Life & Culture

Being Leonard Cohen's son - it's not all hallelujahs

Adam Cohen has had to overcome comparisons with his famous father to establish himself as a singer-songwriter


There is a quiz on the internet that lets Leonard Cohen fans measure the intensity of their admiration for the musician and poet. The site,, is ironic (one hopes), but for a high score a "serious fan" should have considered converting to Judaism; played unlikely Cohen songs at a barmitzvah or wedding; and carried a photograph in their wallet of Leonard's children, Lorca and Adam.

As weird as this all sounds, Adam Cohen would never dismiss any of it as beyond the realms of possibility. As the off-spring of an icon, he has a better understanding of die-hard devotion, having witnessed it at close quarters from a young age. Through his teens he "tolerated" the hero-worship of his dad and now as a performer in his own right has acquired his own band of followers. Adam just doesn't like talking about them.

"I'm uncertain and uncomfortable discussing fans," says the 39-year-old who is an aesthetically pleasing chip off the old block. "I'm sure I have a core following in Europe and Canada."

After several decades of plugging away in the music business, one would expect Adam to have already "made it". But it is only now, with his fourth album, Like A Man, that he finally feels on the right track (or tracks), having produced "my most honest work and something to be really proud of".

"This album is a reflection of who I truly am, having finally recognised that I come from a long line of people who have embraced the family business. It also represents a kind of acquittal after years of being in a contortion act," says Adam, who metaphorically tied himself up in creative knots to escape his father's shadow and avoid the inevitable comparisons. Now at last he has embraced his heritage with an album of whimsical love songs that echo Leonard and have been described by his father as "world-class". Even the vocal is reassuringly gravelly, and Leonard agrees that his son sings more sweetly.

'I saw swift and unforgiving judgement levied on my work'

"It has taken me a very long time," muses Adam who bit the bullet in 2007 when he played his first Leonard Cohen song at a concert in Barcelona. "I was able to raise eyebrows and open doors with people's curiosity about me, for sure. But I also saw swift and sometimes unforgiving judgement levied on my work. I have seen the disappointment on people's faces when I'm either too little or too much like my father for their tastes."

Adam never doubted music was his destiny: "But it had nothing to do with what my dad had done. It was something I was drawn to, like most kids. It is not unimaginable that a son wants to identify with his father and music was a way of having a dialogue with him. But you don't need a reason. The glamour and fame is very seductive. My parents encouraged it, tutoring me in violin, while I taught myself guitar, drums and piano by the time I was 12. But when I started out professionally I had an appetite for success and being a pop star that had very little to do with the music. But I wasn't sure how to position myself. I just knew I didn't want to emulate my father."

His first album - Adam Cohen - released in 1998 was well-received, but never made any real impact. "I'm not embarrassed by the songwriting I did then, but the production choices were poor," says Adam. "I was chasing a sound that wasn't entirely my own. Even then I didn't pay enough attention to my father's work, though I have always been encouraged, guided and rewarded by him."

A French-language album followed in 2004 with a tepid response and then Adam became the frontman for the rock band, Low Millions. "Another step on the road to me discovering my true voice and having a fantastic time in the process," he says, but once again it did not go anywhere.

"I have been incredibly lucky that I had people who were willing to invest in me with large sums of cash. I also managed to lose money for everyone involved because the albums never did as well as everyone hoped. When people are so enthusiastically generous in their belief, you want to validate it and I've never felt that I honoured my part of the agreement. But these things are highly circumstantial and they are after all experts who are handsomely paid to identify talent and I don't think anyone was wrong."

Born and raised in Montreal alongside younger sister, Lorca, the young Cohens lived a "gypsy-like" existence from the moment their parents separated in 1979. "Our childhood was divided between France with our mother [Suzanne Elrod], and our dad in New York, Los Angeles and on the island of Hydra in Greece," explains Adam. "I still think of Greece as my spiritual home and I am incorporating Greek mythology and traditions into my son's education."

Adam is keen that his four-year-old son, Cassius, named after Adam's hero Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) - "I don't think the rabbi would have appreciated Muhammad Cohen –– is getting the same eclectic upbringing as his dad. "I want him to be raised like I was, so that all things are celebrated," says Adam, who is now settled in Los Angeles with his long-term partner, Jessica.

"We light the Sabbath candles every Friday night, say prayers and celebrate Chanucah, Purim and all the other festivals, but we also look at other faiths. I am prone to thinking that Judaism hasn't impacted very much on me, but it is something I am proud of and probably unconsciously it informs part of the fabric of my thoughts."

Buddhism also interests Adam as it does his father, who was ordained as a monk in 1996 while still insisting he was religiously Jewish and a descendant of Aaron. "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one," he said, and the fact that his son is at last proud to come from a long line of Cohens will no doubt make him happy.

At 75, Leonard is certainly relishing the role of grandfather according to Adam. Not only to Cassius, but to new arrival Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, who was born last month to daughter Lorca and gay singer Rufus Wainwright. It is an unusual relationship, with Rufus publicly confirming his romantic partner, Jorn Weisbrodt, as deputy dad, but the family is all very close.

"We see a lot of each other," says Adam, who goes on to describe his father as the archetypal grandfather. "My dad is a fabulous, funny, generous granddad. The sort who produces a coin from behind an ear."

Adam's future in the music business will be determined by the success of Like A Man.

"After the tours, the US release and the summer festivals in Canada and Europe, nine months will have passed since the release and it will be very clear what kind of traction this record has been able to make for itself," he says philosophically.

Hopefully the fans he is reluctant to talk about will make it a

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