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Monday, 17 September 2012

Not OUR Leonard...?

Over the years, I had become adept at picking up Leonard's subtle signals. He would invite me over for tea and while we sat in near-silence, he would pull out a drawing to show me, or play me part of a new song.  His sense of humour, timing, and ceremony, made even fleeting gestures and remarks seem weighty and significant. He would tell a joke, or switch on the TV -- with hypnotic effect. The flow of time would appear to stop for a moment or two, long enough to slip into a semi-trance. These little tricks had once fascinated me, but now they were getting threadbare.

Behind the show lurked a strange agenda that seemed to involve mass murder in the name of religion.

I saw him less and less often, and almost always in private.These little audiences isolated me from his entourage, who at times behaved like a corps of palace bodyguards with orders to keep me away from the great man. Sometimes I picked up the impression that they had been told I was seriously unbalanced but when I asked him why this was, Leonard hinted that they all were just "jealous."


The spaghetti Bolognese dinner left a long aftertaste that lasted for days, weeks, months. It harkened back to the period, a decade earlier, when Leonard had been in the habit of hinting that we were getting married, whenever we were alone together. He never had actually stated it outright, leaving himself plenty of leverage for plausible deniability. "I hardly know that woman. I never asked her to marry me. She imagined we have some kind of relationship." Women were lined up around the block, ready to believe anything Leonard said.

I figured these games were part of the life of a pop star, an unstable occupation at best. And if Leonard had decided that the best management policy was to lie to everyone, in varying degrees, it was all the more reason to distance myself from him. However, I was still next door, occupying the cheapest apartment in the whole Plateau Mont Royal, with my own garden, and many other benefits. Why move away? I could just "separate, without separating" -- as the Roshi had suggested.

It had been one thing to recover from the realization that Leonard frequently lied to women, almost as if it was his mission in life to leave a trail of bodies in his romantic wake. So much the worse, I thought, for the ones who were stupid enough to fall for it and never got up again. But this latest "proposal" seemed reserved for hardy survivors like me, women who hung around the neighbourhood past their due date, pursuing badly-defined career objectives such as "writing" which I was what I was doing for a living. By writing fiction, I was unravelling the puzzle of my life, despite the fact that most of the essential pieces were missing. Leonard was aware of the chapter of my history that involved the Allan Memorial Institute and secret LSD experiments on children, but he chose to keep that knowledge to himself. As with so much else at the time,  secrecy denied us all access to information that could have freed many.

There was a way to cure the suffering , but it involved taking the red pill and telling the truth. Instead, Leonard preferred to play the role of a cultural Godfather to a generation of damaged children who were slowly growing into confused adults. His core beliefs, however, were very friendly to the powerful people who had done most of the damage. He feared and respected power above everything.

Now he was proposing something new: possible entry into the secretive world where global plans are hatched and put into action. If he was joking, it wasn't funny. For years he had been dropping hints about the people who stood behind him, painting them in a brighter light than they deserved, and allowing me to think they were like the sincere young people who studied with the Roshi when in fact they were from a different world altogether -- the world Leonard had once tried to escape in the early 70s when he landed at Mount Baldy and met the Roshi -- the world of shadow government and its various secretive projects, in which nothing is what it seems, and where agendas remain hidden until they spill out into the open.

He had lifted a corner of the curtain that evening in the restaurant. If you were quick enough to catch a glimpse, it was clear he was not talking Love and light. He was speaking from a long-term commitment to the narrow, sectarian goal of domination through deception. He was referring to what at the time seemed like an insane, surrealistic plan to kill off most of humanity in supposed revenge for the holocaust.

Over the years I had known Leonard, I had grown accustomed to his peculiar views on things. I'd mistakenly believed they were personal, eccentric, and possibly intended to be taken ironically. But now I began to think they indicated membership in some lunatic fringe group with big ambitions. Who were they?

My first thought was they might be descended from the followers of 17th century false messiah Sabbatai Zvi. Whoever they were, it didn't seem likely that they could ever occupy a mainstream position in politics or society.  I certainly would never have climbed on a bandwagon under the banner of war and depopulation. But then, I also failed to realize Leonard's career was about to take off as never before. Of course, his new repertoire had something to do with that -- he was now writing songs that spoke in undertones to people in high places who were looking for music to accompany their secret orchestrations.

