The Newest Biography Of Leonard Cohen
I just received my copy of the recently published “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New Biography” by Tim Footman. Even though I have read only a handful of pages, I can already provide revisions that will enhance ones reading experience (thus, the “& Improved” addition to the subtitle).
As a convenience to viewers, I have prepared an improved cover (above) and two enhanced pages which can be printed and pasted into ones copy of the original volume. (Click on page images for best reading)
The “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New Biography” Cover
While my motivation for changing the cover from “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New Biography” to “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New & Improved Biography,” is to distinguish the Heck Of A Guy-enhanced version of the book from the original, this transformation also lends utility to the otherwise perplexing subtitle, “A New Biography.”1
Given the book’s recent publication date, I’m willing to stipulate that “new” is currently an accurate adjective, but “new” is, after all, a time-limited phenomenon. Will “new” still fit, say, 2 years, 12 years, 20 years from now? Heck, in The never-ending story of Leonard Cohen, the author himself describes the book’s contents as outdated or at least incomplete:
Earlier this year, I wrote a biography of the strange, funny, old, Canadian, Jewish, randy, short, hat-wearing singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. In August, it went to the printers. And now it’s back from the printers, and it’s in shops, in piles that make me go a bit swoony when I see them. The only problem is that between printing and publication, a number of things happened that by all rights ought to have been in the book:
- Beck unveiled his collaborative Record Club project, a reinterpretation of Cohen’s first album;
- Cohen himself collapsed on stage in Valencia;
- His performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival was released as a CD+DVD package;
- Sometime Mr Minnelli David Gest blessed concert-goers with his version of ‘Hallelujah’.
Taking this into account, I suppose the book could be most correctly subtitled “An Outdated But Nonetheless New Biography As Of November 2009,” but there is only so much room on that cover and, in any case, it doesn’t scan well.
Of course, there are a sufficient number of definitions of “new” that apologists can surely contrive a rationale to justify the term.2
Still, I contend that utilizing the subtitle to differentiate new editions holds the most potential. Consequently, one wonders if we might not, in years to come, be reading
- “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A Newer Biography”
- “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, An Even Newer Biography”
- “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A Newer & More Improved Biography”
- “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A Brand New Biography”
- “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New, Hip & Trendy Biography”
- “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, The Newest & Most Improved Biography”
The Websites Page
I was immediately impressed with Mr. Footman’s perspicacity on turning to the first page of his book, which had somehow been misprinted as page 264 in my copy, to find Heck Of A Guy described in complimentary terms in the all important “Websites” listing.3
Other than the page number correction and the removal of the errant period in my “LeonardCohenSearch.com” site name, this page required only the addition of a frame to suitably and subtly call attention to the paragraph describing the Heck Of A Guy site, lest a reader tragically miss the opportunity to peruse these pages.
The Buckskin Boys Page
On page 23, Mr Footman writes
… and with his [Leonard Cohen's] school friend Mike Doddman, and a mysterious bass player known only as Terry, he [Leonard Cohen] made up a country and western trio, the Buckskin Boys …
The bass player may or may not have been, as he is described between those superfluous commas, mysterious but he is no longer known only as Terry. Terry Davis was outed as the Buckskin Boys bass player on January 22, 2009 with the publication of the Heck Of A Guy post, The Do-se-do Guy In Leonard Cohen’s First Band, excerpts of which follow:
It was a year or two after entering McGill University (accounts vary) when Leonard Cohen formed his first band, The Buckskin Boys, which featured himself on guitar, a friend, Mike Doddman, on harmonica, and a friend of Doddman’s who Cohen knew only as Terry playing bucket bass. This group is sometimes described as a “folk trio” but it seems to have been straightforwardly country western from the description Cohen gave an interviewer from Goldmine in 1993:
“Curiously enough, we found we all had buckskin jackets,” he recalls. “Then it was on the basis of that mutual discovery that we named the group [The Buckskin Boys]. Mine I inherited from my father. Pretty beautiful jacket, it must be over a hundred years old. There was a convention in Montreal in those days where a lot of barn-dancing — square dancing — was done as a social activity,” Cohen explains. “So, we played in church basements and high school auditoria, and we played conventional songs like ‘Turkey In The Straw’ that Terry would call to. You know, ‘do-se-do.’ I was playing rhythm guitar and Mike Doddman was playing harmonica, and we had these instruments amplified. So, we were doing just the appropriate square dance material.”
