Music Interviews
12:44 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

Adam Cohen: On Intimacy, Antagonism And Influence

Originally published on Mon April 9, 2012 5:14 pm

During the course of his career, singer-songwriter Adam Cohen says he has twisted himself into creating commercially successful music — but not this record, not this song. "What Other Guy," from his third album Like A Man, didn't seem likely to generate mainstream popularity. And yet it did, more than any other song he has ever recorded.

The son of iconic singer Leonard Cohen, Adam Cohen says his latest record is a celebration and demonstration of his father's influence on his music.

"I was never at odds with my father's voice or influence. I just thought it was an obligation of mine to uncover my own path," Cohen tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "I come from a family business of writers, and in this case, I'm the son of someone I'm enormously proud of, and it was high time that I dignified that."

"What Other Guy" shares many similarities with some of his father's works — particularly the song "So Long Marianne" and a poem entitled "For Anne," both by the elder Cohen. But the song, built around Adam Cohen's unique experiences, paints a detailed picture of intimacy with undertones of antagonism.

"None of the details in the song are necessarily important, but when you put them together, you do get this sense that someone else really knows someone else," Cohen says. "The subtle antagonism only comes from when you're telling someone ... what other guy knows you like that? It's that familiarity that, as the cliche says, breeds a kind of contempt."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the world of music, we turn now to a songwriter whose voice and sound might feel familiar, even if his name isn't. Adam Cohen is the son of songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. And for the longest time, the son shied away from making music that might remind listeners of his father. But on his new album, "Like a Man," Adam Cohen embraces his musical legacy.

We asked him to tell us the story behind one song on the album, a song called "What Other Guy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT OTHER GUY")

ADAM COHEN: (Singing) I know what you look like in the morning. Your kisses are soft and warm. I can draw you with my eyes closed. Seen you with nothing on but the radio. I know how many years of French you took, your favorite movies, your favorite books. I know what really gets you going, glowing.

None of the details in the song are necessarily important, but when you put them together, you do get this sense that someone else really knows someone else. And the subtle antagonism only comes from, you know, when you're telling someone, I know what you look like in the morning, I how many years of French you took, I know the way you tilt your head for a photograph. I know the name of the first guy you ever kissed and - etc., etc., etc. What other guy knows you like that? That's where the subtle antagonism comes from. It's that familiarity that, as the cliché says, breeds a kind of contempt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT OTHER GUY")

COHEN: (Singing) Oh, Anne. Oh, Anne.

CORNISH: And is there an Anne in your life, or in a previous life?

COHEN: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

CORNISH: How does she feel about the song?

COHEN: Oh, I think everybody's flattered when a song is written - I wish someone would write a song about me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT OTHER GUY")

COHEN: (Singing) And I can name the first guy you ever kissed. I can name the perfume on your wrist. What other guy knows you like that?

CORNISH: One thing I found interesting, lyrically, is - this song shares some DNA with a poem by your father, Leonard Cohen, called "For Anne." The verse has comparative elements like that. Do you know the poem I'm talking about?

COHEN: Sure. And it also has a kind of cousinship to a song called "So Long Marianne." What I'm really doing on this record is celebrating my father's influence on me, and demonstrating it. For so long, I was kind of part of a self-imposed contortion act, where I really bent myself into all sorts of shapes and positions to satisfy an appetite to participate in the music business. And I was never, you know, at odds with my father's voice or influence. I just thought it was an obligation of mine to uncover my own path.

I come from a family business of writers and, in this case, I'm the son of someone I'm enormously proud of. And it was high time that I dignified that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT OTHER GUY")

COHEN: (Singing) I know the kind of thing that makes you laugh, the way you tilt your head for a photograph. What other guy knows you like that?

CORNISH: One thing I love about this album - and this song, in particular - is, it very much fits the title of the album, "Like A Man," in terms of it being about a man in love. It comes from a - I don't know - a sort of masculine romanticism, if that makes any sense.

COHEN: In this case, for me, "Like A Man" is about becoming something I've always wanted to be. And that's this - as I say, this member of a tradition and a father, in my case; recently, I became a father. It's about assuming responsibilities.

CORNISH: Singer and songwriter Adam Cohen with the story behind his song, "What Other Guy." It's on his latest album, "Like A Man." Adam Cohen, thank you so much for sharing the story behind the song.

COHEN: Oh, my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT OTHER GUY")

COHEN: (Singing) Oh, Anne. Oh, Anne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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