“You’re asking a very profound question,” singer/songwriter Adam Cohen responds when asked if he thinks he was born a musician or became one because of his world-famous father, Leonard Cohen. The 39-year-old Cohen fumbles as he tries to come up with an answer. “The truth is I truly don’t know. I truly don’t know if I’m a product of circumstances or the beneficiary of great genes.”
Cohen talks about growing up with the elder Cohen and the lifestyle he witnessed. “I saw the magnificence of it and the reaction of men and women to him and the adulation,” he admits. “So there really was no decision involved.” In early October, Cohen is releasing his fourth album, Like a Man, the first that pays homage to his famous father—the same tone, lyrical style and voice, something he always fought against. “I was enamoured with the idea that I could forge my own way. And family, friends and institutions bolstered this.”
Cohen speaks eloquently and poetically, much like his father. “Success has been a fruit very slow to ripen for me,” he says, adding, “it’s embarrassing to say that at age 39 I’m coming of age.” Becoming a father made him see the “wondrous circle” of inevitability. “I have a four-year-old son and now know the profound way that waking up to your dad in his underwear strumming the guitar at the kitchen table can affect you. I woke up to that, and now my son finds me in my underwear at the kitchen table strumming on the guitar.”
Cohen says he hopes to find the wonderful qualities he sees in his father in himself. Such as? “My father is a fusion of elegance and humour. The unlikely combination of eloquence and effortless casualness. He has charisma without audacity. He’s the consummate gentleman.”
Some of the songs on Like a Man were written two decades ago. “But every time I wrote too much like my father I’d put it away and hide it. These songs are like the Chilean coal miners. I had to get a kit on and rescue them,” he says. “My father had heard them over the years and he pleaded with me to record them.”
The passage of time, he explains, made him want to finally pay homage to his father. “I was disillusioned because I had been given great opportunities and not made the best of them.” He’s happy, he says, now that he can exonerate himself of the “folly of the wayward Cohen son.” Then there was “the wonderful and triumphant return to the stage of my father, which was incredibly inspiring.” He finally decided to take a risk.
But when it came to what his father might think, he again lacked courage. He says he clutched the CD nervously outside his “old man’s” house and was ready to just leave it at the front door. He managed to hand it to his father but said, “Don’t listen while I’m here.”
Cohen was nervous because his father didn’t know what he’d been working on. Like many others, Cohen has asked his father to record an album of new material “like his old stuff and go back to what was his golden era.” But “he has refused and declined so categorically that I took it upon myself to do it. I worried that he would cringe listening to it.”
He called Cohen the next day.“You took me to another place,” he told Adam, “where nothing else matters. It should be called Like a Man.” (It’s also the name of a song on the album.) “It was a great relief to hear that, and deeply gratifying.”
Dare we ask if he’ll ever collaborate with his father? “I believe that we have been collaborating in a soft way for years. There is a possibility that we’ll do it more publicly down the line, but there are no plans.”
He’s not worried about critics. “I’ve been compared anyway. No matter what shape my records take, in French, rock, no matter what, I was sternly compared to my father anyways, and at times very uncharitably.”
So does his four-year-old son have the music virus? Apparently. Still, “I’ve thought about coming home with a stethoscope around my neck as a decoy,” says Cohen.