McClelland & Stewart, 2012
Paperback edition coming in August 2013
Everybody loves Leonard, and rightly so. He is one of Canada’s great treasures, known worldwide through his songs, poetry and novels. He is a master of the nexus between mystery and dis-enchantment.
Sylvie Simmons, an accomplished rock biographer and journalist, has put it all together in a charming and compelling life story based on what was obviously great access and extended interviews with Leonard himself, along with many of his friends, lovers and colleagues.
I found the book fascinating on many levels. I had lots of points of contact, having grown up in the same Jewish community in Westmount (our mothers were acquaintances), read his novels in the 60s when I was in university and living on Durocher street in the milieu about which he wrote, listened to his music from the get-go, lived as a zen monastic on Mountain Street for four+ years (in what had been Leonard’s ZBT Jewish frat house while he was at McGill 10 years earlier) before Leonard himself became a zen practitioner, and (many years later) after I married a songwriter.
It’s a great read and Simmons gets right to the nitty-gritty, including the the songs, the women, the rock-n-roll lifestyle, the drugs, the depression and anxiety, the creative process, all the music biz dirt, the pitfalls, the come-backs, and the triumphs over adversity. But, surprisingly, there is virtually nothing of substance in the book about Leonard’s zen practice, save a bit of one chapter late in the book (and 20+ years into Leonard’s practice)!
Joshu Sasaki Roshi (who himself has been the subject of much ink of late, relating to his rather rock-n-roll lifestyle and sexual mis-adventures) appears throughout the book, but only in passing as a two-dimensional plot device or a camp follower and drinking buddy. That’s about it. “Buddhism” does not even make it into the book’s index. There’s precious little in the book to explain what drew Leonard to zen, his perspective on being a Jewish Buddhist, his particular connection to Sasaki Roshi, or the nature of his practice. While Simmons is perspicacious in drawing out her subject’s emotional landscape, this is a giant hole in the fabric. Was it Leonard’s own reticence on this subject? I doubt it, insofar as he appears to have been more than forthcoming about everything else and he is not portrayed as someone who is either unaware of his own state or who minces words to mislead.
So, in short: wonderful book, but not if you are looking for the story of Leonard’s Buddhist life.
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