Lunch At Leonard’s In LA – Leonard Cohen & Kezban Özcan Host Nosh For Duchess & DrHGuy

table

Left to right: Kezban Özcan, DrHGuy, Duchess, Leonard Cohen

“It doesn’t suck, Leonard.
DrHGuy to Leonard Cohen after listening to Popular Problems at Casa Cohen

Introduction: Aug 6, 2014 Leonard Cohen Visitation

At the end of the preceding post in this  account of  the sunny August afternoon the Duchess and I spent with Leonard Cohen and his personal assistant, Kezban Özcan, at his home in Los Angeles,1 we had just arrived at Mr. Cohen’s residence to find our musical icon of choice awaiting us in his front yard.

I should point out that stepping out of our parked car marked the commencement of the second part of our two-step plan we had painstakingly constructed for our visit:

  1. Show up
  2. See what happens2

The details of our anticipated audience with the singer-songwriter-poet-novelist-icon were – oh, let’s go with “ambiguous.” Or, we could, with more exacting precision, go with “Once we arrived, we had no clue what to expect.”

In addition to the stress inherent in launching oneself into the abyss of an agendaless get-together, I have always harbored a certain apprehensiveness about meeting Leonard Cohen because our connection is my web sites that feature him and, while those sites have promoted his performances, described the honors he has received, and featured bits of his philosophy and humor, the quality that makes my blogs unique is the not infrequent use of the singer-songwriter-poet-novelist-icon to induce a cheap laugh.

For example, I began writing about Leonard Cohen by publishing a discussion with Anjani, Leonard Cohen’s romantic partner, proposing she dump him in favor of hooking up with me and certain other female vocalists in a three-way or four-way (the numbers and the selection of the other participants were pat of our online negotiations).3 Not long afterward, I posted 10 Unbelievable Secrets About Leonard Cohen, one representative entry of which follows:

The inspiration for the Leonard Cohen song, “Suzanne,” was actually Dolly Parton. Her service as Cohen’s muse was kept secret because of her personal respect for and professional dependence on her partner at that time, Porter Wagoner. Also, the line from “Suzanne” that reads “And she feeds you tea and oranges” was originally “And her breasts are big as melons.”

While others applauded Cohen’s entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I chose to focus on the difficulty he and the other candidates had finding the route to the stage for the induction ceremony.4 I’ve also offered to fix his problematic lyrics, improve his poorly staged concerts, and salvage his incompetently managed merchandising (one solution: The Leonard Cohen Bobble Head). There’s more, but you get the idea.

Not every superstar, I’ve become aware, reacts to such japery with guffaws and knee-slapping.5 Concert-goers have been removed, admirers have been threatened, and fan sites closed for little more than cracking wise. And, certainly more than a few Cohen admirers have taken me to task for poking fun at an artist who personifies dignity and gravitas. Consequently, while Leonard himself has always professed himself a fan of of this brand of humor, that history has made me a tad edgy prior to our meetings. Like the old saying goes, “Live by the Leonard Cohen Bobble Head, die by the Leonard Cohen Bobble Head.”

But, both Duchess and I had met Leonard before – and he had inevitably been, as one would presume, exceedingly Cohenesque – engaging, entertaining, charming, and, according to one of us, sexy. Most of all, he has been gracious. After my first face to face meeting with the man,6 I wrote,

I confess to being unaware of the most elemental musicological knowledge, I am ignorant of the basics of songwriting, and I haven’t a clue about iconicity. I do, however, know graciousness when I’m overwhelmed by it.

And, Leonard Cohen may be the most aggressively gracious person on the planet.

And it turns out, proponents of personal growth will be pleased to learn,  the cumulative graciousness of Leonard Cohen over the years had finally overcome my (arguably deserved) concerns, leaving me delighted rather than distressed about the prospect of spending time with him.

