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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 75 the images I had of myself came from reading Chinese poetry at a very young age. There was a kind of solitary figure in some of those poems by Li Po and Tu Fu. A monk sitting by a stream. There was a notion of solitude, a notion of deep appreciation for personal relationships, friendships, not just love, not just sensual or erotic or the love of a man or a woman, but a deep longing to experience and to describe friendship and loss and the consequences of distance. So those images in those poems had their effect, and thirty years later, I found myself in robes and a shaved head sitting in a meditation hall. It just seemed completely natural,” he says in a quiet manner. Cohen is at turns wistful, serious, and humorous. He ap- pears to be completely in the moment, allowing himself the freedom of the response as it arises to each question or in reaction to the conversation, as it moves here and there. At one point, in an exchange about his artistic life, he ad- mits that he “drifted into things. I suppose there has been an undercurrent of deliberation, but I don’t really navigate it.” According to legend, it wasn’t until he encountered folk sing- er Judy Collins, in 1966, that he decided to perform publicly songs he had played for friends. The following year, she intro- duced some Cohen songs on her album, including his big hit “Suzanne.” In 1968 he released his first album. Cohen didn’t seek out a musical career as much as it seems to have found him. Which is what is happening now with his drawings. He appears to have fallen into a whole new career. He takes in this observation, looks out the window for a moment, and then brings his attention back into the room. “That’s why I say free will is overrated,” he drawls in his smoky voice. “IT WAS TERRIFIC. The best kind,” he says. “We had these appetites that we understood, and it was wonderful that they were taken care of. It was a moment when everybody was giv- ing to the other person what they wanted. The women knew that’s what the men wanted.” Don’t ask how the subject of casual sex in the sixties came up. It was part of the unfolding of the Saturday afternoon, the laziness of it, like an endless meal of many courses, which you keep expecting to end but never does. You cover one subject, and thank him for his time, thinking he may be tired of talk- ing now, but he doesn’t take the opportunity to say goodbye. “Here, relax, eat,” he will say. “Have more wine. Would you like a piece of cherry pie?” And then the conversation continues. “If you could have it so much,” I ask, “didn’t that devalue it?” Cohen offers a frank expression. He could be talking about apples. “Well, nobody gets enough of anything,” he explains matter-of-factly. “You either get too much or not enough. No- body gets the right amount, in terms of what they think their appetite deserves. “But it lasted just a few moments,” he says of that time. “And then it was back to the old horror story, whatever it is, that still exists. You know, I’ll give you this if you give me that. You know, sealing the deal: What do I get, what do you get. It’s a contract.” Cohen’s sexiness, powerful still, is in his accessibility. His open-door atmosphere of hospitality—an invitation to authenticity, to say and ask what you want—makes him an age-appropriate ladies’ man. He is interested in people, in what they think, and he will ask about their lives. But his manner is not invasive or louche. He borders on paternal, or would, that is, if your dad liked to write about cunnilingus and fellatio as if they were fancy Italian appetizers. “Believe me, what you want is someone to have dinner with,” he advises on having a relationship later in life. “Sleep with from time to time, telephone every day or write. It’s what you set up that is defeating. Make it very modest. And give yourself permission to make a few mistakes. You know, blow it a bit. Have a few drinks and fall into bed with somebody. It doesn’t have to be the final thing.” Anjani Thomas appears several times as we speak. “See you later, sweetheart,” Cohen calls softly to her when she leaves with a friend to go shopping. Rosengarten, whom he has known since their childhood growing up together on Bel- mont Street in affluent Westmount, and who now lives near- by, drops in for a chat and some food. A little later, a light knock. “Ah, a tap-tap-tapping at my chamber door,” Cohen says as he gets up. A graduate student, a young man in his twenties who has written a dissertation on Cohen in his native Italian, has sought him out. Speaking to Cohen in French, he explains his work; gives him a copy; asks if he can speak to him some time at length for future papers he wants to write. Cohen assures him he can. Asked to sign an autograph, he bends down nimbly on one knee in the foyer to do so. It is not the Cohen of his lyrics or of his sullen self-por- traits who moves about this house of austere aesthetic. He is a gentleman to his partner, the friend in the neighborhood, a gracious host. It is in his humanity, his feet of clay, that he is most comfortable. Cohen seems at ease. He exudes a calmness, as if his age—and more than forty years of study with Sasaki Roshi—have brought him clarity and peace. NOV 70-77.indd 75 NOV 70-77.indd 75 8/31/07 10:43:51 AM 8/31/07 10:43:51 AM