Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man’ Album Turns 30: Artists Reflect on the ‘Dark,’ ‘Cheesy’ Masterpiece | Billboard



It was 30 years ago this Groundhog’s Day (Feb. 2, 1988) that Leonard Cohen carved out the ultimate fork in his road to creative immortality.

If you were coming of age in 1988 and were wired into MTV’s 120 Minutes or an influential, cutting edge rock radio station like WLIR/WDRE in New York or KROQ in Los Angeles, your first taste of Leonard’s music may have very well been from the singles they played from the Bard’s then-new LP I’m Your Man. And though Cohen had been experimenting with fuller arrangements for his dark folk songs preceding the album with 1977’s Phil Spector-produced Death of a Ladies’ Man and 1984’s Various Positions, the dynamic shift in the sound of Man arguably left a generation of kids under the impression the Canadian poet was a synthpop act, for his eighth studio LP marked a significant change in the approach he began taking in his songwriting after discovering the novelty of a Casio keyboard he had found. It was something he had introduced on the Various Positions highlights “Dance With Me to the End of Love.” But on I’m Your Man, he soaked his sentiments in those primitive digital tones that stood in contrast to the starkness of such early classics as Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs From A Room.

These eight songs were full of romance and humor with just a touch of evil. The most memorable song, of course, being the prophetic “Everybody Knows,” which served as the opening theme to the rogue broadcast of Christian Slater’s undercover pirate radio personality Hard Harry in 1990’s Pump Up the Volume. It was a song famously covered by American alternative rock act Concrete Blonde for the movie’s soundtrack, one of several artists who have interpreted songs from I’m Your Man through the years, including R.E.M., Nick Cave, Don Henley, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Elton John, The Pixies and U2 among others. In fact, the album has the distinct honor of having two of its song titles pinched for LC tribute albums, once in 1991 for the Atlantic Records-released I’m Your Fan and then again in 1995 for the A&M issued Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.

Such accolades and interpretations are a testament to the importance of I’m Your Man in the context of the Leonard Cohen canon. In honor of this anniversary, Billboard spoke with some of the album’s biggest acolytes from across the music spectrum about the way this strange and beautiful little record defined their relationship with the man behind Man.



Vanessa Daou

I’m Your Man struck me as a kind of Declaration of Independence, with Cohen freeing himself from my/his audience’s expectations, as well as from the tyranny of his own style, which he was still governed by, yet not ruled by. I think at some point in the life of every great artist, there is that moment when they choose to take a leap into the dark. Not knowing where they’ll land, but knowing that it’s a leap they have to make in order to break free of their own creative chains, not simply to tantalize their audience, but themselves. I think, on this album, Cohen was having fun grappling with gigantic dragons, while all the while, metaphorically, wearing a suit and eating a banana as he sang.

I learned so much from I’m Your Man. I learned that the life and experience of an artist is expressed in the degree of depth, nuance, and egoless honesty of the voice. I learned that a life that is not truly lived cannot write, sing, or pretend to have lived fully, with such raw and brutal Truth. I learned that we need to grow alongside our artists, who become our friends, our peers, our guides through this great maze of life. I learned that it is the artists who do not play by the rules, who have cut their own paths and come to their own singular conclusions. Artists who have learned how to live, poetically, gracefully — to sing with a wink, and a tear.

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