Welcome To The Neighborhood

We had read about the modesty of Leonard Cohen’s home and the iffiness of his neighborhood. Pico Iyer’s characterization is representative of descriptions that can be found in a number of such articles :

It’s an extraordinary thing. He lives in this tiny house in central Los Angeles that’s so dangerous I’m scared ever to visit it, an area where everyone has barred their windows, you can almost hear sirens and breaking glass. Out of all my friends in California — normal people, struggling writers — he lives in the single most modest place. I and my friends seem rich next to Leonard Cohen. He shares a house with his daughter and he might as well be in the monastery and he’s been there for almost 30 years.7

And the fact is that Leonard viewed the 1992 L.A. riots up close and personal from this same house:

“I live about 8 minutes drive from South Central & the local shops were going up. My 7-11 grocery store went up, Goodman’s Music where I buy my musical supplies, Radio Shack, where I buy my electronics, they all went up. From my balcony I could see five great fires. The air was thick with cinders.”8

Well, Leonard Cohen’s home will not be mistaken for Graceland or Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch or, for that matter, Joni Mitchell’s digs in Laurel Canyon. It’s a medium sized duplex (albeit significantly larger than the house in which I spent my childhood) with an exterior stairway one climbs to reach Leonard’s second story apartment. His daughter, Lorca, lives on the first floor. His son, Adam, has a home within a few blocks, as does Anjani Thomas.

And it is sparsely furnished, in keeping with his aesthetic,

I find the simple life voluptuous. I like … a good chair and a good table.9

Nonetheless, once inside, we immediately felt at ease.  Leonard Cohen’s home is a handsome and undeniably pleasant household. (Of course, one has to factor in that my judgement may be skewed by growing up in a part of the Ozarks where gated communities are inhabited exclusively by cattle and upper-class is spelled “d-o-u-b-l-e-w-i-d-e.”)

Nor did we pick up any menacing vibes from the neighborhood.  For my part, I could attribute this to being jaded from those years training at a medical center on the south side of Chicago (aka “the baddest part of town” according to Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown), but Penny, who grew up a valley girl, also thought it unremarkable – “just an older Hollywood neighborhood.”

Is is, in short, the kind of place that would have met Aunt Thelma’s highest standard: “Good enough for Jesus to visit.”10

Today’s Specials At Cafe Cohen

Of course, we should have known there would be food. Leonard Cohen feeds family, friends, his musicians and road crew, Zen monks and teachers, and his interviewers.

Heck, he even makes sure his backstage visitors partake:

The next thing I recall [backstage in Chicago in 2009] is Leonard (note we’re on a first name basis now) urging me to have something to eat from the crew’s buffet. This is accomplished by him taking my arm to lead me through the line of covered dishes, opening each of the 6-8 main offerings, describing the contents, and adding his recommendations.

Should I ever awaken in a post-apocalyptic desert with starving mobs battling over any edible morsel, my plan is to track down Leonard Cohen. If there is food to be had, he will, I am convinced, find it and insist that his guest, even if the status of guest is self-appointed, dine from the bounty.11

And, in fact, following the initial exchange of greetings,12 Kezban began laying out an outrageously splendid buffet: figs, dates, walnuts with aguave & cinnamon, baklava, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, blue cheese, celery, cheese, börek, watermelon, … while Leonard uncorked a bottle of chardonnay.

Leonard and Kezban described the dishes with Leonard heavily promoting the celery and blue cheese. Because my experience with Turkish cuisine is sadly deficient, I asked Kezban about a couple of the offerings:

The name for the savory pastry is börek and pide in Turkish. The one with the elongated shape had ground beef and spices in it. And the round one had feta cheese in it. These savory dough pastries come in so many different shape and flavor, but Leonard and my family love these two the best. And the desert we had was baklava with pistachios sweetened with honey, I got those in New York just recently.

Left to right: Duchess, DrHGuy, Kezban. Photo by Leonard Cohen

Left to right: Duchess, DrHGuy, Kezban. Photo by Leonard Cohen

It wasn’t just the food in front of us that captured Leonard’s interest. When he discovered we were traveling to Victoria later on our trip, he lavishly praised the afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel as a not to be missed event for visitors.

After the chardonnay was emptied, our host urged popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. When I demurred, protesting that I have to remain sufficiently sober to drive home, Leonard Cohen made the most extraordinary offer – open the champagne, spend the night here, and drive home after breakfast.

See what I mean by “Leonard Cohen may be the most aggressively gracious person on the planet?”

The Entertainment

Much of that day’s conversation has already been posted at Calling On Leonard Cohen & Kezban: The Cat, The Cane, The Conversation. One item, however, couldn’t be published at that time. Shortly after we arrived, Leonard told us “I’d like you to listen to my new album and tell me what you think.”

And, after we finished lunch, Duchess and I moved to Leonard’s desk and heard, via his computer, the nine tracks that comprise Popular Problems. (Incidentally, the food service continued during this portion of the program. Leonard prepared a latte and served it to Penny while we listened.)

