You know it’s a good edition of the Globe & Mail Arts section when Leonard Cohen is on the cover. I pounced on it last Saturday over breakfast. His first album for 8 years is coming out next week, Old Stories. Love him or hate him, he’s still going strong at 77.
I had a dream about him in 2004, the year of his last album Dear Heather. I dreamt he wrote me a letter about being Canadian. It was so vivid. I remember telling all my friends. I went through my journals from that year this morning trying to find if I had written it down but… no. I wish I could remember better.
I had just moved back to Canada and it was something about what it is to be Canadian and a writer. I also remember that it was just before the album came out… I kept thinking, no, no.. it’s Dear Alex.
Leonard Cohen wrote me a letter on the astral plane! Maybe it’s time I replied?
He’s one of the most inspiring living writers and poets that I can think of. His words and poems prod me into remembering I have a place. ”I know the spiritual journey is going on but I have so little mastery over it. I act as a secretary. I don’t really know how it works.” (Globe, Jan 21, 2012) I feel the same way. I start with a blank piece of paper or screen and then half an hour later, it’s full. Half the time I don’t even know where it’s come from.
It’s not unlike a purely meditative moment. A space is created and something arises. From where, who can say? One worked and hoped for that in theatre. To not have any idea how you were going to say a line. Create the space and out it comes surprising you, the person opposite and the audience. The blurred lines between art and spiritual practice is an ongoing fascination.
I watched a superb little film about him from the NFB archives yesterday … well, I say little but clocking in at 44 minutes, it’s the equivalent of sitting down to watch Gandhi in cybertime. It was worth it. Footage of 1960s Montreal, whimsical hotel room scenes, lots of cigarette smoke and flirting with his hairdresser. But it’s his words. No wonder he had packs of women around him. Some of the poems in this film are seriously weak knee-making.
There’s one priceless moment when he’s being interviewed on a TV panel and he attempts to explain his most raw and mystical self and you can see the interviewer has absolutely no way of tuning in …. it was 1964. Who was talking like this in 1964?
“When I get up in the morning… my real concern is to discover whether I’m in a state of grace. And if I make that investigation, and I discover that I am not in a state of grace, I try to go [back] to bed. A state of grace is that kind of balance with which you ride the chaos that you find around you. It’s not a matter of resolving the chaos — because there’s something arrogant and warlike about putting the world in order — but having a kind of escape ski down over a hill, just going through the contours of the hill.
Interviewer interjects: Oh, you have lost me!
Irving Layton explains: What Cohen is trying to do right now is to preserve the self; that’s his real concern, and I think that is the concern for every poet: to preserve the self in a world that is rapidly steamrollering the selves out of existence, and establishing a uniform world.”
If you like Leonard Cohen, poetry or Montreal, you’ll love this.
All hail to poets everywhere.