10 Poems For 10 Poets by Gerard Malanga
From 10 Poems For 10 Poets. Photo by Bob Cato
Guy Minnebach On Gerard Malanga’s Poem To Leonard Cohen
I recently received an intriguing email from Guy Minnebach, an Antwerp newspaper editor currently on sabbatical who has followed Leonard Cohen’s career since the mid-1970s and who retains a vivid memory of Cohen crooning “Iodine” in a 1979 concert.
In his email, Guy wrote
In an old magazine I recently found this poem by Gerard Malanga addressed to & about Leonard Cohen. The magazine is an underground magazine called ‘New York Scenes’, issue from September 1969.
As you probably know, Malanga was one of the most important figures in Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. It is also known that Cohen while in New York in the 60s frequented the café /concert hall Max’s Kansas City, where the Warhol crowd also hung out…
It’s a long poem and rather funny, in which Malanga contemplates his poetic writing skills and love life, and wonders (or doubts) if Leonard’s way of doing things is the right one…
Guy went on to ask if I might be interested in the poem.
As it turns out, I’m very interested.
Leonard Cohen’s Oft Mentioned, Rarely Explained Association with Andy Warhol et al
You see, I repeatedly come across references to Leonard Cohen’s connections with Andy Warhol and Warhol’s crowd. The problem is that these references are typically anecdotes or fragments of anecdotes that exist in isolation and are presented as little more than asides. Consequently, characterizing Leonard Cohen’s interactions with the Andy Warhol gang is difficult.
Most references, like these examples, serve primarily as filler for biographical summaries and simply allude to an ambiguous association:
In the mid 1960’s he [Leonard Cohen] left for New York and met the renowned artist Andy Warhol.
Cohen became a cult figure during the 1960s, and was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd.
Others imply a more significant connection:
Drawling crooner Leonard Cohen is a renaissance man in every sense. Ladies’ man, poet, monk, bankrupt, bohemian consort to Andy Warhol and drunken troubadour to a generation of angst-ridden teenagers, … .
After falling in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” crowd, Cohen’s debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, failed to make a huge impact.
So, according to these accounts, Andy and Leonard only met or Leonard Cohen was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd or Cohen was a bohemian consort (whatever that is) to Warhol or Leonard Cohen not only fell in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” but said falling in apparently had something to do with the the Songs Of Leonard Cohen album failing to make an impact.
Further, most detailed reports that are available focus on Cohen’s personal connections to Lou Reed and Nico. Now, it is true that Lou Reed, along with John Cale, was the major force behind the Velvet Underground and that Andy Warhol, who became the manager of the band in 1965, pushed the group to collaborate with Nico so Reed and Nico were in Warhol’s cast of characters when Cohen met them.
Extrapolating, however, from Cohen’s infatuation with Nico and the mutual admiration he shared with Lou Reed a meaningful association between Cohen and Warhol’s world seems a precarious exercise.
On the other hand, much of what went on between Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol’s Superstars, musicians, Factory functionaries, artists, and hangers-on is fascinating – and perhaps even significant. Likewise, the few tidbits available about Cohen’s participation in projects associated with Warhol or those working with him are interesting – and, I think, sometimes telling.
All this is to explain why I’m excited about Heck Of A Guy being able to offer Gerard Malanga’s poem and the attendant essay by Guy Minnebach, both of which offer insights into a poorly understood aspect of Cohen’s career when he was making the transition from poet-novelist to singer.
Update October 18, 2010: Those intrigued with (or bemused by) connections between Leonard Cohen and the Andy Warhol scene may be interested in a subsequently published post: Leonard Cohen And The Andy Warhol Scene – Brigid Berlin’s Cock Book
For The Poet Leonard Cohen Of Montreal
By Gerard Malanga (New York Scenes)
For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal from New York Scenes (Sept. 1969)
Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Warhol, Nico, Lou Reed, …
By Guy Minnebach
During his life and career, Leonard Cohen has passionately loved a woman or two, that we all know. Sometimes this love was answered, sometimes it was not. And luckily for us, Cohen wrote about it all in beautiful poetry and songs.