While the odds against a negative review from us approximated infinity and beyond,  it was clear that there was some tension attendant to the event and that the four of us were distinctly relieved once we revealed – each in his or her own way – our enthusiasm for the album. Duchess gushed superlatives, especially lauding “Slow,” while I opted for the more austere yet heartfelt “It doesn’t suck, Leonard.”

Popular Potables

In celebration of our approval of the album, Leonard, who had already plied us with chardonnay, dosed the Duchess with latte, and twice offered champagne, shared a glass or two of  his Lagavulin whiskey.13

That’s The Way To Say Goodbye

After quaffing the drinks, taking a few more photos, and saying our goodbyes, we departed.

As Porky Pig would put it, “That’s all folks.”  There were no philosophical exchanges requiring heavy intellectual lifting, I didn’t dig up any previously unrevealed historical curiosities, we didn’t compare religious backgrounds …

We chatted about our kids, the weather, and travel plans, we ate and we drank, and we listened to some music.  We’re OK with that.

Credit Due: The photo atop this post was taken by Kezban Özcan via her way cool selfie iPhone app.

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  1. See Directions To Leonard Cohen’s Home … Then turn right & drive until you see a house with the Lord Byron Of Rock ‘n’ Roll waiting in the front yard []
  2. This two-step plan is a strategy I’ve repeatedly used throughout my adult life. I first heard it articulated on Season 1, Episode 22 of Sports Night, the brilliant comedy which ran on ABC from 1998 to 2000. In the dialogue between the Casey and Dan, the sportscasters, the plan was attributed to Napoleon:

    Casey: Technically, I have a plan.
    Dan: What’s the plan?
    Casey: It’s Napoleon’s plan.
    Dan: Who’s Napoleon?
    Casey: A 19th century French emperor.
    Dan: You’re cracking wise with me now?
    Casey: Yes.
    Dan: Thanks.
    Casey: He had a two-part plan.
    Dan: What was it?
    Casey: First we show up, then we see what happens.
    Dan: That was his plan?
    Casey: Yeah.
    Dan: Against the Russian army?
    Casey: Yeah.
    Dan: First we show up, then we see what happens.
    Casey: Yeah.
    Dan: Almost hard to believe he lost. []

  3. See Anjani And DrHGuy []
  4. See Inductees Enter Wrong Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hall []
  5. One wonders how other famous singer-songwriters might have responded to ongoing mockery of this ilk. As a mental exercise, consider the likely reactions of these entertainers: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Mellencamp, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, Steven Tyler, Morrissey, and Bono. And, let’s not even ponder what might happen with rappers. []
  6. See []
  7. Pico Iyer on the strange connection between the Dalai Lama and Graham Greene by Jeff Baker in The Oregonian (April 06, 2010) []
  8. Melancholy Baby by John Walsh. The Independent Magazine: May 8, 1993 []
  9. Leonard Cohen On His Poems, Zen, Hallelujah, His 6 Good Songs, Money, America, And The Squirrel []
  10. In the Bible belted-and-suspendered Ozarks, we heard the following question repeatedly proposed from the church pulpit and the Sunday School lectern: “What would you do if Jesus came to your house today?” Well, the truth is I would have been creeped out, especially if he didn’t call first, but I understood the message underlying this query: we should live our lives in such a Christian manner that we would be prepared if Jesus dropped in for a visit such that the only change required would be frying up an extra pork chop for dinner. Aunt Thelma, however, viewed living in a Christian manner only the starting point. She certainly wouldn’t risk our Lord and Savior stopping by unexpectedly to find her place a mess. []
  11. See []
  12. The highlight of these salutations took place when Leonard Cohen a fait la bise à Duchess (that’s the fancy-schmancy way of indicating bi-cheekal smooching.) []
  13. See Leonard Cohen On Smoking & Drinking In 2014 []

How Popular Is Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems?

cmpold-popComparing Sales Rankings:
Popular Problems Vs Old Ideas

By Roman Gavrilin aka Hermitage Prisoner

Give Me Back Times Square Billboard

While we are not privy to Sony’s Leonard Cohen advertising budgets for his last two albums, inferences can be made from the respective geoeconomics: the center of Leonard Cohen’s 2012 Old Ideas marketing campaign was the world’s main square. The center of this year’s Popular Problems promotions has been located somewhere between Leonard Cohen’s backyard and … well, his front yard.

It certainly appears that, whatever the reason, the marketing effort for Popular Problems has been less vigorous and extensive than the Old Ideas campaign, an observation which leads to the question: which album has been more popular with buyers?

