal."
Cohen's self-titled debut CD is where his parents' era ends and his begins.
"I wanted the stories on the record to be evocative, compelling, identifiable, direct, confrontational, conversational and confessional. Everything that makes a good story to me, I wanted to have in my songs," Cohen clarifies.
Deeply personal stories fill the record and there is an undeniable darker edge running through the lyrics. "Tell Me Everything" speaks of discovering your best friend is sleeping with your girlfriend, while "Don't Mean Anything" is a self-critical examination of the ability to hurt others.
"I feel like everyone goes through a great deal of disappointment in life, myself included," Cohen says, of this darker edge. "We have a desire, conscious or otherwise, to experience life through pain of some sort or another. Sometimes it comes from unrealistic expectancies and sometimes it's disguised as opportunity that puts you into compromising positions."
Despite dealing with this pain through his lyrics, Cohen speaks fondly of songwriting during the two-year process of assembling the album, citing the entire experience as beneficial. "It was the first time I felt like I really belonged to a community, like I was being embraced by songwriters who had much more experience than I had. I belonged and I was validated."
Although the songwriting may bear some similarities to that of his father, the music is definitely distinct. "I'd like to think of myself as paying homage to a certain classic architecture of songwriting, but living in modern times with contemporary messages and production value," Cohen expresses. "I refer to my music as pop in a bad mood."
One image Cohen would eventually like to turn into a song is one which foreshadows that he'll enjoy the sort of longevity which has been enjoyed by his father.
"I hope this is the beginning and it leads me to a point where my kids are asked about me instead of me about my dad. That's what I hope."
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