Nico and Gerard Malanga in Warhol's 'Chelsea Girls'
In 1968 Gerard Malanga wrote a long poem on this subject, a sort of letter even: ‘For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal’. This poem, in which Malanga reflects on the connection between his private life and his writings (or the lack of necessity of it) , was first published in the magazine ‘New York Scenes’ (Sept. 1969) and later on in a slightly revised version in Malanga’s poetry book ’10 Poems for 10 Poets’ (Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles, 1970).
Gerard Malanga is a New York based poet and photographer. He has published about twenty poetry books, and was editor or coeditor of numerous poetry and art magazines. During the Sixties he was Andy Warhol’s most important associate in The Factory: he helped in creating the silk screens, was a prominent figure in Warhol’s films and co-founder of ‘Inter/View’, which was a movie magazine at first. Malanga is also famous for his whip dance during the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series of multimedia shows with live music by the rock band The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Malanga knew Cohen’s poetry long before the latter moved from the Greek Island Hydra to New York in the Mid Sixties. As Andy Warhol recalls in his 1980 book ‘POPism, The Warhol ‘60’s’, when he and Malanga went to the opening of a Warhol exhibition in Toronto in 1964:
The day of the opening we loitered around the gallery, but nobody showed up – nobody. Gerard went out to browse around and came back with some poetry books that you could only get in Canada (there was one by a poet called Leonard Cohen who nobody in the States had heard of yet), so he was thrilled.
In his foreword to ’10 Poems for 10 Poets’ Malanga writes:
These poems (…) are an outgrowth of an aesthetic obsession with the theme of the aura of the poet, framing the inspiration received from the subject matter in such a way as to identify with and pay homage to each poet whose own life and work have made an impression on my own.
A remarkable line in ‘For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal’ is this one:
Is it a virtue to display ones weakness for torturing dresses
It refers directly to a verse from the song ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’:
and then I confess
that I tortured the dress
that you wore for the world to see through”
As most Cohenites know, this song is about the above mentioned German chanteuse Nico, of Warhol and Velvet Underground fame. Cohen’s unrequited infatuation for Nico during his stay in New York is well documented in Chapter 7 – Black Photograph of Ira B. Nadel’s biography ‘Various Positions’, which bluntly summarizes Nico’s response to Cohen’s overtures:
Nico made it clear that nothing would happen between her and Cohen; She preferred younger men.
Cohen’s own description of Nico in his introduction to ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’ at his legendary 1970 Isle Of Wight Concert, is striking:
I was coming off amphetamines and pursuing a blonde lady that I met in a Nazi poster.
(More about Nico below.)
Leonard Cohen Is One Of The Boys (Of New York)
Do you think you have seen all the films in which Leonard Cohen played a role?
Try this one. In 1967 Cohen appeared in a virtually unknown experimental movie called B.O.N.Y. (Boys Of New York) by Gregg Barrios.
Even the extraordinarily thorough UK-based website http://www.diamondsinthemine.co.uk/ did not list this film until alerted to its presence as a result of research for this post.
The flick also features … Gerard Malanga.
B.V. Olguín in ‘San Antonio Current’ (10/8/2008) concisely provides the facts relevant to the film, Warhol, Malanga, and Leonard Cohen:
Like most film buffs of the era, Barrios eventually made a pilgrimage to Andy Warhol’s notorious Manhattan Factory. Under Warhol’s tutelage, in 1967 Barrios made his own experimental film, titled BONY (Boys of New York). Shot in both black-and-white and color with a 16-millimeter Roloflex Camera, Barrios’s film captures a day in the life of the Warhol “superstars” — the poet Gerard Malanga and Rene Ricard (the poet and art critic who “discovered” Jean Michel Basquiat) — during which they meet Leonard Cohen and Vogue model Ivy Nicholson. BONY is archived at UCLA and is included on Chon Noriega’s list of 100 Best Chicano Films.
Leonard Cohen And The Andy Warhol Factory Folks
Leonard Cohen arrived in New York in the Fall of 1966. He stayed in a few small hotels at first, but the bohemian life style of the Chelsea Hotel soon got his attention. He enjoyed the folk scene and met Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan among others. His manager at the time, Mary Martin, introduced him to Columbia’s John Hammond, who signed Cohen to his first record deal.