Happily, there is an effective, albeit imperfect, means by which to compare the success of two most recent Leonard Cohen albums: a simple juxtaposition of country by country sales rankings.

Measure Of All Measures

New Zealand: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #1.

Australia: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #6.

South Korea: Old Ideas #30, Popular Problems #34.

Old Ideas leads 2-0.

Greece: Old Ideas #14, Popular Problems #7.

Croatia: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #1.

Hungary: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #6.

Czech Republic: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #1.

Poland: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #3.

Croatia: Old Ideas reached #1 in a chart of foreign albums, while Popular Problems topped the combined chart.

Old Ideas leads 4-2.

Finland: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #2.

Sweden: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #5.

Norway: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #1.

Denmark: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #1.

6-3: the goal difference grows; Queen Silvia looks confused.

Germany: Old Ideas #4, Popular Problems #4.

Austria: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #1.

Switzerland: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #1.

Both Alpine republics now have their first ever Leonard Cohen album with a #1 ranking, making the situation more balanced: 6-5.

Italy: Old Ideas #14, Popular Problems #5.

Spain: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #3.

Portugal: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #1.

7-7

France: Old Ideas #4, Popular Problems #2.

Wallonia (Belgium): Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #2.

Flanders (Belgium): Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #1.

Netherlands: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #1.

8-8

United Kingdom: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #5.

Scotland: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #3.

Ireland: Old Ideas #2, Popular Problems #2.

9-8.1

Canada: Old Ideas #1, Popular Problems #1.

United States: Old Ideas #3, Popular Problems #15.

10-8.2

Global Album Chart: Old Ideas #3, Popular Problems #5.3

Conclusion: I Guess That Makes Us Equal

Re the final result (10-8), let’s summarize: … even though Popular Problems did not receive the same level of promotional support as Old Ideas, the sales rankings of the two albums have been equivalent across the globe except the US and the UK

Old Ideas Popular Problems
11 Number One 11
24 Top 5 21
24 Top 10 24

Note: The sales chart performance of Popular Problems can be followed on the Leonard Cohen Forum at Popular Problems – Various Chart Positions

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  1. If you need a reason to support European separatist movements, check the Flemish national and Scottish regional charts. []
  2. Note: Old Ideas was ranked #3 in Slovenia and #85 in Mexico, but the most recent charts published for these countries predate the release of Popular Problems. []
  3. This is a  composite chart created from individual country rankings []

Now Online: Leonard Cohen Looks To The Future (1992) by Paul Verna

Leonard Cohen Looks To The Future by Paul Verna
Billboard (Published in Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Nov 27, 1992)

This article focuses on the release of Cohen’s ninth studio album, “The Future,” and includes

  • The catalytic role played by “his friend and collaborator De Mornay”
  • Pairing bleak lyrics with “a hot little track”
  • An exposition on the underlying concept of “Democracy”
  • “Anthem” as the “philosophical background of the album

Sarasota-Herald-Tribune---Nov-27,-1992

Video From Upcoming “Leonard Cohen – Live In Dublin” CD/DVD: “Come Healing”

healg

This clip is from the “Leonard Cohen – Live In Dublin” CD/DVD, due for release Dec 2, 2014 (see It’s Official: Leonard Cohen “Live In Dublin” DVD/CD/Blu-Ray Announced By Columbia)

Leonard Cohen – Come Healing
Dublin: Sept 12, 2013

Credit Due Department: Thanks go to Roman Gavrilin aka Hermitage Prisoner and Laurence of Paris, who alerted me to this video.

Now Online: Leonard Cohen’s Poems Court The Universe (1968) By Mary Campbell

“I used to write poems to court ladies. But … your courting gets wider and wider and you end up trying to court the universe”

Leonard Cohen’s Poems Court The Universe By Mary Campbell
AP; Published in The Evening News (New Burgh NY): Feb 24, 1968

As the title indicates, this article focuses on Leonard Cohen’s poetry, just mentioning “he has made his first recording,1 which is selling substantially.” I’ve pulled a few quotes as teasers:

  • “[Greece] was the first place where I realized what the difference between north and south was. I was there two months and I was lying on a rock. I felt a little shiver. It was the last sliver of ice melting from inside a bone. I was finally warm.”
  • “I like to feel that I’m being kissed sadly by the world when I write [poetry]”
  • “[Selected Poems by Leonard Cohen] was a limited edition. I don’t think they meant it to be limited, but it was.”

