I’ve been compelled by Cohen’s persona even more than by his art. There are countless songs and poems of his I cherish (especially from the 1990s, when the sense of humour really gelled), not to mention the dirty parts of Beautiful Losers. But more often I dwell upon his ability to turn a perfect phrase on stage or in an interview; his balance of gravity and gracious irony, of brutal honesty and jokes; his slender frame in modest yet impeccable black or blue suits; and, I admit, the women, from the Norwegian blonde Marianne Ihlen in a cottage on a Greek island to Janis Joplin in the Chelsea Hotel to movie star Rebecca De Mornay, his fiancée (but never wife) in his 60s. I knew, too, that he had struggled. But so do a lot of other people, and they don’t get to be Leonard Cohen. Not tall, handsome, or even especially musical, he did it on sheer wit and will. So, more than with almost any other celebrity, one could entertain the notion it was possible to be him, this runty seducer with his gospel of negative thinking.
Wilson also weighs in on what makes Cohen so unique:
Ultimately, however much he seems like our contemporary, no one of my generation or after really can emulate him. Cohen does come from a lost world. Simmons does a good job of sketching it, the upper-middle-class, patrician Jewish Montreal of which he was a scion—the first line of the first chapter is, “The chauffeur turned off the main road by the synagogue …” More crucially, he came of age well before feminism. Not that men today can’t treat women as shabbily and contradictorily as Cohen did, but we can’t plausibly claim it as a form of holy enlightenment. Cohen’s best lyrics (like “Hallelujah”) are in the ancient tradition of blending the erotic with the sacred; his weakest are in the mode of the dickish writers a bit his elder (Updike, Mailer, Cohen’s buddy Irving Layton). “Rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters” is lovely, but “You have touched her perfect body with your mind” is just cringey.