Phil Tetrault & Leonard Cohen – Friends And Poets, From "This Beggar's Description"

The Phil Tetrault Documentary

“Picnic in the Park with Leonard Cohen” features Phil Tetrault and Leonard Cohen drinking and talking on a park bench in Montreal.

Some background information is helpful for first time viewers. This clip is an excerpt from “This Beggar’s Description,” a 2005 documentary about Phil Tetrault directed by his brother, Pierre Tetrault, and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.  The film, which won the 2006 C.B.C. Newsworld Award for Best Documentary in the Independent Film and Video Festival, includes six of Cohen’s songs (Suzanne, If It Be Your Will, Guests, Partisan, Who By Fire, Anthem) on the soundtrack (none appear on the clip shown in this post).

A review of the film in the Montreal Gazette described the subject of the documentary:

Even in a city top-heavy with eccentric characters, Philip Tetrault stands out. He is a poet, painter and master of the pan flute. He is a friend to the famous and the infamous. He has lived among the well-heeled and the hobos. He is also a diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Leonard Cohen Reads A Phil Tetrault Poem, Boasts Of Besting Trudeau In Thumb Wrestling, Banters With His Buddy

In addition, some points in this excerpt merit special note:

From my perspective, the most striking aspect of this 9 minutes, 30 seconds of video is the unmistakable comfort and affection between these two men. Based 20+ years working professionally with patients diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders, this degree of unreserved, unflinching acceptance is beyond rare. Even family members, friends of many years, and spouses who genuinely care for men and women with these afflictions become wary of investing more energy in the relationship, embarrassed in the company of others, condescending,  and anxiously uneasy in anticipation of potentially bizarre behavior.  I make that observation not to disparage anyone but to emphasize the unusual graciousness Cohen displays, seemingly effortlessly, in this segment.

It is difficult not to enjoy watching two poets on a park bench, one (Tetrault ) drinking beer and eating cheese curls and the other (Cohen) guzzling V8, talking about topics ranging from an image in Tetrault’s poetry, Tetrault losing his toes to frostbite, Cohen’s suit, Kris Kristofferson’s appeal to women, and, of course, Cohen besting the Prime Minister of Canada in thumb wrestling.  Oops, my apologies – I was lost for a moment in reveries, conjuring up the image of Bob Dylan thumb wrestling Barack Obama.

Finally, I cannot let this opportunity to dispute a still powerful myth pass.  Phil Tetrault can write excellent poetry in spite of schizophrenia, not because of it, and Leonard Cohen was able to write novel, poems, and songs in spite of the depression that afflicted him for years, not because of it. The romantic notion that  psychiatric disorders somehow put artists in touch with an inner world not otherwise available is fallacious and, from my perspective, an insult to the artists with those diagnoses.

Picnic in the Park with Leonard Cohen

Video from a2zme

Bonus: Phil Tetrault Recites His Poems In Montreal (2006)

Three Poems

Video from lewdite

2 responses to “Phil Tetrault & Leonard Cohen – Friends And Poets, From "This Beggar's Description"

  1. Thanks Heckof!
    Always impressed at what you can find.


  2. Pierre Tetrault

    Phil learned alot from his travels in schizophrenia. Many of the psychiatrists along the way devalued that experience as you seem to be doing. Leonard never did and maybe that’s why Phil prefers to talk to a guy like Leonard Cohen. He has time to listen and he’s not getting paid. You should learn some humility in your spare time.