Musings and Meanderings. MM
| 03 February, 2012 09:53
Trying to keep up with all the latest news, I just read a new Leonard Cohen poem in last week’s New Yorker. I should admit here that I am a big fan. If you walk into my store on any given day, you may hear one of LC's songs streaming in the background. The story in the poem, "Going Home", is a look at the poet looking at himself. It is a portrait of the artist as an old man. It stimulated some thoughts, memories and a story of my own.
Here is my “Leonard Cohen” Story
The year was 1966. I was a grad student in American Studies at the University of Buffalo . I was addicted to browsing bookstores. On one of my frequent weekend trips over the border to Canada, an easy ride from Buffalo, I happened to be browsing through a bookstore in the Kensington Market section of Toronto when I saw a small paperback snuggled at the end of a cluttered bin with the title on its spine, “Flowers for Hitler”. In those days I was still wrestling with my identity as a Jew and very sensitive to any clue that might explain anti-semitism . I grew up in a house with parents who were holocaust survivors who did not like to talk much about their experiences. The unusual title became even more curious as I saw the name of the author next to it: Leonard Cohen. I was overcome with curiosity at this seeming contradiction in terms. So, there I was at a crossroads of consciousness. Should I pick it up and see what’s inside, or pass it by with a sneer? I picked it up and read the inscription on the first page: "In an earlier time this would be called Sunshine for Napoleon, and earlier still it would have been called Walls for Genghis Khan."
“Flowers for Hitler” was a mind-blowing experience for me. It was like nothing I ever read before. It was definitely not an anti-semitic tract. The lyrical lines of poetry from one page to the next were so sad and beautiful that reading it made me smile and cry. I was hooked. I wanted more. So, long before Google or Amazon, I searched for anything I could find by L. Cohen. It so happened that his novel, “Beautiful Losers” had just been published. I rushed to the local independent book store to buy it. After reading “Beautiful Losers”, I became an even bigger fan, started dating a girl from Montreal and began to alert all my English department buddies to my new find, the Canadian author, Leonard Cohen. As it happened, I had friends on the English department literary committee that invited emerging and interesting writers to perform at the university. Not long after, there was a mimeographed poster on the student union walls announcing that “Canadian Poet, Leonard Cohen will be reading….”
Leonard, looking dark and Jewish, as he read from the dog-eared pages of his own books , accepted the audience’s applause in his seriously appreciative way and then did something no one expected. He picked up a guitar that had been leaning against a chair looking like a stage prop and said “I have never sung in public before, so please bear with me.” He began with “Suzanne”. Everyone recognized the song as a Judy Collins hit, but had no idea that it had been written by Leonard. Before long, the audience, made up mainly of 19 year old English majors, were hanging on every note and word. It was hypnotic. This guy with an edgy voice reminiscent of Bob Dylan had reached out and taken their hearts. I was ecstatic.
Approximately 25 years later, I was invited to a Leonard Cohen concert in Hamilton, Ontario by my brother-in law at the time, Paul Ostermayer. Paul played sax and flute with Passenger, an Austin-based jazz-fusion band that (as amazing grace would have it) happened to be to be touring with Leonard that year. Paul took me back to the green room to meet Leonard during intermission where I told him this story. He said, “Ah yes, so you’re the one who got me that college gig back in ‘67 .”
Here is a picture of Leonard and me in the green room.