“Yuck, Leonard Cohen Kissed Me”

She told me Leonard Cohen gave her an unwanted kiss.  I didn’t know what to do.  Should I suggest she go to the officials?  Take her to a therapist?  Well, Leonard was an official, a counselor, so there was no point going that route.  Using all the wisdom my seven-year-old mind could summon up, I did nothing.  The girl, a couple of years older than me, chose the same strategy.  In fact, as Leonard’s fame as a poet blossomed, she was a fan, occasionally citing the token of affection she’d received at summer camp.  Fortunately, Cohen never identified strongly with any political faction, so the innocent kiss was never made into anything more than a harmless peck on the cheek.  It was nothing aggressive, nothing dirty, nothing incorrect.

Leonard Cohen at summer camp
Leonard Cohen at summer camp

Aggressive, dirty poetry

Ironic, really, since there WAS very aggressive, dirty, incorrect behavior by a famous poet of the previous generation. Allen Ginsberg, the leading Beat Poet of the fifties and sixties, played a large part in making poetry cool.  “Howl” was mandatory reading in many college literature classes, yet his fans paid no attention to his quirks. These included aggressive pedophilia and his promotion of the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

Leonard Cohen did not promote controversy

Leonard Cohen promoted no political controversy, no perversion.  His 1973 song Story of Isaac criticized the eagerness of the biblical Abraham to sacrifice his son, and by analogy sending men off to war.  It could be considered anti-religious, anti-war.  By contrast, Who By Fire (adapted from the High Holiday prayer service) and Hallelujah are worthy of psalms, or perhaps prayers.  His final album You Want It Darker was made in collaboration with his synagogue’s choir. It again refers to the biblical story of Isaac, this time emphasizing God’s role in preventing the sacrifice of Abraham’s son.  According to his son Adam, Leonard Cohen considered his work a “mandate from God.

A journalist asks, was Leonard Cohen in the end, a musician or a poet?  I ask, why do you have to categorize him?  He sang (with the encouragement of the folksinger Judy Collins), he wrote novels, and poems, both sacred (piyutim) and secular.  In the end, he blessed us all with a kiss.

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