November 12, 2016

"With the chill barely out of his bones, Cohen took in the horseshoe-shaped harbor and the people drinking cold glasses of retsina and eating grilled fish in the cafés by the water..."

"... he looked up at the pines and the cypress trees and the whitewashed houses that crept up the hillsides. There was something mythical and primitive about Hydra. Cars were forbidden. Mules humped water up the long stairways to the houses. There was only intermittent electricity. Cohen rented a place for fourteen dollars a month. Eventually, he bought a whitewashed house of his own, for fifteen hundred dollars, thanks to an inheritance from his grandmother. Hydra promised the life Cohen had craved: spare rooms, the empty page, eros after dark. He collected a few paraffin lamps and some used furniture: a Russian wrought-iron bed, a writing table, chairs like 'the chairs that van Gogh painted.'... He alternated between extreme discipline and the varieties of abandon. There were days of fasting to concentrate the mind. There were drugs to expand it: pot, speed, acid. 'I took trip after trip, sitting on my terrace in Greece, waiting to see God,' he said years later... Here and there, Cohen caught glimpses of a beautiful Norwegian woman. Her name was Marianne Ihlen, and she had grown up in the countryside near Oslo. Her grandmother used to tell her, 'You are going to meet a man who speaks with a tongue of gold.'"

His grandmother... her grandmother....

The quote is from the New Yorker article about Leonard Cohen that I've already linked to at least twice. But that passage came back to me as I was reading the NYT editorial tribute to Cohen which plops this sentence...
Many people place Mr. Cohen in a musical trinity, with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon: writers who sail in deeper waters, beyond the chop and slop of the usual pop, filling their notebooks with words and our heads with songs — cryptic, surreal, original, unforgettable.
... which just disturbed me for about 5 reasons but then the Times eds serendipitously linked to that New Yorker article and made me want to show you that room.



19 comments:

whswhs said...

If we're going to talk about cryptic and surreal, I propose Kate Bush as an exemplary figure. Or Laurie Anderson, though she's technically a "performance artist" rather than a "songwriter." If we're just going for deep and interesting lyrics, I'll put forth Joni Mitchell, who also was more interesting musically than Dylan. Since when are all the good or significant lyricists male, NYT? Talk like that and you'll lose your feminist cred.

Bob said...

The other night as I was working my 3rd-shift hotel job one of my friends on Facebook linked the video to "If It Be Your Will, and suddenly at 3 a.m. I was blubbering like a child at what we've lost.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I had retsina and grilled fish in Greece and thought it was delicious. Told that to a guy I knew at work whose parents emigrated from Greece and he was aghast: "Retsina? Who wants their wine to taste like tree sap?"

Funny thing is, Yards makes an ale flavored with spruce tips and I really like that too. Supposedly based on Ben Franklin's personal recipe. I doubt that but it's beer so who cares?

William said...

Leonard Cohen looked like he knew and understood things that are beyond my grasp. He really did appear to be a wise man.......Nothing against Paul Simon, but I don't think he's privy to any of life's sacred mysteries.......In the New Yorker article, there is mention of how Cohen studied under a zen monk. The monk in question sexually exploited some of his followers. A quest for the immanent god led to the discovery of the transcendent monkey.....Cohen, nonetheless, didn't seem the least bit cynical or hypocritical about either his spiritual or sensual nature. He tapped into both, and he was respectful of both. .......Now that he's dead and libel laws no longer apply, perhaps we'll discover an unseemly side to the man. But based on the New Yorker article , Cohn led an admirable and an enviable life. You can't say that about very many poets and even fewer songwriters.

mikee said...

The austere nature of a monk's room in the abbey, a prisoner's cell in the penitentiary, a student's dorm in the college, an artist's abode in the country, all speak of the ethereal, self-sustaining richness of human spirituality, intellectual pursuit, creative forces and, of course, most importantly, a perfectly sensible disdain of housekeeping chores.

mikee said...

The austere nature of a monk's room in the abbey, a prisoner's cell in the penitentiary, a student's dorm in the college, an artist's abode in the country, all speak of the ethereal, self-sustaining richness of human spirituality, intellectual pursuit, creative forces and, of course, most importantly, a perfectly sensible disdain of housekeeping chores.

rhhardin said...