A lot has changed in the last twenty years, and much of it involves the mainstreaming of hidden doctrines and agendas.  Along with the rise of neo-conservatives in North America, we have witnessed the rise to fame and fortune of Montreal singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen,

Saturday, 1 September 2012

When Annie Met Lenny

I was not always the wise older woman I am today. In my mid-twenties, I was smart but naive. How could it have been otherwise? At 26, I had been in and out of several relationships with men my age. "Men are so disappointing," I opined, on the evening I had my first face-to-face talk over Leonard's kitchen table. I was drinking tea with the celebrated "grocer of despair," who had recently turned 43 and looked as disillusioned as I must have sounded.

His response caught me by surprise, and tweaked my vanity. "You're a very sensitive instrument," said the poet, who by then had known me for no more than twenty minutes. "You're like one of those old gadgets the navigators used to steer their course by the heavens."

"You mean, an astrolabe?" I asked. A nicer word than quadrant, and it showed I'd read my 16th century history.

"Yes, exactly. An astrolabe."It rolled off his tongue like a starry promise.

As I pondered the sensual undercurrents, Leonard continued: "Your problem is you keep spinning. You have no centre, no real focus. You need someone who can guide you."

Was he offering to be my pilot through the rapids of life? A thrilling thought which later proved naive in the extreme. Leonard was not fit to be captain of anything, much less of my multi-channeled voyage. But for a while, I fell under his hypnotic spell.

He came to visit me where I lived: a bare little room on the second floor of an old, stone building that bore the magic number 4900. I had moved into it two months earlier, in September 1977. Seven x seven = forty-nine. I felt I had landed in a place of transformation and promise. I had solitude, a table for writing. I was going to be a writer. All I needed was something to focus on.

On the day Leonard visited, he was dressed casually in an old suit jacket and trademark fedora. I opened the door and there he was, grinning in the hallway. I happened to be holding a pair of L-shaped dowsing rods I had brought back from a dowsing convention in Vermont. El-rods, you might call them -- which happened to be his wife's family name. But Susanne Elrod and he were estranged at the time, and he had just released a new album, with a promising title: Death of a Ladies' Man. He seemed ready for a change, otherwise we would not have been meeting like this. I was not so naive as to carry on with a married man.

As he stepped across the threshold, I pointed my dowsing rods at his head. They separated, perhaps expanding to take in the boundaries of his aura. A thought, out of nowhere, made me blurt out: "I see there are two of you. You're the one I like. But then there's that other guy, Leonard Cohen. I'm not sure about him."

He seemed taken aback by this statement from a woman he had recently compared to an astrolabe.It would turn out to be one of those flashes of insight that would resurface, over and over, as I came to know the complex entity known as Leonard Cohen, who was now examining my walls and ceiling, and admiring the view from my curtainless window which faced northeast on a row of three-storey buildings not unlike the one he owned and inhabited on Rue Vallieres.

The third time we met was a week or two later. Inspired in part by his example, I had taken up meditating in the evenings. I was sitting in lotus position, staring at the floor, when the phone rang. A low-pitched gravelly voice inquired, "Were you meditating just now?"

Although normally I would have laughed and confessed, thrilled and impressed by this demonstration of ESP -- for some reason I decided to lie. "No, I was reading."

There was a pause at the other end. "Are you sure  you were reading, and not meditating?"

I hesitated. It wasn't like me not to blurt out the truth, but I felt irritated by this intrusion into my privacy. 'No, I was reading." I could tell he didn't believe me. "Where are you?" I asked, changing the subject, because I felt guilty for lying to my new friend.

"I'm at a phone booth on the Main, outside Schwartzes --" He let out a shout, followed by the clatter of a dropped receiver. After some incomprehensible yelling, Leonard came back on the line. "You won't believe what just happened," he said. "My car was just stolen from the street where I parked it. A brand new rental car. I must have left the keys in it."

I felt his bad luck might have been caused by my little white lie of a moment ago, opening a hairline crack in the universe through which small demons were able to enter his car, grab the keys, and whisk it away to some garage in Pointe-aux-Trembles where it would be painted and remodelled by morning. I offered to run right over and help, in whatever way I could.

When I arrived at the scene of the car-jacking, Leonard was talking to two French-speaking cops, holding notebooks and portable phones. As he described the car and the thieves, he seemed intimidated by the policemen. He seemed fearful of these figures of authority, whom he repeatedly addressed as "Officer" as he blamed himself for the incident. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. There was no need to bow and scrape. They were only doing their job, after all, and didn't hold out much hope for recovering the car.

Leonard seemed resigned. We went back to his place, where he took off his coat and kicked off his shoes. "I am now going to go into a deep meditation," he said. "You can sit in that chair there. I'll be about twenty minutes."

