Thursday, June 25, 2009
Leonard Cohen Takes you DOWN
By Steven Plaut
I have something to confess.
For well over four decades now I have fantasized
about punching Leonard Cohen in the
mouth. Sometimes the punch is followed by a pie
in the face. Sometimes by a wedgie.
I raise this matter of cosmic interest because I
was taken back to the 60s as a result of the
news story this week that Cohen will be coming to
town, and by town I mean "Palestine." This week
it was announced that Cohen, with his musical
posse, will be arriving in late September to
perform in Israel and then in PLO-occupied
Ramallah, where he is to be hosted by terrorists
from the Fat'h militia. His Ramallah performance
will be nominally sponsored by the Israel-bashing
terrorist-appeasing Amnesty International. One
Kadura Fars, a Fat'h sidekick of jailed
mass-murderer Marwan Barghouti, is to serve as
Cohen's local impresario and host in
terror-occupied Ramallah. . In an interview
about his coming hajj to Terrorland, Cohen
for report in Hebrew) that in that land there
live two equal peoples equally entitled to a state each.
Yeah sure there are.
So Cohen is trying to pull a Daniel Barenboim without the baton.
Leonard Cohen became "in" back in the mid-1960s,
at least he was "in" among certain varieties of
Sixties characters and beatnik-wannabes who
slouched about the dingy alleys of my home town
of Philadelphia. I recall that he became "cool"
at just about the same time that super-comedian
Alan Sherman released his delicious record album,
"My Son, the Folksinger." For those of you below
the age of 40, a record album is a wheel made of
vinyl plastic that makes music on prehistoric
contraptions called record players. If you have
never heard Alan Shepherd do his "folk singer"
shtick, you can see some clips of his old
materials on Youtube. They are mind-blowing (if
you excuse that Sixtiesism). I always assumed
Cohen was the real target of Sherman's mocking of folksingers.
Anyhow, Cohen himself, born 1934, grew up in a
Jewish home and a Jewish school in the Jewish
part of Montreal. He was into poetry and started
writing songs in the 50s. Judy Collins, a
peace-and-flower-power folk singer with a lovely
voice but atrocious politics, made Cohen famous
by singing some of his songs. (Collins was a
regular sidekick to Stalinist folksinger Pete Seeger.)
Meanwhile, in my own Philly urban circles in the
mid-sixties, Cohen was becoming de rigueur among
all the "Beautiful People." In the Sixties
Woody Allen was still funny ("My wife is so
immature; she keeps coming in and sinking my bath
toys!"). Dobie Gillis was the best thing on the
black-and-white TV. Atlantic City had no
casinos. Cohen could have been a San Fran flower
child in a 60s Love-In or a Berkeley street performer.
The "Beautiful People" were the insufferable
twits who ran around using the word "beautiful"
instead of punctuation marks, describing every
experience and every person they could as being
"really beautiful." Most of the "Beautiful
People" were actually chicks, although they were
followed about by pimply young guys willing to
pepper their own speech with the phrase "really
beautiful" in the hope of touching the chests of
some of the Beautiful-People chicks. I say
chests, because back in the mid-1960s teenagers
(at least the ones I knew in Philly) seemed only
vaguely aware of the existence of additional
bases surpassing that comprising second
base. Even worse, I went to an all-boys high
school, which means that few of my friends had
ever gotten even to "first base." We had heard a
rumor about a girl in one of the local Catholic
high schools who had to quit school because she
had gotten pregnant, but we were not too clear on how that worked.
I guess the best way to sum up the cultural chasm
between then and now is to note that the word
"cop" today is a noun that can take the
accusative or objective case within a sentence
and the word "feel" is a transitive verb, but
back in my Sixties all-boys high school it was
the exact grammatical opposite. If I lost you
on that, I am afraid I cannot elaborate without
risking my GP rating as a family incitement service.
Overall, when I became acquainted with his music,
I thought Cohen was a bit of an "over-Beautiful"
jerk, although I must admit that even I was
willing to hum "Susanne Takes you Down" if it
would get me a Saturday Night date. Nay, I
confess, it was even worse than that. Later, as
an undergraduate, when I earned my lunch money by
giving guitar lessons to some younger Phila.
souls, I distinctly remember teaching the chords
and words to "Susanne" and to a few other Cohen songs.
Aside from the peace-love-and-flower-power
posturing of the "beautiful" Leonard Cohen, I
guess what I really found insufferable enough to
motivate my fantasy of punching him in the face
was his obnoxious lyrics about Jesus. What was a
nice Canadian Jewish poet, one named Cohen no
less, doing writing Jesus lyrics and other songs
with Christian themes? And they were not even
very good, so my guess is my Christian 60s
friends found them irritating as well. Cohen
does occasionally use imagery from the Tanakh,
that Testament you'd think a Cohen would want to
use, like in a song about Isaac or another about
King David (see
, although he mangles the stories and the images
there. He has also dabbled in Buddhism and wrote
a book called Beautiful Loser (catch the
Beautiful, guys? And he was not even trying to
undo a chick's bra when he wrote it!), which
supposedly contains his Zen "ideas."
Cohen came to Israel and appeared before Israeli
troops during the Yom Kippur war, but his cozying
up to Palestinian terrorists these days douses
any credit he might still be enjoying for
that. There is a rumor he met Ariel Sharon at
the time. But his interest in Israel was
fleeting, while his politically correct leftist
goofiness has stayed with him for decades.
Still, there was a quiet amusement, together with
some nice chord sequences, in some of Cohen's
songs, and I can still tolerate listening to up
to 3 or 4 of his songs every few months. Cohen
was never a superstar, in spite of the moron
writing in one of the Israeli newspapers
recently, who put him up on the same pedestal
with Dylan and the Beatles as 60s icons. Yeah sure he was.
Well into his 70s, starting in 2008 Cohen
returned to perform, and still sings and does
some concerts, although his voice has become
rather weak. Other people sometimes make it big
recording Cohen songs. The accompanying Cohen
background singers and instruments have not
changed much in 40 years. I happened to catch
him on an Israeli cable channel recently when the
wife selfishly would not let me change the
channel to watch the Simpsons. The main change
that I noticed was that Cohen these days is
obnoxiously politically correct and sings
atrocious political songs. One of his newer
numbers proclaim,s with a military beat that
sounds like a German marching song, that soon we
will bring democracy to America. In other words,
America is not democratic at all and needs us 60s
Beautiful People who know how to undo bras while
sniffing tulips to conduct a revolution and make
it democratic. Another even worse-sounding
Teutonic marching song proclaims, "First We'll
Take Manhattan and then We'll Take Berlin."
More beautiful people with flowers in their hair
bringing enlightenment to the barbarians, I guess.
Cohen probably thinks that the Palestinian
terrorhoids who will be hosting him also spend
their days reading Zen, talking to flowers,
listening to Joan Baez, and trying to undo the
bras of the Really-Beautiful People. He probably
has not heard about those thousands of PLO
rockets landing on the beautiful Jews who live in
Sderot and Netivot. And I am sure it very
occurred to him to protest Obama's plans to expel
the beautiful settlers from their beautiful homes
in beautiful Judea and Samaria.
All of which is why I would still really like to
punch him in the face, throw a pie at him, give
him an atomic wedgie, or maybe even a whirly.*
* Alas, those of you who do not know what a
whirly is will have to look it up: see
– a dictionary for other archaic expressions of the 1960s.