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Friday, 13 July 2012

Neighbour of the Beast

How did I end up living next door to Leonard Cohen, whose many female fans rarely get close and when they do, can’t stop gushing about their incredible luck at having spent an evening with him, eating spaghetti Bolognese?

I still sometimes puzzle over the strange twist of fate which positioned me around the corner and within gawking distance of his house at 30 Vallieres, six years after our first meeting in 1977 and long after the romance had flickered out.

At the time, my life still seemed to revolve around the man, although the parabola of my orbit fluctuated wildly, like that of some rogue planet that had wandered into his solar system and couldn’t quite escape the suction at the centre. I wouldn’t exactly call Leonard a “sun” – although “black hole” or “brown dwarf” don’t really encapsulate him, either. As relationships go, ours ranged from dangerously close to extremely distant.

He exercised a lot of magnetism over the people in his world, some of it pleasant and positive. Leonard’s greatest achievement, apart from his “life in art”, is his ability to compartmentalize various aspects of himself so that what first-time visitors and new acquaintances see is often a dazzling fragment of a man whose dark side would shock them. And that is an understatement.

Over the winter of 1980-81, I had seen several women fall in love with him and be drawn into the masochistic three-ring circus that was life on Hydra. I had concluded that something was wrong with the ringmaster at the centre of all this, but was unable to pull away. In a way, I felt a responsibility (to myself, but also to the others) to make sense of the puzzle of contradictions that threatened to absorb more and more of my life.

Unable to unravel the mystery of his hold over people, which at times appeared almost magical, I eventually decided, at Leonard’s suggestion, to go to Mount Baldy and see the Roshi. After divining that Cohen and I knew each other, the Roshi had suggested we get married. “You make Rennard Cohen good wife!” he enthused. A few days later, Leonard took up with a blonde from Minneapolis, and (in tears) Roshi apologized for his mistake: “Rennard Cohen crazy. You not need.”

Two weeks later, after arranging for Cohen to fund my Zen practice for a year, the Roshi confided that , being a man, he, too, had an ego and could make mistakes. “But Rennard Cohen good friend to you,” he concluded, with a pause implying a need for confirmation.

I didn't know what to make of it all. No one had bothered to ask for my input on the question of my future. It seemed to have been arranged in my best interests, between Leonard and the Roshi, during one of their sake-soaked evenings. The “scholarship” was handed to me like a birthday present which, once unwrapped, at first appears perfectly timed but on second glance turns out to be heavy with consequences. I was a newcomer who adapted well to Zen practice and even seemed to be good at it. I liked what I had seen so far, but did I really want to spend the next several years in some monastery in the desert of New Mexico? It seemed I was about to become a ward of the Roshi, who would train me as a Zen nun in his organization, after which I would just disappear into the Void of spiritual practice.

That’s when the phone call suddenly arrived, out of the blue, from an old friend in Montreal, who had decided to give up his jaw-droppingly cheap apartment in the heart of our beloved Plateau Mont Royal. Did I want it? I gave his offer two second’s careful consideration before saying yes. He didn’t tell me this charming 75$ a month flat shared a back yard (divided by a high fence) with Leonard Cohen.

Some people thought this proved I was still in hot pursuit of Leonard, but they knew little of the complexities. Besides, no matter how many spells you cast, or how many rosaries you thumb, it would be impossible to arrange such a coincidence, which I discovered only after I had flown back to Montreal and picked up the keys from my friend, who had just completed his Masters in Ecology at Penn State University, and also happened to share a birthday (September 21) with Leonard.

The irony was all too blatant: in my decision to evade Leonard’s kind offer, I ended up moving in next door to him. I’ve never particularly wondered what would have happened had I stayed at the monastery. I knew I was not cut out to be a nun, although over the first months back in Montreal,  I wrote a little book called A NUN’S DIARY, a fanciful retelling of my winter on Hydra which began at about the same time John Lennon was shot in New York.

It would be years before I finally understood the hidden truth about why those days on Hydra were the darkest time of my life. Over that winter, I saw Leonard change, and not for the better. I saw apparently trivial incidents unfold that made little sense at the time, but were in fact connected to events happening on the world stage. The island of Hydra miraculously mirrors the constellation of Hydra, which floats in the night sky between Leo and Virgo, the lion and the lady. And Hydra was the miniature chessboard where a secretive master practiced his moves for what was coming next.

Here, hindsight rears up like a dragon and runs away with the narrative. We are nearing a time when many secrets are bursting into the open. Let this be one of those secrets that unleashes a wave of shock, and a tsunami of sudden awakening to the abyss that lies ahead unless we look down into it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm merely trying to establish a context here for what I am about to go into. It is important that people know the truth about the cults that operate in the world of "entertainment" -- and the nature of their operations. Things are not at all what they seem, but lately the veil that separates us from the truth appears to be shimmering and growing more diaphanous...