Sunday, October 14, 2007

Leonard Cohen on Miami Vice

I've been watching the second season of Miami Vice (1986) on dvd and I'm impressed with the list of guest stars: Miles Davis playing a pimp, Ted Nugent playing a con artist who kills rich men lured in by his sexpot girlfriend, and Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy playing an army sergeant who made a fortune in heroin in Vietnam.

So far I've skipped the Phil Collins episode. Then I started watching an episode that didn't list any stars in the dvd menu, and was suprised to see Leonard Cohen as Fran├žois Zolan, head of Interpol. Rumor has it his son Adam, a fan of the show, convinced him to do it.

When I did a quick Internet search on Cohen, I found a great article from The Guardian -- a list, really, of Leonard Cohen trivia in celebration of the Canadian singer-songwriter's 70th birthday in 2004 -- 70 of them. My favorites, excluding his Miami Vice appearance:
5 Cohen's albums regularly go to no 1 in Norway.

6 In America, his last album entered the Billboard chart at number 143.

9 Cohen was 32 and an established poet and novelist before deciding that songwriting might pay better. When he first touted his songs around New York, agents said to him: "Aren't you a little old for this game?"

10 He has never married - "too frightened". He had two children with Suzanne Elrod, and also had a long relationship with the film star Rebecca De Mornay.

21 He liked the Greek island of Hydra so much that he bought a house there in 1960 for $1,500. It had no electricity or running water. He could live there for $1,000 a year, so he would go back to Canada, earn the money with his writing and head back to Hydra "to write and swim and sail".

30 Some time in the early 70s, his songs were dismissed as "music to slit your wrists to". The phrase stuck. "I get put into the computer tagged with melancholy and despair," Cohen said. "And every time a journalist taps in my name, that description comes up on the screen."

33 His song Chelsea Hotel No 2, about Janis Joplin, may be the only song overtly written by one pop star about sex with another. "You said to me then, you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception ... giving me head on the unmade bed, while the limousines wait in the street."

37 Cohen has been with Columbia for 37 years, but relations are ambivalent. Accepting an award in 1988, he thanked Columbia and said: "I have always been touched by the modesty of their interest in my work."

38 When he wrote Bird on a Wire, Cohen felt he hadn't "finished the carpentry", but Kris Kristofferson said the first three lines would be his epitaph: "Like a bird on a wire/ Like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried, in my way, to be free"

41 His album Death of a Ladies' Man was produced by Phil Spector, the reclusive genius of girl-group pop. "I was flipped out at the time," Cohen said later, "and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns - the music was a subsidiary enterprise ... At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil.'"

61 As a marketing ploy, cafes in the US that had "the Leonard Cohen vibe" were sent a free copy of the Tower of Song album. "I'd like to go to some of those," Cohen said. "I can rarely locate my own vibe."

66 Cohen was much admired in 1960s France. The president, Georges Pompidou, was reputed to take his LPs on holiday, and it was said that if a Frenchwoman owned one record, it was likely to be by Cohen.

68 He always has excellent backing vocals. "My voice sounds so much better when a woman is singing with me," he has said. "Some dismal quality is neutralised."

And finally:

70 In 1994, Cohen said: "If you're going to think of yourself in this game, or in this tradition, and you start getting a swelled head about it, then you've really got to think about who you're talking about. You're not just talking about Randy Newman, who's fine, or Bob Dylan, who's sublime, you're talking about King David, Homer, Dante, Milton, Wordsworth, you're talking about the embodiment of our highest possibility. So I don't think it's particularly modest or virtuous to think of oneself as a minor poet. I really do feel the enormous luck I've had in being able to make a living, and to never have had to have written one word that I didn't want to write.

"But I don't fool myself, I know the game I'm in. When I wrote about Hank Williams 'A hundred floors above me in the tower of song', it's not some kind of inverse modesty. I know where Hank Williams stands in the history of popular song. Your Cheatin' Heart, songs like that, are sublime, in his own tradition, and I feel myself a very minor writer. I've taken a certain territory, and I've tried to maintain it and administrate it with the very best of my capacities. And I will continue to administrate this tiny territory until I'm too weak to do it. But I understand where this territory is."

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