Sunday, September 19, 2004

70 Things You Didn't Know About Leonard Cohen

Guardian UK:

5 Cohen's albums regularly go to no 1 in Norway.

6 In America, his last album entered the Billboard chart at number 143.

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9 Cohen was 32 and an established poet and novelist before deciding that songwriting might pay better. When he first touted his songs around New York, agents said to him: "Aren't you a little old for this game?"

10 He has never married - "too frightened". He had two children with Suzanne Elrod, and also had a long relationship with the film star Rebecca De Mornay.

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13 Cohen's maternal grandfather, a rabbi, wrote a 700-page thesaurus of Talmudic interpretations.

14 His father, who was in the garment trade, died when he was nine.

15 His middle name is Norman.

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21 He liked the Greek island of Hydra so much that he bought a house there in 1960 for $1,500. It had no electricity or running water. He could live there for $1,000 a year, so he would go back to Canada, earn the money with his writing and head back to Hydra "to write and swim and sail".

22 His second novel, Beautiful Losers, about a love triangle, was hailed by one reviewer as "the most revolting book ever written in Canada".

23 His big break was meeting the folk singer Judy Collins. He sang Suzanne down the phone to her and she immediately promised to record it.

[...]

26 The young Cohen's signature tune was Suzanne. He once called it "journalism", as the details were drawn from life in Montreal. Suzanne was a friend, Suzanne Verdal, who really did serve him tea and oranges in her loft by the river. Cohen wrote the line "I touched your perfect body with my mind" because she was married to a friend of his.

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30 Some time in the early 70s, his songs were dismissed as "music to slit your wrists to". The phrase stuck. "I get put into the computer tagged with melancholy and despair," Cohen said. "And every time a journalist taps in my name, that description comes up on the screen."

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33 His song Chelsea Hotel No 2, about Janis Joplin, may be the only song overtly written by one pop star about sex with another. "You said to me then, you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception ... giving me head on the unmade bed, while the limousines wait in the street."

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38 When he wrote Bird on a Wire, Cohen felt he hadn't "finished the carpentry", but Kris Kristofferson said the first three lines would be his epitaph: "Like a bird on a wire/ Like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried, in my way, to be free"

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41 His album Death of a Ladies' Man was produced by Phil Spector, the reclusive genius of girl-group pop. "I was flipped out at the time," Cohen said later, "and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns - the music was a subsidiary enterprise ... At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil.'"

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56 Cohen said of Cobain after his death: "I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him."

[...]

63 Cohen has probably the best manners in pop. When you ask how he is, he says, "Can't complain", as if he hadn't built a career on elegant lamentation. When he rings off, he says "So long", as he did, famously, to a lover named Marianne.

[...]

66 Cohen was much admired in 1960s France. The president, Georges Pompidou, was reputed to take his LPs on holiday, and it was said that if a Frenchwoman owned one record, it was likely to be by Cohen.

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