Granted, the freedom and the stories don't come with any financial security; after several well-received music books, a book of short stories, and 30-plus years of constant freelancing for outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the U.K. Guardian, Uncut, Kerrang!, and Mojo, she's moved up from living like an undergraduate student to the life of a postgraduate student, she says. Her apartment is comfortable, and furnished mostly with music: either recordings, books, or instruments.

Simmons' edge over her peers is attributable to old-fashioned journalism skills. Her longer profiles build up a vivid sense of their subject with carefully chosen character detail. Each of her sources for I'm Your Man received a transcript of their interview that she hand-typed herself, an exercise in openness that helped her win the cooperation of a large roster of Cohen's former lovers.

The undeniable care taken by Simmons in researching I'm Your Man means that as the story moves through the different phases of Cohen's life — poet, author, musician — he comes to the reader as much more than just another depressed, brilliant artist, self-medicating his torment from a string of doomed relationships with beautiful women. In Simmons' hands, Cohen's search for both spiritual and artistic release is ultimately relatable and uplifting, and never pretentious.

Having interviewed Mick Jagger, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, and Robert Plant, Sylvie Simmons can tell some killer stories.
Tod Regan
Having interviewed Mick Jagger, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, and Robert Plant, Sylvie Simmons can tell some killer stories.
Simmons with Leonard Cohen, the subject of her new book.
Leonard Cohen
Simmons with Leonard Cohen, the subject of her new book.

The biography racket became a source of national speculation soon after the release of I'm Your Man, thanks to the romantic dalliance between former CIA Director David Petraeus and his own biographer, Paula Broadwell. Simmons bristles as she relays the remarks of one Canadian reviewer who commented that they "couldn't find any evidence that she did a Petraeus."

The key difference between the methods of Simmons and Broadwell is critical distance. Broadwell was embedded with Petraeus; Simmons interviewed Cohen at length twice toward the end of her research. He was but one very important source from over 100. He certainly helped Simmons nail the three-dimensional man behind Leonard Cohen's charming façade. But then, as Simmons says, "sometimes the person you're covering isn't always the best source for information."

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