Intricate Preparations

Writing Leonard Cohen

A review of Writing Leonard Cohen by Edited Stephen Scobie

Published on October 1, 2000

Writing Leonard Cohen
Edited Stephen Scobie

ECW Press

“Leonard Cohen is a singer who hasn’t issued a new album for seven years, a poet who hasn’t published a new collection for sixteen years, and a novelist who hasn’t written a new novel in thirty-four years,” writes Stephen Scobie, editor of Intricate Preparations. Think of this fittingly titled, sublimely eclectic collection of analyses and meditations from fans and critics as a place mark while we await the poet’s equally ironic title The Book of Longing. Waiting for Cohen to release his “blackened pages” is our modus operandi. We may as well be searching for his Famous Blue Raincoat, yet we don’t seem to mind. In his various positions he is our muse. In serpentine ways, this book reveals he’s given us plenty to chew on.

Cohen’s “diminutive poems” were dismissed by a “learned professor” as having “little or no meaning,” recalls Doug Beardsley. “He was right, but he’d missed the point. It wasn’t the sense of these thin lyrics that mattered; rather, it was the aura that they created, the sense of the mysterious, the unknown that every human being experiences simply by being alive.” It that’s too New Age for you, try Lori Emerson’s notion of difference, which “like the paleonomy ‘writing,’ introduces undecidability into the metaphysical reliance on presence,” and is, of course, pure Cohen.

“You can defy him, analyse him, or dissemble him as a myth,” writes Christof Graf, in a rigorous reportage of Cohen’s triumphant 1993 tour of Germany. Graf quotes a Frankfurt critic: “Those who are faithful toward Cohen are those who are treating their own lives carefully. To regret letting Cohen into one’s life is impossible in his presence.” Inexorably, he wins over antagonists.

A symposium of “Famous Blue Raincoat” prompts participants to analyze every speck of poetic DNA. Bill van Dyk claims the phrase “go clear” is a “likely reference to Scientology” (with which Cohen dabbled), a process for removing “engrams,” “the resudue of morally destructive behaviours accumulated during this life or previous lives.” Jim Devlin is “reminded of the other great songwriter in my life, Franz Schubert.” Singer Christoph Herold offers a strict musical analysis, then wonders “whether the gain in information was worth the effort … and whether dissecting a song does not diminish its aura.” (Yes, no). George Bowering’s contribution is pithy: “I like the song, but I don’t even know any of the words.”

There is Robert De Young’s long overdue re-examination of the much-maligned Death of a Ladies’ Man (buried/illuminated in producer Phil Spector’s “wall of sound”). Heavy (but fascinating) going – The Representation of the Holocaust in Flowers for Hitler (by Sandra Wynands), Pornographic Sublime: Beautiful Losers and Narrative Excess (by Robert David Stacey) and “Not My Real Face”: Corporeal Grammar in The Favourite Game (by Carmen Ellison) – is complemented by flights of fancy like When to Wrote Prose (for Leonard Cohen) by Peter Jaeger and Cynthia Cecil’s annotation of a 1966 party hosted by F.R. Scott at which Cohen arrived with enthusiasm for Bob Dylan.

Cohen fans are also scholars, and vice versa. ” Your Man On-Line” is Web-master Jarkko Arjatsalo’s summary of the icon’s internet reach, topped by the Finn’s astounding Leonard Cohen Files (which unearthed nearly 600 cover versions of his songs). And there’s a breathlessly snowballing Net discussion on who’s the “boss” – a woman? the singer’s other self? God? – in “Closing Time” from the 1993 album The Future.

Scobie the Cohen scholar has modestly excluded himself from Intricate Preparations although footnotes refer us to his crucial essays; the book is a testament to a visionary editor. One can imagine Cohen reading this collection with a sly smile. Thus he’s blessed Intricate Preparations with two new poems, which will doubtless whet our appetite for more, but enough to keep us going. mRb

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