Sunday, 13 November 2016

Letter to Leonard Cohen

Six years ago, I wrote a letter to Leonard Cohen.  Not happy with what I’d written, I didn’t mail it, but have meant to rewrite the letter and send it ever since.  Now it’s too late, but this is what I would like to have said to him:

Dear Leonard Cohen,

You have been a part of my life since 1965, when the first boy I slept with read poems to me from The Spice Box of Earth.  My own copy of that book has disappeared, doubtless loaned to a friend years ago, never returned and now out of print.

I bought Songs of Leonard Cohen when it came out in 1967 and I still have it.  I attended three of your concerts; at Massey Hall in Toronto on December 7th 1970, Centennial Hall in London Ontario on June 6th 1993 and, the best and most moving by far, at the Roman-built ampitheater Les Arènes in Nîmes, on August 20th 2009.  Birds soared overhead while the sun slowly sank, the sky darkened and the lights came up on stage as you joined the band.  The entire evening was pure magic and the arena was packed with people of all ages and colours – so many young people.  We didn’t want you to leave us.

In 1973/74, when I travelled and worked in Europe for a year, I stopped one afternoon to spend the night on a lonely beach on the Peloponnesus in my VW camper, with the distant silhouette of Hydra across the sunlit water.  I’d known for many years that you had a house there.  I sang your songs as I walked and sat on the beach until it was dark.  (Not quite so idyllic was the attempt that night by someone to get into my camper as I crouched, shaking, in the dark.)

In 1979, on a trip to Greece to visit the elderly couple in Crete with whom my husband and I had lived for 4 months in the winter of 1977-78, we took a ferry to Hydra, a sort of pilgrimage for me.  As we walked up from the dock and saw Harry’s Bar, Tim said it looked like the sort of place you’d expect to see Leonard Cohen and I gasped, “And that’s him!”, but neither of us would have thought of disturbing you and your friends.  We walked around the island for a couple of hours, then returned to the dock to wait for the ferry back to the mainland.  As we sat there, you came down to the dock, perhaps expecting someone’s arrival.  After you'd paced back and forth for a few minutes, I couldn't help approaching to ask if you really were Leonard Cohen.  You couldn’t have been more gracious and warm.  When you said that you had a house on the island, I realized you were about to invite us there and told you we were leaving in a few minutes.  So many things I would like to have asked and to have said, but I was overwhelmed by the very fact of meeting you, my hero and icon, and quickly rejoined Tim.

Thank you for your music, your poetry, your wisdom and your wonderful, dry, subtle and self-deprecating humour.

Susan Wallis