The prose is overwritten, however spare the room.

I don't particularly remember Cohen but I think some nice Judy Collins songs were his.

She also sung Jacques Brel, so I may be conflating them, at least as to which are which.

Fernandinande said...

I like the way someone added leading blanks to the numbered song list it'd all line up. Very professional.

Jeff Gee said...

My favorite new Leonard Cohen story is this account of him trying to convince his friend, the poet Kenneth Koch, to become a singer 'because you met lots of women and made a lot of money and you got to travel around and it was very satisfying to sing your poems.' Koch: "I said, “I can’t carry a tune.” He said, “That’s good, that means no one else will be able to sing your stuff.” And I said, “Well okay, but also I don’t play an instrument.” He said, “You can probably learn — let’s try.” There wasn’t anything that made noise except a vacuum cleaner. I plugged in the vacuum cleaner and I thought I’d be more in the mood to sing if I stood up on a chair..."

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Substitute John Prine for Paul Simon in that sentence and it seems more true.

Bryan Townsend said...

I lived in Montreal for a decade, but never met Leonard Cohen. I did see him interviewed on a Canadian talk show once. The interviewer mentioned that he was known for being a pessimist. Cohen replied, "a pessimist is someone who thinks it is going to rain; I'm soaked to the skin."

No, I don't think Paul Simon belongs in that group. There are essentially two great poet/songwriters in this age: Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan is slightly more interesting musically, but I think that Leonard Cohen has the edge on the poetry. For one thing, I actually know what he is talking about most of the time. After a decade in retreat, when he discovered that his manager had stolen all his money and he was broke, he had to revive his career at age 70. He published a new book of poetry and was scheduled to do a signing at a small Toronto bookstore. So many people showed up (I read 3500) that they had to close off three streets.

Leonard Cohen was a rare and wise man--have a look at one of his interviews and you will see what I mean.

chrisnavin.com said...

I drift along white walls
Blue sky above
Death crept down to the sea
Today, my love

A hillside cross in dry grass
Bougainvilleas filled with bees
I find myself reordering
The Hippie Trinity

Complete in my mind's eye
Though without epiphany
It's a shoe-in:
The collected poems of Rod McKuen

-Donovan (or Ringo Starr or somebody)

Hippies!

rhhardin said...

Randy Newman.

Christy said...

Many an hour I sat out at a Greek tavern overlooking the Baltimore Inner Harbor drinking retsina and arguing religion with a Greek Orthadox bestie. Retsina is nasty. Tastes like turpentine.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Unlike most of Ann's "heroes" this guy doesn't seem worthy of mockery, but I never heard of him. Have played a clip or two now. He sounds like an older Tom Waits, possibly who drank a little less Bourbon and smoked fewer cigarettes.

FullMoon said...

mikee said... [hush]​[hide comment]

The austere nature of a monk's room in the abbey, a prisoner's cell in the penitentiary, a student's dorm in the college, an artist's abode in the country,


One if these things is not like the others....

William said...

Leonard Cohen wrote spirituals for people who don't believe in God. He doesn't make a joyful noise before the Lord the way Handel or Emmylou Harris do, but you can feel a spiritual presence in the somber yearning of his lyrics and melodies. He was definitely a pilgrim........I don't know that much about his backstory, only what I read in the New Yorker article. His life and his work seemed consistent and authentic. That's reassuring. Cary Grant wasn't all that charming in his private life, and JFK wasn't the all that great as a family man. It's a relief when you find that celebrities you admire are who they purport to be, especially when you look to them for spiritual guidance. He was genuine. God's in his heaven and all's right with the world....,..You would think, however, that his study of Zen Buddhism would have warned him about the perils of giving an ex lover control of his financial affairs. That's not the path to nirvana.

Sydney said...

I wasn't familiar with any of his songs until I bought K.D. Lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel. His lyrics are more poetic than the other two. I wonder why he was overlooked by the Nobel committee. Not as much influence on culture, perhaps, as Dylan.