The-Evening-News---Feb-24,-1968

Note: The text of this article has been previously posted online. I am posting this version because it is significantly easier to view and read.

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  1. According to the piece, the album “is titled ‘Leonard Cohen'” []

Alberto Manzano On Translating Popular Problems & Leonard Cohen’s Latin American Influences

albman

Alberto Manzano & Leonard Cohen

Alberto Manzano has produced some of the most insightful, enlightening, and entertaining books and articles about Leonard Cohen as well as translating his lyrics and poetry and taking some of the most telling photos of the Canadian singer-songwriter.1  And, he is prolific, contributing over a dozen volumes to the Cohen bibliography.  Most of his work, however, is published in Spanish, severely limiting its accessibility. I’m posting Helen Ketcham’s English translation of this article about Monzano not only to communicate its content is significant but also to increase awareness in the Cohen fan community of this especially important journalist.

La conexión hispana de Leonard Cohen comenta el último regreso del músico

La conexión hispana de Leonard Cohen comenta el último regreso del músico
By Marcos Moraga
La Tercera: Oct 13, 2014

Translated by Helen Ketcham

Leonard Cohen’s Spanish Connection Comments On The Latest Return Of The Musician

Spaniard Alberto Manzano is the Canadian’s biographer and translator.

“It’s not because I’m old, it’s not the life I’ve led, / I always liked it slow, that’s how my mother taught me.” That’s the conclusion of the chorus of “Slow,” the first song on Popular Problems, the latest album by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, released on September 20. He has his reasons: when his latest work hit the street, the author of Hallelujah had just crossed the barrier of 80 years.

“His Zen Master, Roshi died just a couple of months ago, at age 106, and his sister, Esther, died a couple of weeks ago. Leonard has seen many of his best friends depart lately: the Canadian poet Irving Layton, his publisher, Jack McClelland. It is normal for him to feel the wolf at his heels. But Cohen has been concerned about this issue since the mid-70s, when he published his book and album Death of a Lady’s Man. I think he has always considered himself old.”

The speaker is Alberto Manzano, editor, biographer and translator of most of Cohen’s work into Spanish. A few days ago, the author received an email in which the American bard requested his services, this time to put the verses of Popular Problems into Spanish. Manzano agreed, and as with previous albums by the musician, his work may appear in an edition prepared for Latin America (“I think that he wants to put it up on his website,” says the Spaniard).

Barring a few exceptions– Joaquin Sabina was commissioned to do the translation of Old Ideas, the previous album — Manzano has been a consistent collaborator with Cohen, where the Canadian has placed his interest: his daughter was named Lorca in honor of the poet of that name; in 2012, Cohen won the Prince of Asturias Prize, and upon receiving it, took off his hat to the flamenco tradition, singling it out as responsible for his approach to the guitar.

Manzano has been close to Cohen for more than three decades. From there he observes the latest verbal darts from his Canadian friend: “He’s succeeded in distilling the essence of things, their substantiality, with very few words, accurate, simple. He’s creating gold. I’m Your Man and The Future are albums of the 90’s on which he had, in effect, exchanged his guitar for electronic keyboards. And that continues, except now its rhythms are much more placid and silky, like a kind of balm for the wounds of the soul. You can tell he is a man who has found peace. “

TO SABINA AND BACK AGAIN

For his previous album, Old Ideas (2012), Cohen put together an edition for Spain, with the lyrics translated by musician Joaquín Sabina. “Jorge Luis Borges has been widely criticized for his translations, for not being exactly true to the original text. It could be the same with Sabina. There are poets (because only a poet can translate another poet) who pour too much of themselves into foreign territory for which they feel some attraction or even identification,” comments Manzano.

Only Cohen knows whether the songs of Popular Problems will go out live on a world tour. Any interest in visiting South America, where the singer has never toured? “Honestly, it’s not likely,” Manzano responds, while reviewing the Latin American influences in his work: “I know he really likes the tango. He is a lover of Carlos Gardel. In the mid-80s, he asked me to write an adaptation in English of the song “Goodbye, Boys.” And I did one. He probably has it put away in some corner of his desk. He has also read Borges.”

Any option, then, depends on the mood of the North American, who appears to be stepping on the accelerator of productivity in the final stretch. He recalls the flirtatious remark Cohen whispers hoarsely from the stage whenever some young lady shouts out to him from the crowd: “If only I were two years younger.”

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  1. Monzano has also written about and translated for other artists, including Dylan, Jackson Browne, Tome Waits, Lou Reed, and Jim Morrison. []