http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/01/31 ... older-man/
Leonard Cohen: Portrait of the Artist as an Older Man
Ben Kaplan Jan 31, 2012 – 9:00 AM ET
Last Updated: Jan 30, 2012 6:00 PM ET
Illustration by Steve Murray
Leonard Cohen is releasing his 12th album, Old Ideas, on Jan. 31. Born in Montreal, Cohen learned guitar and formed his first band while a student at McGill, but the musician has always been more than just an everyday rock star. He’s a prophet, a poet, a sex symbol, an observant Jew who practices Zen, a businessman who lost his fortune, a muse and, perhaps most importantly, a father. The Post’s Ben Kaplan assembled a panel to dissect the various parts of the 77-year-old icon.
Cohen as muse:
Leonard Cohen was living in black and white when I first met him — existing in the blurdom of a wintry December sidewalk, in a dark petticoat with an upturned collar, in a city I had never travelled toward. Here was the man who I would later speak of as though his name were a mountain, whose songs would soundtrack my life like small white arrows aimed at the stars. Here was Leonard Cohen, pausing in front of a department store window in 1965, his shoulders hunched against the cold while the St. Laurence Seaway maintained a stony silence. I approached him and confessed that my girl cries every night like a slow-closing season. I wanted to know why he burned the house that he loved, and what it was that would someday perfectly forget us all. While he spoke, women were hiding behind lemon trees in Sienna, cattle were carving canyons out of time, blossoms were falling in quiet courtyards, and rivers were honing their anger towards the world. While he spoke, I noticed how his face rhymed with the passing streetcars and the deep caskets of our days. I turned, and lost him for hours.
Written by musician Justin Rutledge (justinrutledge.com)
Cohen as Montrealer:
There are still a number of his classmates around, as well as his former babysitters. I only ever saw him twice in Westmount, once eating a banana outside of a fruit shop. The other time was at a bead emporium 25 years ago, where teenage girls gathered every Saturday to buy beads. Leonard was standing there as an indulgent father and Westmounters, being so polite, we pretended not to notice. I worked as a men’s clothing salesman in high school selling the Freedman line, which was the Cohen family’s topcoat and cashmere overcoat brand. Leonard came back here to raise his children and in the local alternative high school, you had Adam Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright in the same class. You didn’t want to say much if you knew Leonard. The line went: If you were a friend of Leonard Cohen and told people you were friend of Leonard Cohen, you were no longer a friend of Leonard Cohen.”
Novelist Terry Rigelhof lives in Westmount, Que. (tfrigelhof.com)
Cohen as dad:
One of the chief occupations of my father is to divine what somebody needs and give it to them before they ask. He remained in his children’s lives despite incredible obstacles. There was a moment, when we were living in the south of France, that my father wasn’t allowed on the property. So he bought a caravan and lived at the end of our road. Despite the distances my mother placed before him, he was always present with instruction and humour. To many, he was lugubrious because of his poetry, but to us, he was the most hysterical guy. We still get together every Friday when we’re in town for a family meal and he’s a constant source of counsel, advice, support and encouragement. I feel loved. I’ve always felt seen. I was between five and eight when he lived in that caravan. He was parked right at the T, where the public street met the private road. It’s hard on a kid, when you see your makers at pointed odds, especially when you understand that financially, your father’s floating the whole scene and living in a caravan at the end of a dirt road. In retrospect, every visit was an education. He was there to protect values. It would be lighting the Sabbath candles and learning Hebrew prayers, singing songs, reading the bible. In the Jewish tradition, “Cohen” is the high-priest. It’s no accident my father has a ministerial quality. As a father, he still continues to feel like a shepherd imparting an ancient understanding.”
Adam Cohen released the album Like a Man in October 2011. His Canadian tour begins in Sherbrooke, Que., on Feb. 6. (adamcohen.com)
Cohen as Jew:
Young people are looking for someone to challenge the status quo and Cohen brings to the surface Jewish ideas that are often taboo. Who By Fire comes right out of the Rosh Hashanah service and Hallelujah talks about King David, almost in a critical way. My work in the synagogue is based on the fact that people are searching for a better understanding of themselves. They want to be connected to something bigger, and Cohen, who’s able to transcend one religion, feels spiritual, real and whole. In his music, he questions what it is to live a meaningful life and whether talking about Abraham thinking he needs to kill his son or how we all must eventually confront death, Cohen searches for something bigger than himself. That’s why we read his poems and sing his songs every year at Yom Kippur.
Yacov Fruchter is the spiritual leader of the Toronto-based Annex Shul
Cohen as poet:
He was seen by us on the west coast as a relief from the staid eastern poetic sensibility, he and Irving Layton. Cohen was shifting away from the national, he wasn’t writing about Canada. That was intriguing. I was a student at the University of Buffalo when Cohen came to read in 1964. The reading went smoothly, then he pulled out his guitar! He knew how to work his shtick and perform. He has a European sensibility, and he dovetails it with his jet-setting internationalism; always with a slight political undercurrent buzzing through. The poetry has this sort of free-floating world view and I love his use of image and turns of phrase, the meaning and the paradoxes that go along with being alive. Of course, central to this, was his use of the first-person singular. It’s not egotistical. It’s plaintive — he’s always crying.
Fred Wah is the Poet Laureate of Canada
Cohen as sex symbol:
I think there are probably millions of women around the world who have an unrequited love affair with Leonard Cohen through his music. A man who sings and plays guitar is almost always sexy. But Leonard Cohen is that and more. He is an artist who seduces with the depth of his voice, his sultry melodies, his hypnotic rhythms and his profound lyrics. He has also kept enough distance between us and him through the years to make him irresistible — like that unattainable man that you can’t have, so you want him even more.
Bernadette Morra is the editor-in-chief of Fashion magazine
Cohen as businessman:
Half the people I do business with ask me about Cohen, and I tell them, “He picked the wrong person to trust.” Most of my business comes through referrals, and if you’re even accused of misconduct, it can ruin your livelihood. The way I understood Cohen’s situation, his American business manager was simply taking money for herself out of his company. Usually, an artist has a manager, a business manager and a lawyer. It sounds like Cohen trusted this one woman to look after everything — and she took his money. The music industry can be shaky. What happened to Cohen helped lots of artists to do more than sign cheques and close their eyes.
Jay Abraham is an accountant working in the music industry. His clients have included Nelly Furtado and Avril Lavigne.
Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas is available Jan. 31 from Sony Music Canada.