Sylvie Simmons

Five Things I've Learned About

The Life of Leonard Cohen

Presented in partnership with The Contemporary Jewish Museum

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Join author, journalist, biographer, and singer-songwriter Sylvie Simmons, and discover the Five Things She’s Learned about Leonard Cohen – and all she still learns from him five years after he passed away.

Online Event Details

  • 90 minutes


  • Single-Class Ticket - $40.00

View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about Leonard Cohen – and all I still learn from him, five years after he passed away.

Hello, my name is Sylvie Simmons. The short version of my life is that I’ve spent it in a world of music and words. I am an author, music journalist, a biographer of musicians, an essayist, short-story writer, poet and singer-songwriter. When I was a child in London – where I was born and raised before I ran off to L.A in 1977 to be a rock writer – I was a singer-tapdancer too, and when the show was done I’d take out my notebook and write a rave review for an imaginary magazine.

Over the decades I’ve written countless articles and essays about music and musicians, published a bunch of books, won some awards, released a couple of albums, and interviewed many, many musical greats. My upcoming Five Things I’ve Learned class will be about just one of them: Leonard Cohen.

I was Leonard Cohen’s biographer. My book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, published in 2012, was written with his participation and support.

To write a biography of someone still living, even with their blessing, is to immerse yourself in that person’s life to a degree that would probably get you locked up in any decent society. You learn a whole lot about a person. In fact,  I’ve never stopped learning about – and from – Leonard Cohen. Something he said or did still comes to mind whatever the situation – be it making the perfect ginger smoothie (Leonard was quite the chef) or those dark nights of the soul, when just I’m just trying to make sense of it all.

In his conversation, as in his songs, his poems, his novels and his artwork, Leonard Cohen could skewer the human condition like no-one else. He was wise and funny – and unflinching. He looked things in the eye that others would shy from. Like death. Or the depression that he battled during most of his life. Just some of the things I will share with you in our class.

I have been thinking about those remarkable shows that Leonard gave on his late-life comeback tour. He was in his seventies, he’d not been onstage in 15 years, but after discovering his former manager had emptied his savings, he had no choice. He turned the adversity into triumph. If you saw one of those shows you’ll know that there was nothing like them: The Rat Pack Rabbi in his suit and fedora, the unwavering quality of the performances, the hushed attention, the humility – and also that camaraderie, the sense of fellow-feeling that we were all in this together, all in the same rickety boat making our way through the dark, every one of us broken but maybe all of us holy too.

There’s so much I’d like to share with you about this extraordinary man – the poet who became a popular music star; the Jew who became a Buddhist monk; the eternal ladies’ man; the perfectionist who knew and accepted that there was a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in.

I hope that you, like me, will learn something new and meaningful in this class. I’m very much looking forward to seeing you and to answering your questions.

Sylvie Simmons

Sylvie Simmons is Leonard Cohen's biographer. Her book I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen - written with Cohen's participation and support - was hailed on publication by critics and fans alike as the "Bible" on Cohen.  Janet Maslin, in the New York Times, called it: "The definitive portrait, fearless and smart. Mesmerizing. The major, soul-searching biography that Cohen deserves." The L.A Times called it: "A new gold standard of biographies." A book that gets right to the heart and soul of the revered Canadian poet, singer, songwriter and artist, it is an international bestseller, published in 30 languages.

Sylvie has been writing about music and musicians for more than 40 years, since leaving her native London for California in the late Seventies - a kid with a crazy dream of becoming a rock writer. She would go on to become one of very few women counted among the rock writing elite. She's interviewed countless musical greats - Joni Mitchell to Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson to Metallica - for the world's leading music magazines. Her essays have appeared in a large number of books. An award-winning author, she has written biographies of Neil Young and Serge Gainsbourg; collaborated on books with Johnny Cash and Debbie Harry; published a cult fiction book of rock-related short stories; and co-authored the book of the Montreal exhibition A Crack In Everything, currently on show at CJM in San Francisco, Sylvie's current hometown.

After the unorthodox epic book tour she undertook for I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen - taking her book and a ukulele across the globe to talk about Cohen and sing his songs - Sylvie was offered a record deal for her own songs. She has since released two albums. The Times called her songs "Poetic, guileless - reminiscent of a female Leonard Cohen."

Music and Song

Discover inspiring classes about music and song from people we admire.

Learn more, view personal video invitations to all sessions, and get special discounted pricing using the Five Things I’ve Learned Multi Pass.

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Don’t get that ticket just yet!

This is just one of four Five Things I’ve Learned sessions devoted to the life, music, and legacy of Leonard Cohen.

Join Sylvie Simmons, Perla Batalla, John Lissauer, and the legendary Judy Collins – and get special Series Ticket pricing.

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