Leonard Cohen and I have a lot in common. We were born on
the same day, September 21, eight years apart. He’s the older.
Cohen learned to play the guitar and began writing poetry and
novels as a teenager. I started writing in high school as well, and
my husband, Frank, sang and played guitar, piano and trumpet in
high school in Rome.
Cohen was an English major in college, while I had a combined
English/journalism major. When he graduated from McGill
University in 1955, he had published his first book of poetry, Let
Us Compare Mythologies, as part of the McGill Poetry Series.
He moved to New York City, where he became part of the
Greenwich Village folk music scene.
I edited the school paper at Abilene Christian College and wrote
unpublished poetry and a children’s book. Our lives, too, were
filled with folk music.
Frank had grown up singing with his three brothers. When we
were dating and in our early marriage, he serenaded me by
playing his guitar and singing “7 Daffodils.” He performed
regularly at a coffee house in Abilene.
We moved to Los Angeles to continue working our way through
college. Later, when Frank was in the Navy, we harmonized on
songs protesting the Vietnam War in a talent show on his ship on
the way to dry dock in Bremerton, Washington.
The major topics of Cohen’s works are romance, religion and
politics. He believes in the power of words to change things for
the better. “I always feel that the world was created through
words, through speech in our tradition, and I’ve always seen the
enormous light in charged speech,” he said. I wrote an
unpublished book on the power of words.
Cohen’s songs were introduced to the world by Judy Collins
through her recording of his “Suzanne.” Collins appreciated “the
fact that a Jew from Canada can take the Bible to pieces and
give the Catholics a run for their money on every story they ever
thought they knew.”
I've studied the Bible from age five and read it through the first
time in high school. I took college courses in Old and New
Testaments as well as several individual books and wrote four
biblical study guides.
Cohen recorded three albums in the 60s, Songs of Leonard
Cohen, Songs from a Room and Songs of Love and Hate, for
Columbia Records. His productions in the 70s were less
inspired, though his Various Positions and I’m Your Man in the
80s marked a high point.
"Hallelujah," which turned out to be his greatest hit, was turned
down by Columbia in 1984.
Recently, Cohen, now in his 70s, has enjoyed a reappraisal. He
launched a two-month American tour prompted by a need for
cash after his former business manager wiped out his retirement
fund. He is on tour in Canada and America this spring with plans
for a European tour this summer.
In 2008, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
and in 2010, into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and a Grammy
Award for lifetime achievement. In 2012, he received the first of
PEN New England's awards for "Song Lyrics of Literary
Excellence" with Chuck Berry.
Currently I’m busy writing the unpublished book of my 70s, and
hope it will prove a positive reappraisal of my life as well.