“It must have been around the time of 1951-1952; I was in college. At the time, one entered college at 16 in Montreal and got out at 20. In the photo we must be 17 or 18. There was Mike, who lived on the same street as me, and Terry. Mike had some contacts with the church and the school. He said we could play there, make some money and have some fun. So we started to cover a lot of country and folk dances like ‘Little Red Valley.’ I wasn’t the singer except for a few folk songs. We lasted one or two seasons (laughs).”
In the photo, Leonard Cohen poses with his guitar at the bottom, harmonica-playing Mike Doddman is in the middle, and the square dance caller and bucket bass player, known only as Terry, is at the top.
The preceding constitutes the documented history of the Buckskin Boys.
Then I heard from Dan Sullivan: “The un-named member of the Buckskin Boys was Terry Davis. He is the gentleman at the top on the picture. While I never had the chance to meet the man, I have enjoyed being married to his daughter for the last 26 years”
When I asked for more information, Sue (Davis) Sullivan wrote, “My Dad, Terry Davis was a student at McGill (actually more of a party scholar) when he became a Buckskin Boy. I remember my grandmother saying that they would come for dinner on a Friday night and she was never sure what single meal she could to serve a Catholic, a Protestant & a Jew! … We like to say ‘Our dad & Leonard Cohen were buddies in a band.’”
And the Heck Of A Guy blog has the honor of documenting that Terry Davis was the lead singer (or, at least, lead caller) for the Buckskin Boys, backed by Mike Doddman on harmonica and Leonard Cohen, then just a kid with a crazy dream, on guitar.
And so the bucket bass player, known to Leonard Cohen at the time only as Terry, is now known to all (well, to all who read this blog) as Terry Davis. And thus evolved the enhanced page.
The Remainder Of “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New Biography”
Although they are likely to suffer from comparison to the stellar Websites page and the Terry Davis revelation, there are, one suspects, other worthwhile facts, historical tidbits, and analysis in the remaining 200+ pages of “Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah, A New Biography.” And, with equal confidence, one can suspect that there will be another Heck Of A Guy post about them, especially if there is anything that can be mutated into a self-serving entry like this one.
Credit Due Department: Buckskin Boys photo by John Hand, published in Songs of Leonard Cohen, Herewith: Music, Words and Photographs, Amsco Music Publishing, New York, 1969. Thanks to Dick and Linda Straub for the scan from their book
- OK, “A New Biography” can hardly be considered more puzzling that this blog’s subtitle, “A pastiche of posts, featuring song, dance, snappy chatter plus notes on prose, poesy, love, lust, life, and beyond,” but readers of blogs, I contend, expect and can handle quirkiness for its own sake more readily than readers of biographies. [↩]
- For example, were I Mr Footman’s literary agent, I would likely go with “Hey, ‘new potatoes’ are still ‘new potatoes’ no matter how old they are.” [↩]
- One can hardly fail to notice – especially if I point it out – that Tim Footman’s kind words about this blog in his Leonard Cohen biography and Sylvie Simmons’ solicitation of Heck Of A Guy as source for her planned Leonard Cohen biography (see Sylvie Simmons On Her Leonard Cohen Biography, The Uke, & All Sorts Of Good Stuff) clearly signal that, well, I’ve become quite the darling of Leonard Cohen biographers. Ira Nadel, author of those lighthearted romps, “Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen” and “Leonard Cohen: A Life in Art,” must be gnashing his teeth, bewailing his bad luck to have published his biographies of Cohen before I started blogging. [↩]
- The interview was translated by Sophie Miller from its original publication in the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. The interview was conducted by Christian Fevret. [↩]