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Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Cohen’

Flowers for Hitler

October 19, 2016 | by

Valais, Switzerland, as depicted in the University of the New World’s Winter 1971–72 General Bulletin.

In 1973, I took a brief sabbatical from college to study in Switzerland at the University of the New World. I still have the small red course catalog somewhere. It was a school started by visionary hustler Al de Grazia, who had been a professor at Brown and … well, you should see what they offered: a faculty that included Allen Ginsberg, John Fahey, Ornette Coleman, Robert Motherwell, Immanuel Velikovsky, John Cage, Ram Dass, twenty-four-hour music rooms/art studios/libraries. There were stalls set up on the quad promoting it.

The university was situated in a tiny canton just outside Sion. The university was actually situated somewhere deep in the recesses of Professor DeGrazia’s mind. There was no university. It was, to be charitable, a work in progress. There were no libraries or music studios or art studios. There were no classrooms. There were no dormitories. There were no teachers. There were only a handful of students—mostly from Antioch—and we were all housed in rooms in a nearby ski lodge. From this distance I can’t tell whether it was a scam or a pipe dream. I had to humbly ask to be readmitted to Brown, and Dean Hazeltine was sympathetic but let me dangle in the wind for a few weeks just … well, just to give me time to reflect. 

It turned out to be an interesting time. Read More »

Sex, Lies, and Audiotape

July 8, 2015 | by

Republishing Talk, fifty years later.

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The author with her tape recorder. Photos: James Dugdale

Even before its publication, my book Talks salacious reputation preceded it: a highly respected editor rejected the manuscript with the words “repellently raunchy.” After a long trail of less colorful rejection letters—later enclosed in plastic and strung together into a kind of mobile by an artist friend—the book finally saw the light of day in the spring of 1968.

The day after she received her copy, my mother, traumatized, made a beeline for the nearest therapist’s office. My father, on the other hand, viewed the book only as an object, something he could show off to his colleagues in the garment district—Fink the Mink Man et al.—but he never opened it. And when any of them asked him, “Do you realize what’s in this book?” he just shrugged and pointed out the pretty picture of me on the back cover. Read More »

The Favorite Game

September 19, 2014 | by

Leonard Cohen in love.

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Cohen in 1988.

“Desperation is the mother of poetry.”
—Leonard Cohen

Like most people, I remember the first time I had sex pretty well. I can recall the surprisingly adept flirting I carried off beforehand, and the moment of pleasant shock when she kissed me. I remember how we stayed in bed until three the next day and how when we finally got up, faint from hunger, we went to eat at a greasy spoon that had a little jukebox by each table. I have no idea what I ordered, but I do remember that she got a grilled cheese sandwich. In the next year and a half that we were together, I don’t know if she ever ate another one.

We all have memories like that, jumping out of oblivion like buoys in the water. The facts might be fuzzy, but the moments are clear. Leonard Cohen describes such a memory in his first novel, The Favorite Game, published in 1963, when he was twenty-nine:

What did she look like that important second?

She stands in my mind alone, unconnected to the petty narrative. The color of the skin was startling, like the white of a young branch when the green is thumb-nailed away. Nipples the color of bare lips. Wet hair a battalion of glistening spears laid on her shoulders.

She was made of flesh and eyelashes.

Cohen, who turns eighty on Sunday, is exceptionally good at drawing out those moments of sexual crystallization. It’s a skill that, along with his gravelly voice and poems about women’s bodies, has given him a reputation for being a “ladies’ man.” Judging by the adoring crowds at his shows, it’s a reputation he deserves.

Yet it isn’t success with women that accounts for Cohen’s particular vision, even if his fame as a lover may have, over time, borne the fruits of self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather, his work is shot through with fears of physical deficiency and sexual deprivation, loneliness and insecurity. “He could not help thinking that … he wasn’t tall enough or straight, that people didn’t turn to look at him in street-cars, that he didn’t command the glory of the flesh,” he writes of his autobiographical protagonist in The Favorite Game. Decades later, in his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing, Cohen confessed: “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke / that caused me to laugh bitterly / through the ten thousand nights / I spent alone.” Read More »


How to Prepare for the Past

July 22, 2013 | by


Lillian Roxon died forty years ago this August.

Lillian was an Australian journalist who moved to New York in the late 1950s to cover popular culture for the Sydney Morning Herald and who fell madly in love with the city and with the sixties rock scene as it emerged. An unbridled enthusiast, scenemaker, and troublemaker, she was also one of the original Wild Grrrrls: bawdy, carousing, fiercely independent, unashamedly smart women on the town.  Together, she, Germaine Greer, and Linda Eastman terrorized the city. At least the parts of the city that men frequented.

I met Lillian when I was about sixteen. She had just published The Rock Encyclopedia, and I devoured it, read it cover to cover. This was pre Creem, and almost all there was for music junkies was Hit Parader, Teen Beat, and 16 Magazine. So of course I bought her book. And corrected it. The spirit of the book was wonderful, but the facts were all askew, and for a young trainspotter that was unforgivable. She had John Stewart from the Kingston Trio listed as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Things like that. I sent her about thirty handwritten pages of corrections, and she sent back a note graciously asking if I’d like to work on the second edition with her.

There was no second edition, but she became my patron, taking me off to Max’s Kansas City and to clubs I never could have gotten into, not to mention taking me to all the back rooms and backstage scenes I didn’t even know existed. Read More »


Here Is Hemingway Getting Married, and Other News

June 26, 2013 | by


  • Flavorwire has outdone itself with this slideshow of authors’ wedding pictures. (Yup: that’s Hemingway and Hadley.)
  • R.I.P. Nook—we hardly knew ya. (Which is, I suppose, the problem.)
  • Reports of Leonard Cohen’s death, on the other hand, are greatly exaggerated.
  • Beginning tomorrow, the Royal Shakespeare Company will begin tweeting out playwright Mark Ravenhill’s version of Candide. If this is the best of possible worlds, what, then, are the others?
  • At Bookish, an exclusive peek into a day in the life of editor Amy Einhorn.
  • Jane Austen may (or may not) replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note. She is, says Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King, “quietly waiting in the wings,” presumably for a spectacular, 42nd Street–style star turn that delights creationists the world over!



Tapes on Books: Mrs. Dalloway

July 24, 2012 | by

A literary soundtrack inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.