Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thoughts On Thoughts On Leonard Cohen

Some thoughts on thoughts on Leonard Cohen followed by an my amazing unlocking the mystery of his "Famous Blue Raincoat:

Cohen in his relatively youthful---30ish---persona of sensitive, suffering, alienated, truth telling artist as seer was a mixture of straight up bullshit, itself inextricable from his complicated real belief in it, and of calculated poseur as a means of commercially making it as that kind of artist. (The present day Cohen is too worldly and wis/ze(ned) to touch that self congratulation.) 

A problem with this well written engaging extract is that it buys into the silliness of Cohen as seer, of any artist as prophet:

....But Cohen was no longer there. He was in his small white house in the Greek island of Hydra, playing his guitar outside his favorite taverna, dreaming up a new way to tell his stories, training to become a prophet...

On that ground, the romanticization of the artist, Cohen's, and Leibowitz's---channeling him rather than putting in some critical distance---account of A.M. Klein's progression to his break down is altogether too pat and is patronizing:

...A.M. Klein, a brilliant poet who, squeezed by necessity, had become a speechwriter for Samuel Bronfman—the omnipotently wealthy owner of the Seagram Distillery—before suffering a breakdown, attempting to take his own life, and retreating to his home, never to resurface...

....he (Klein) spoke with too much responsibility, he was too much a champion of the cause, too much the theorist of the Jewish party line. … And sometimes his nostalgia for a warm, rich past becomes more than nostalgia, becomes, rather, an impossible longing, an absolute and ruthless longing for the presence of the divine, for the evidence of holiness. Then he is alone and I believe him. Then there is no room for the ‘we’ and if I want to join him, if, even, I want to greet him, I must make my own loneliness."...

....Klein, he continued....fell victim to a Jewish community where honor had migrated “from the scholar to the manufacturer where it hardened into arrogant self defense. Bronze plaques bearing names like Bronfman and Beutel were fastened to modern buildings, replacing humbler buildings established by men who loved books in which there were no plaques at all...

When Cohen says he must "make his own loneliness," he's saying he must create his own holiness. When he says this he continues the confounding mix in him of poseur and some measure of belief in his own bullshit, (with the confoundment perhaps resolved by the nonsense of the notion of Cohen questing after his own holiness.) This silliness informs the simplistic account of Klein driven to breakdown and attempted suicide due to his forsaking the holiness/loneliness of the prophet for his community sustaining role as priest. Why anyone, especially the brilliant, tormented Klein, public man, lawyer, artist, breaks down, attempts suicide, becomes a recluse, will self evidently defy such jejune characterization.

In line with that romantic reductiveness are, at least, two other things that Leibowitz uncritically adopts from Cohen: one,  the utter dismissal of the mainstream Jewish community of the time as a conventional mediocrity hiding in its religion cowardly to evade hard, biting truth:

...The chase, then, is a lonely sport, and the community, observing the prophet, becomes suspicious. Most people would rather visit lifeless and antiquated things in air-conditioned museums than seek thrills in steaming swamps, running the risk of getting bitten by something wild...;

and Cohen's view of himself as aborning seer, ready to be a lonely, holy truth teller bringing biting prophecy to the shirking, shrinking away masses:

....To do it properly, he noted, he would have to go into exile. He would also have to stay stoic as his fellow Jews labeled him a traitor for daring to think up other possibilities for spiritual life—possibilities, like love and sex and drugs and song, for which there was little room in the synagogue. He was ready....

Really though, what Cohen, who was and is nothing more than a very smart, good writer, was ready for was fame, fortune and celebrity, with his pose buoying and blowing up his not inconsiderable talent.

Take, finally, as a microcosm of one big aspect of all this--real talent in combination with errant silliness--his great and haunting song Famous Blue Raincoat:

...And Jane came by with a lock of your hair 
She said that you gave it to her 
That night that you planned to go clear 
Did you ever go clear?...

Going clear refers to Scientology, one of our abiding absurdities, and the question ending the quatrain presupposes the possibility of going clear and therefore a belief in that possibility. And voila holiness a la that younger Leonard Cohen that Leibowtiz here writes about. 

Now as to mystery solved:

It all comes down to one word in answer to: why is the blue rain coat famous?

It all comes down to this one word: DANDRUFF--(capitalized for emphasis.)

Consider the textual evidence:

"... and Jane came by with a *lock of your hair*

She said you gave it to her

That night you planned to go *clear*... (i.e. no dandruff)

And you treated my woman to a *flake* of your life..."

Clearly, any number of years of higher education in English Literature have not gone to waste.

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