His father may as well be Odysseus for all the reverence and mythologies ascribed to his lineage, but today Adam Cohen comes across as having struggled less with the notion of living in Leonard Cohen’s shadow than with living up to his own artistic potential.
That's not to say the 39-year-old singer/songwriter has relished contending with the sort of scrutiny other progenies of influential figures so often face. In fact for years he resisted it, embellishing some of his early efforts to appeal to what for him were increasingly commercial ambitions more so than artistic ones—Cohen’s eponymous debut, featuring the modest though promising hit “Cry Ophelia,” was released in 1998—while casting others aside altogether lest they’d seem genetically derivative.
And yet such strategies, while meant to establish Cohen as an artist in his own right and by his own effort and merit, had for the most part undermined the integrity of his talent. Dispirited, he began to question his very relevance in the music industry. “I felt like I could have just as easily bowed out,” Cohen admits, “having been given many, many shots.”
Remarkably, though, his discouragement had never infringed on his ability to be creative. “The songwriting’s never really been affected. I’ve always felt good about it,” Cohen insists, and that silver lining became the catalyst for his current album, Like A Man.
“I’ve always had these songs in my back pocket even though I wasn’t showing them,” he explains, and indeed the album’s most recent material dates back five or six years, the oldest almost twenty. Asked if once he set to recording them was he at all apprehensive about revisiting songs he’d in some cases written as a much younger man, Cohen is quick to reply, “Not at all.” In fact, he says, he felt a measure of redemption in “finally being able to find a home for all of these songs that I’d discarded one after the other, knowing full well that these were my best songs and that I’d abandoned them for all the wrong reasons.”
Throughout the album are hereditary resonances, of course, evident in the rich timbre of Cohen’s singing and sobered phrasing as well as in his lyrics which often examine and explore themes of loneliness and carnal longing. And yet any such similarities never come across as derivative but, rather, descendant.
This distinction underscores the album, which is as much a defining moment for Cohen as a recognition of his most foundational influence.
“It’s not only the language, the interest in creating something that is truthful and resonant, visual and cinematic,” Cohen adds, reflecting on the parallels between his father’s craft and his own. “There’s also the incredible devotion, dedication in writing that he’s always practiced.”
That work ethic, investing however much time and effort it takes to do the job right, is for Cohen what seems to have made on him the most meaningful and lasting impression.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘When you get to that point where you really sweat—there’s sweat on your brow and you’ve hit a wall after spending hours and hours working and you’re really about to quit—that’s where the actual work begins,’” he reflects. “That notion of it being work, of the big stuff coming when it gets hard, that’s definitely something I’ve inherited by proxy and by witnessing from my old man’s process.”
The insight has served him well. Like A Man signifies for Adam Cohen a new beginning while, at the same time, a culmination of the talent and resourcefulness that’s always been there. It’s in his blood.
“It’s so beautiful and rewarding to not only have made a record that is an homage to my father but to have done it with such truthful and fitting pieces, from the songwriting to the musicians to the accompaniment to the spirit in which it was actually recorded,” acknowledges Cohen. “It’s a record I should’ve made a long, long time ago.”