I watched as he closed his eyes, started breathing deeply, and seemed to slip into a trance that lasted for what seemed like an hour. This was not how I had learned to meditate. I had been taught to remain wakeful, watch my breath, and expect to be bored most of the time. Leonard, on the other hand, seemed to depart for some other universe. When he returned, he appeared calm, like someone whose questions have received satisfactory answers.

He said the theft of the car was only one of the strange events of that evening. I thought of the phone call, his ESP, and my denial - but he showed me the Indian bracelet he wore around his wrist -- the clasp had broken, for no reason, and he was convinced there was a meaning behind that, too.

He never told me what he had seen and learned during his deep meditation, but he did make it clear that I had been in the picture somewhere.

"I think the universe is telling you to make up your mind, Leonard," I said, drawing on my recent initiation into the art of divination. Anyone can be an oracle if they put their mind to it.

I could tell I had tickled a sore spot. He seemed to take real offense at that suggestion, for some reason.Over the months and years ahead, I would learn there were not just two Leonard Cohen's, but many who came and went. Some were fearful and obedient, others confident and commanding. Some were cruel and secretive, while others were kind and generous. They seemed unaware of one another's existence.

Knowing Leonard was a little like entering a labyrinth without an exit.


Over the years, Leonard would sometimes make oblique references to the people who controlled his career. The way he put it, they were not all in the music business, but occupied a shadow world, from which they doled out rewards and punishment. Once he cryptically remarked, "There are a lot of punishments in this business, if you rebel. And the punishments get worse over time."

Though he never identified his personal Men in Black, he implied they had been around since his early beginnings. There was no question of his walking away. He would introduce them into the conversation, then quickly change the subject.

I found it odd that a man of his age and stature lived in fear of mysterious handlers. Who were they? What kind of power could they hold over him? He was loathe to answer that obvious question.

He also told me about another group that he owed allegiance to -- or maybe they were the same group, viewed in a more positive light. These he described as his co-religionists, men of great accomplishment and spiritual power who also remained nameless. He hinted at a dynamic cabal which acted mainly in secret to change the course of history, and was poised to play a dominant and decisive role in world affairs. Who could they be? What were their goals? He assured me there was a place for me, somewhere, in their plan -- I just had to be patient and loyal. Leonard valued loyalty in his friends, and cultivated a little circle of hangers-on, some of the most confused people I knew, ready to do anything to remain in their hero's good books. It seemed out of character for a semi-reclusive sage not only to tolerate sycophantic slaves but actually encourage them, as he did.

One evening in 1990, Leonard invited me out for spaghetti Bolognese at a small Italian restaurant that he frequented because, as he said, he just loved spaghetti Bolognese. The conversation was halting, almost non-existent. He quoted his friend Irving Layton, who said that the human race deserved to go through a massive "holocaust" as retribution for the one that had decimated the Jews in the Second World War.

I don't much like spaghetti Bolognese, but I dutifully ate as I pondered why he would drop a remark like that into our dinner table conversation. He kept on eating, waiting for me to agree or disagree. To me it felt as if our relationship hung in the balance. It was an "are you with us, or against us?" moment which I would have preferred to ignore. Was he serious? Something dangerous hovered over the checkered tablecloth, and our dismal plates of cold pasta.

"So, am I correct in saying you no longer feel anything for me?" he inquired, after another long silence.

I chewed that over, too, and decided he was right: I felt nothing. Nothing I could put a name on, or put into words. Disappointment, maybe, mixed with shock and dissociation, to be sitting across from a man who might or might not be the "real Leonard Cohen," in a mental and emotional void that seemed to stretch from here to Armageddon.

It was a frigid night in January, and Leonard had a flight to catch. We walked back to his house, where he asked me to help him scrape the ice from his windshield, before he drove himself to the airport. After he had gone, I went around the corner to my flat and lay awake for a while, wondering if he was serious about welcoming another "holocaust" -- and what it all meant.

Maybe it meant nothing. In that case, why say it? In the past he had sprinkled small, dark secrets into our conversations, and when he did this, I always felt it was to test my complicity. In the past, too, he had used the word "geopolitical" when referring to the movement of history, making it clear he didn't much subscribe to my generation's naive agendas.

Here he seemed to be referring to some destructive plan that he implicitly supported. That was the message that lodged in my gut, that night. He believed it would happen. He wanted it to happen. He wanted me to choose. He was giving me a chance to join the winning side in some future war that he knew was coming. Could I keep a secret? Did I have the stamina to carve myself a slice of the Future?

That night when I turned out the light, I also turned the page on Leonard Cohen. It was time to put him and his deepening insanity, behind me.