By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Here is your wine, And your drunken fall; And here is your love, Your love for it all.
Here is your sickness, Your bed and your pan; And here is your love For the woman, the man.
May everyone live, And may everyone die. Hello, my love, And my love, goodbye.
"It's a pretty bleak song," I told Cohen.
"I would call it, I don't know, more . . . realistic," he replied, laughing. Then he poured out two more glasses of aquavit.
WITH HIS VOICE DISINTEGRATING, COHEN HAS turned into something close to a spoken-word artist. On much of Ten New Songs, he doesn't sing so much as lightly tilt his voice in the direction of a tune. Occasionally, he'll hand an entire verse over to Robinson. As he moves toward the end of his seventh decade, he appears to be coming full circle. He wants to write another novel, he's preparing a book of poems for publication, and his lyrics sound more literary than ever. Which was why it was surprising to note the paucity of books in Cohen's house -- at least by the standards of a working writer. A copy of J.T. LeRoy's The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things lay on a chair by the front door, but Cohen told me it was a gift. One suspected it wasn't going to be read. More likely to be read was the copy of Ramesh Balsekar's A Net of Jewels: Daily Meditations for Seekers of Truth, which had pride of place on the living-room coffee table. Ditto the Talmud and Buddha's Diamond Sutra. "I tend to read the same things over and over," he explained.
In his living room and bedroom and study, we stood together and looked through the contents of his small bookcases. Many of these books were gifts, too. Joseph Heller's Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man, for instance. Cohen took it off the shelf and looked at it. There were books by Lorca and Rumi and Bukowski, and a study of Cohen's early work by Michael Ondaatje. Cohen handled the books gently, as if they were distant, unfamiliar things. "He's a real poet," he said, pulling out a book by the New York School poet, Kenneth Koch. He and Koch had become friends when Cohen lived in Greece. "A lovely man."
"Did you ever meet John Ashbery?" I asked, referring to Koch's more celebrated colleague.
"Yeah, I did. He mentioned a poem of mine he liked."
The music collection was even smaller than the book collection. There were CDs by Tom Waits and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Om Kalsoum, as well as some by Cohen's son, Adam. There was one called Made to Orderby a singer named John Ivey.
"Who's that?" I asked.
"That's my dentist," Cohen said, brightening.
"Is it good?"
Cohen wasn't reading much, and he wasn't listening to a lot of music either. His children were close at hand, and his social circle appeared to consist mainly of his current and former backup singers, several of whom lived nearby. (Tipped over on the carpet in his living room was a pair of gorgeous, ivory-colored high-heeled shoes.) The impression was of someone concentrating on his writing and soul, gathering his forces for one last sustained decade of work before he prepared to meet his Maker. By then he'd be ready:
I did my best; it wasn't much. I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch. I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya. And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!
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