Next, however, Cohen was to be impressed by quite another New York scene setting the tone at the time – Warhol’s entourage from The Factory.
Cohen’s best known encounters with Warhol’s associates involved Nico, Edie and Lou Reed.
Nico (née Christa Paffgen)
Cohen had a huge crush on Nico, “the tallest and the blondest girl”, as he described her in “Memories,” whom he saw perform in Warhol’s silvero foil-lined club, The Dom, in the East Village. As Leonard Cohen told Nadel in ‘Various Positions’, Nico wasa
The perfect Aryan ice queen, I suppose the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen up to that moment. I just walked up and stood in front of her until people pushed me aside.
He adored her singing and her beauty and fell deeply in love. But they would never become more than friends.
According to some, Nico also influenced Cohen’s songwriting:
All during March, Nico was still down at the Dom singing away with Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, Tim Hardin (…). Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet, was there quite a few nights in the audience down at the bar, just staring at her. Later on, when he cut a record album, I read a review that said his singing was like he was “dragging one note over the entire chromatic scale”, and I couldn’t help thinking of all those hours he’d spent listening to Nico”
For his part, Cohen wrote at least three songs about Nico, ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’ (from Songs of Leonard Cohen), ‘Memories’ (from Death Of A Ladies Man), and ‘Take This Longing’ (from New Skin for the Old Ceremony.
In an introduction to ‘Take This Longing’ song during a 1979-concert in Hannover, Germany Cohen told the audience,
I gave her [Nico] that song. She sang it to me a couple times but never recorded it. Nico was very strange. I tried to talk to her and she always replied very mysteriously. It was only after many weeks, after being perplexed by her conversation and paralyzed by her beauty that she told me she was deaf.
Nico and Gerard Malanga
Edie Sedgwick was another of Warhol’s so called Superstars who was also an inhabitant of the Chelsea Hotel. one who died tragically at a very young age due to drug overdose.
She was the subject of the 2006 movie ‘Factory Girl’, starring Sienna Miller.
The story of Cohen’s introduction to Edie is reported by Danny Fields in ‘EDIE – An American Biograhy’ by Jean Stein (1982):
Leonard Cohen, the poet, was living down the hall. I thought it would be nice if he met Edie. He was into incense and candles, and he did a lot of reading which he got from the magic witchcraft place on Twenty-third Street on how candles should be arranged – the whole Buddhist mystical concept. He burned a lot of incense. The Chelsea didn’t like it much; they were always trying to throw him out. He used this smoky kind of stuff which floated down to the lobby, and they were always calling the fire engines.
I took him down the hall to meet Edie. (…) What was interesting to him was this line-up of candles Edie had on the mantelpiece. He was troubled when he looked at them. He said to me, “I don’t know if you should tell her this, or if I should, but those candles are arranged in such a way so they’re casting a bad spell. Fire and destruction. She shouldn’t fool around with these things, because they’re meaningful” (…) But when Leonard told Edie, she said she didn’t want to hear about such things, that was silly, they were just candles. That was ironic, wasn’t it? I mean, her life was full of warnings, probably.
It was very soon after that the apartment caught fire.
Lou Reed and Nico
Nico introduced Leonard Cohen to Lou Reed, who was then front man for The Velvet Underground and who was best known for writing controversial songs such as Waiting For the Man or Heroin, about drugs, transsexuality and the rough life in the city.
Reed surprised him with his knowledge of his work. He had a copy of Flowers For Hitler, which he asked Cohen to sign, and was a early reader of Beautiful Losers. Cohen confided: ‘In those days I guess he (Reed) wasn’t getting many compliments for his work and I certainly wasn’t. So we told each other how good we were.’ (Nadel, Various Positions)
In 2008, of course, Lou Reed would introduce Leonard Cohen at his induction at the Rock and Roll hall of Fame.
For The Poet Leonard Cohen Of Montreal
By Gerard Malanga (10 Poems For 10 Poets)
Click on image to enlarge. The poem is printed on four pages ordered from left to right.