Cohan, Tony 1939–

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Cohan, Tony 1939–

PERSONAL: Born December 28, 1939, in New York, NY; son of Philip (a producer) and Mary Helen Cohan; married Ruthane Capers, November 11, 1964 (divorced); married Masako Takahashi (a painter), June 1, 1974; children: Maya. Education: University of California, B.A., 1961.

ADDRESSES: Home—San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Agent—Don Congdon, c/o Harold Matson, Inc., 276 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10001.

CAREER: Writer. Worked as journalist and jazz drummer in Europe and North Africa, 1961–63; University of California Press, Berkeley, editor, 1964; lecturer in English in Japan, 1964–66; Capitol Records, Los Angeles, CA, creative director, 1970–71; freelance writer, songwriter, and producer and director of commercials for recording artists, including Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, and motion pictures, including Jaws and The Exorcist, 1971–.

MEMBER: Authors Guild, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, National Association of Recording Artists, Cousteau Society.

AWARDS, HONORS: Notable Book of the Year list, New York Times, 1981, for Canary; Notable Book of the Year, Los Angeles Times, for Native State: A Memoir.


Nine Ships: A Book of Tales (short stories), Acrobat Books (Los Angeles, CA), 1975.

(Editor, with Gordon Beam) Outlaw Visions (novel), Acrobat Books (Los Angeles, CA), 1977.

Editor's Choice (novella), Spirit-That-Moves-Us Press (Iowa City, IA), 1981.

Canary (novel), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1981.

The Flame: Notes on the Writer's Art (essays), Acrobat Books (Los Angeles, CA), 1983.

Opium (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.

(With wife, Masako Takahashi) Mexicolor: The Spirit of Mexican Design, with photographs by Melba Levick, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.

On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Native State: A Memoir, Acrobat Books (Los Angeles, CA), 2003.

Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Sailor, Columbia, 1974.

Also author of screenplay Fire Myth, 1974.


Author of liner notes for recordings by artists such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, and Billie Holliday. Composer of film scores, including Fire Myth, 1974, and Waltz, 1981, and songs for the motion picture Make a Face, 1970. Lyricist for fourteen songs written with composer Chick Corea, including "Highwire" and "Isfallan." Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, Washington Post, Condée Nast Traveler, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Free Press, and Planet. Author of introduction, Mexican Tiles: Color, Style, Design, by Masako Takahashi, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2000, and Mexican Textiles, by Masako Takahashi, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.

ADAPTATIONS: Native State was adapted for audio cassette, Highbridge (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Tony Cohan's career has included book and screenplay writing, songwriting, and various positions within the entertainment industry in California. Though his early career in books involved mainly fiction, he has also written several works of nonfiction on Mexico, where he has made his home for many years. Canary, Cohan's 1981 novel, explores organized crime's connection to the popular music industry. Among the more intriguing characters in the novel are a dedicated music mogul, a deranged killer, and two singers: one popular but untalented; one unpopular but talented. A critic in the New York Times Book Review called Canary "a fine piece of work—immensely readable, knowledgeable about its field, full of action, yet sensitive and believable at the same time." Opium, published in 1984, presents a love story set in Asia during the Vietnam era. The story explores opium's unsettling effects on individual users as well as upon those who sell it. New York Times Book Review correspondent Mason Buck suggested that Opium "operates on several different levels," noting further: "It is to Mr. Cohan's credit that he entertainingly combines a variety of subjects."

Cohan once told CA: "Writing and music have been closely intertwined in my work and development. I was a professional jazz musician in my teens. My early writing tended toward the visionary, the Atlantean. But a rigorous college English curriculum beat into me a Bauhaus respect for the clean, lean line and the understated subject. Later, in search of my own voice, I moved toward some synthesis between the song and the spoken.

"My writing history is diverse: book editor, lyricist, screenwriter, copywriter, novelist, oral storyteller. I have my own publishing company which prints both fiction and nonfiction. This eclectic experience has left me easy with writing. But the novel remains the most difficult and taxing of all forms.

"Why bother, one may ask, to write in these times? There is a desire to take life apart in order to examine, then reconstitute it. Much like a Chinese puzzle. The odds are a billion to one you'll ever get it back together again. But you try, because there's always that chance.

"I see in my novels an interest in the character whose idealism brings him face to face with unavoidable evil. It is the transformation of this soul as he bears the consequences of his stance that interests me: I find drama's cutting edge there. My novel Canary takes up this idea as the conflict of art versus power: A music journalist, the inadvertent witness to the murder of an artist, embarks upon a mission of discovery and vengeance. In my novel Opium the characters must deal with the price of ecstasy."

