I was taken back to the 1960s as a result of the news story this week that Leonard 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 pontificated 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. Media reports claim that Cohen is back on the performance road because he lost all his savings in the stock market crash.
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 Sherman 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. African-Americans were called colored. In West Side Story the gangbangers all wore ties. 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 PG 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 Philly 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 Testament you’d think a Cohen would want to use, like in a song about Isaac or another about King David, 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, as his poetic response to the Dow Jones imploding. He still sings and does some concerts, although his voice has become rather weak. He also likes to perform these days wearing a dorky “Rat Pack” fedora hat.
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 proclaims, 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.