Expectation can be a cruel mistress, and she can take many forms. Whether it be expectation to carry off a nigh-on impossible task, the expectation that something you do this time will be better than last time, the expectation that you’ll live up to, perhaps, the Family Name. None more so than the latter then, has defined a large period of the life of Adam Cohen. For what could be crueller, what could possibly be more demanding (and indeed, almost futile) than the expectation that your musical career will in any way live up to that of your father, the one and only Leonard Cohen?
Cohen junior however, has come to a realisation. The realisation that whilst expectation will always flirt with you (sometimes from afar, sometimes right in front of your wife and children), there’s a way out, a way to tell her to stop – there’s a way to operate where expectation means nothing. “That’s very much true,” muses Cohen, sleepily, for it’s early morning in Prague where he’s currently located, five weeks into a two month European tour. “There were three [moments where I came to this realisation], ingredients to change.
“The first was disillusionment with my own career. The second was my father’s triumphant return to the stage. And the third one was fatherhood, my own, becoming a father myself, that feeling and connection,” he goes on slowly. “[Now] I walk to work with a sense of pride and a hop in my step, as they say. I used to have a lower ranking position in the family business, and now my office is on the upper floors. And if my music is in dialogue with my father’s, then I have something noteworthy and interesting to say, finally.”
Cohen’s musical career has been varied. He released a couple of solo records a number of years ago (Adam Cohen in 1998 and Melancolista in 2004), as well as Ex-Girlfriends (also in 2004) with rock band Low Millions, with whom he had moderate success. Since then however, despite the fact he’s “been busy”, he effectively withdrew from the music world, citing disillusionment as he mentioned earlier. We talk briefly about how it is to have Leonard Cohen as a father, and he’s sage about it, accepting it (you certainly can’t change these things), and calls it more of a help than a hindrance. But there was always that expectation. Until now.
I mentioned earlier that Cohen junior had come to a realisation. He outlined the reasons why and how. But the main booster? The recent release of his third solo record, Like A Man. This is a record, one that’s been a long time coming, that lowers that expectation (almost kills it stone dead in fact) because it’s the album he’s been ‘expected’ to make, for years now. Like A Man sees Adam Cohen come to the realisation, it sees him gather himself up, and it sees him walk out of the shadow, into the light of his own making. It sees him as a musician in his own right, not just the son of a legend.
“I’m not sure I can answer that without reiterating the word ‘pride’,” he says simply when I ask why he’s called it his “proudest artistic achievement yet”. “I’m proud of it because it’s work that dignifies and honours a tradition from which I come. It’s a record that has the honesty and a signature that is altogether my own at the same time. It’s very much celebrating my father’s work, which has had a deep influence on me, and it’s also my proudest work because it’s so unexpected to me, that I would have ever made this record, and ever made it so well.”
I ask how long this record has been germinating, how old are these songs? “This is an old collection of songs, dating back… some of the songs are really old, the first song on the record is 20 years old,” he reveals. “What links all the songs together, is that one after the other, they were discarded or hidden away when I found them to bare to close a resemblance to my father’s work.” This is interesting then – do they no longer feel similar to Cohen senior’s work? Or does that not matter?
“Like I was saying earlier, they pay homage to a tradition from which I come in a way that I’m very satisfied with,” is the simple answer, and perhaps that’s the key. The reason why Adam Cohen no longer feels the heavy weight of expectation to be like his father, is because he’s (finally, perhaps) released an album that is similar to his father’s work. Not the same, but similar. It’s something that he feels has set him free, it’s something fans and media are agreeing with. It’s interesting – in order to get out of the shadow, Adam Cohen has gone back to it.
At the end of the day though, Like A Man, as Cohen junior mentioned, has his own signature, and that’s important. It’s almost like a fresh start for him, a springboard, one that could hurl him in any direction he chooses. Far away, it would seem, from that cruel mistress that is expectation. “At this point I’m happy to say the record is being released in Australia and Canada and dozens of countries in Europe and the US, and so it’s taking me on a… giant sized adventure,” he sums up, and at this point, that’s all that matters.
Samuel J. Fell
Like A Man is available now through Cooking Vinyl / Shock.