In 1985, Cohan and his artist wife visited the town of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and they fell in love with the locale so completely that they have since moved there permanently. Cohan's On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel offers an affectionate portrait of a place and a culture that are vastly different from the stresses and expectations of Los Angeles. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as "casual yet studied in tone." The reviewer concluded, "The last few years have seen San Miguel become a destination for hip tourists: Cohan's pleasant account of its former obscurity may send his fans to further crowd its streets." In Booklist, Vanessa Bush declared that in On Mexican Time, Cohan "is poetic in his descriptions of the vibrancy of life, the serenity of the pace of activity, the simplicity of priorities, and the attentiveness of human relationships in Mexico." Bush added that Cohan's account "is humorous and enviable for the adventure and sheer joy of adopting a new language, culture, and lifestyle."

With the 2003 publication Native State: A Memoir, Cohan returns to his native California in a work of autobiography focusing on his relationship with his father, Phil. The elder Cohan was a one-time radio producer who never had a close relationship with his son. Tony Cohan returned to California, however, when his father was dying, and in this memoir, the author recounts his early life in the shadow of the father. Cohan ultimately turned to music, working with jazz greats, such as Dexter Gordon, throughout Europe, and then continued to lead a peripatetic life around the world for many years, from Paris to Japan. These memories are intercut with chapters on the worsening condition of his father and the author's feelings for the man as the end draws near. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised Cohan's "disarmingly honest life story," which is played against "the story of his coming to terms with his father." Less impressed was Library Journal reviewer Gina Kaiser, who felt the memoir was "self-involved." Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews critic found the same work "sometimes vivid, sometimes flaccid." However, Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper had a more positive assessment of Native State, commending in particular Cohan's "portrait of Hollywood in transition … [which] has an almost mythical allure."

Cohan deals again with his adopted home in his 2006 work, Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico. In part the book is an update of life in his village of San Miguel de Allende, which has become overrun with American visitors, exiles, and even a Hollywood film crew shooting on location. Cohan's work "accurately and vividly" describes a changing Mexico from the Yucatan to Mexico City to Oaxaca, according to Booklist contributor Mark Knoblauch. Though a Kirkus Reviews critic described Mexican Days as "solipsism on a road trip South of the Border," Library Journal writer Olga B. Wise found more to like in the work, concluding, the author's "observations are astute, on point, and necessary in the continuing dialog on contemporary Mexico."



Booklist, August, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel, p. 2017; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Native State: A Memoir, p. 194; March 15, 2006, Mark Knoblauch, review of Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico, p. 19.

Entertainment Weekly, January 7, 2000, Rhonda Johnson, review of On Mexican Time, p. 62.

Good Housekeeping, September, 1999, Amy S. Sims and Caroline Fennessy, review of Mexicolor: The Spirit of Mexican Design, p. BIH2.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of Native State, p. 891; February 15, 2006, review of Mexican Days, p. 168.

Library Journal, July, 1981, review of Canary, p. 1446; September 1, 1984, review of Opium, p. 1685; January, 1999, Gayle A. Williamson, review of Mexicolor, p. 94; November 1, 1999, Gwen Gregory, review of On Mexican Time, p. 112; September 15, 2003, Gina Kaiser, review of Native State, p. 57; February 1, 2006, Olga B. Wise, review of Mexican Days, p. 97.

Los Angeles Magazine, August, 1981, "In That Case, We'd Rather Moved to the Marina," p. 82; September, 2003, Robert Ito, review of Native State, p. 146.

Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1981, review of Canary.

New York Times Book Review, August 2, 1981, Newgate Callendar, review of Canary, p. 27; August 19, 1984, Mason Buck, review of Opium, p. 18.

Penthouse, October, 1981, Marilyn Stasio, review of Canary, p. 53.

People, August 27, 1984, review of Opium, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 1981, review of Canary, p. 56; June 15, 1984, review of Opium, p. 74; November 15, 1999, review of On Mexican Time, p. 47; June 2, 2003, review of Native State, p. 42; January 16, 2006, review of Mexican Days, p. 44.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 21, 1981, review of Canary.

Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri, April 24, 2000, Juliet Rowan, review of On Mexican Time, p. YOSH10697557.

ONLINE, (October 16, 2006), Laura Fong, review of On Mexican Time., (October 16, 2006), "Contributors: Tony Cohan."

PopMatters, (May 24, 2006), Katherine P. Jose, "Aimless Indulgence," review of Mexican Days.

Ralph Magazine, (October 16, 2006), Lolita Lark, review of Native State.