Leonard Cohen at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 18, 2012. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

How do you write a Leonard Cohen song? That’s a difficult question, even for Leonard Cohen. The lyrics aren’t the problem; Cohen was a poet long before he wrote his first song. Nor has it been a question of finding the right melody. The challenge in writing a Leonard Cohen song came later, in the studio, when it was time to figure out how the whole thing should sound.

So says Liel Leibovitz, anyway. Leibovitz is a senior writer at Tablet Magazine and the author of a new book on Cohen, A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen. It comes out this week, after four years of Leonard Cohen immersion, which led Leibovitz to many insights—including this one on why it took Cohen so long to reach a wide audience, and why it took the audience so long to embrace him.