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Toronto Adam Cohen: ‘I belong to a tradition that I’m trying to honour’

Singer-songwriter Adam Cohen plays Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Nov. 17.

Universal Music

First he took Europe. Upon his return from a highly successful tour across the water in support of his new album We Go Home, we spoke to singer-songwriter Adam Cohen – about false starts, double-edged swords and growing tall in the shadow of his oak-high old man.

The reports from your recent European tour were glowing, and you performed on Later with Jools Holland, which is a nice booking if you can get it. How well have you been received over there in the past?

There has been swift and unforgiving judgment levied upon me. There have also been cases where doors have opened out of curiosity. Sometimes morbid curiosity that I either do or don't satisfy.

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You're talking about the double-edged nature of being the singer-songwriter son of an icon, yes?

There are great, great personal benefits of being who I am. Having the genetic code I have, and having the upbringing I was privileged to have, which was the access to a master. But, all in all, I think people do tend to understand it's not necessarily only a positive. It does have two edges.

And how are you faring as far as navigating your way around those two edges?

I belong to a tradition that I'm trying to honour and that I'd like to try to play the most dignified role in. I've found my voice, and in the first time in my so-called career, I'm getting four-star reviews. The rooms are filling up and high compliments are being paid. It's most encouraging for a guy who's had a lot of false starts.

Is the acceptance a matter of people getting past their cynicism when it comes to you, or have you gotten better?

I've definitely gotten better. I've used the scrutiny, or the prejudice that I sometimes fall prey to, as motivation. You can only use the tools that are available to you. But I've found great motivation in having my songs be worthy of being in dialogue with others. And one of the chief interlocutors is my old man.

The standards are high, when Leonard Cohen enters the conversation.

I know my old man is an island onto himself. And perhaps there may not be an heir apparent or an obvious successor, because he is an island onto himself. But I think I'm the closest thing on the mainland, and I know he believes the same.

Really?

He's always shaking his head. He thinks if things were different with the music business or if I had the right team around me I'd be selling 5 million records. We discuss this all the time.

It's not unnatural for a father to wish better things for his son, but you're in tough there, aren't you?

It would be disrespectful for me to want to occupy the same post as my old man, the same way it would be disrespectful for Napoleon's son to want to be as great as Napoleon.

What makes these tall trees is that they're unique and they're great. I'm not interested in competing with greatness or trying to chop down greatness so that I may appear great myself. I want to participate, and stand as tall and as close to the greatness of people like my father.

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Adam Cohen plays Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Nov. 17, 8 p.m., $29.50 to $39.50, 231 Queens Quay W., 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com.

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