Guy Minnebach On Gerard Malanga’s Poem To Leonard Cohen
I recently received an intriguing email from Guy Minnebach, an Antwerp newspaper editor currently on sabbatical who has followed Leonard Cohen’s career since the mid-1970s and who retains a vivid memory of Cohen crooning “Iodine” in a 1979 concert.
In his email, Guy wrote
In an old magazine I recently found this poem by Gerard Malanga addressed to & about Leonard Cohen. The magazine is an underground magazine called ‘New York Scenes’, issue from September 1969.
As you probably know, Malanga was one of the most important figures in Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. It is also known that Cohen while in New York in the 60s frequented the café /concert hall Max’s Kansas City, where the Warhol crowd also hung out…
It’s a long poem and rather funny, in which Malanga contemplates his poetic writing skills and love life, and wonders (or doubts) if Leonard’s way of doing things is the right one…
Guy went on to ask if I might be interested in the poem.
As it turns out, I’m very interested.
Leonard Cohen’s Oft Mentioned, Rarely Explained Association with Andy Warhol et al
You see, I repeatedly come across references to Leonard Cohen’s connections with Andy Warhol and Warhol’s crowd. The problem is that these references are typically anecdotes or fragments of anecdotes that exist in isolation and are presented as little more than asides. Consequently, characterizing Leonard Cohen’s interactions with the Andy Warhol gang is difficult.
Most references, like these examples, serve primarily as filler for biographical summaries and simply allude to an ambiguous association:
In the mid 1960’s he [Leonard Cohen] left for New York and met the renowned artist Andy Warhol.1
Cohen became a cult figure during the 1960s, and was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd.2
Others imply a more significant connection:
Drawling crooner Leonard Cohen is a renaissance man in every sense. Ladies’ man, poet, monk, bankrupt, bohemian consort to Andy Warhol and drunken troubadour to a generation of angst-ridden teenagers, … .3
After falling in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” crowd, Cohen’s debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, failed to make a huge impact.4
So, according to these accounts, Andy and Leonard only met or Leonard Cohen was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd or Cohen was a bohemian consort (whatever that is) to Warhol or Leonard Cohen not only fell in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” but said falling in apparently had something to do with the the Songs Of Leonard Cohen album failing to make an impact.
Further, most detailed reports that are available focus on Cohen’s personal connections to Lou Reed and Nico. Now, it is true that Lou Reed, along with John Cale, was the major force behind the Velvet Underground and that Andy Warhol, who became the manager of the band in 1965, pushed the group to collaborate with Nico so Reed and Nico were in Warhol’s cast of characters when Cohen met them.5
Extrapolating, however, from Cohen’s infatuation with Nico and the mutual admiration he shared with Lou Reed a meaningful association between Cohen and Warhol’s world seems a precarious exercise.
On the other hand, much of what went on between Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol’s Superstars, musicians, Factory functionaries, artists, and hangers-on is fascinating – and perhaps even significant. Likewise, the few tidbits available about Cohen’s participation in projects associated with Warhol or those working with him are interesting – and, I think, sometimes telling.
All this is to explain why I’m excited about being able to offer Gerard Malanga’s poem and the attendant essay by Guy Minnebach, both of which offer insights into a poorly understood aspect of Cohen’s career when he was making the transition from poet-novelist to singer.6
For The Poet Leonard Cohen Of Montreal
By Gerard Malanga (New York Scenes)
Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Warhol, Nico, Lou Reed, …
By Guy Minnebach
During his life and career, Leonard Cohen has passionately loved a woman or two, that we all know. Sometimes this love was answered, sometimes it was not. And luckily for us, Cohen wrote about it all in beautiful poetry and songs.
In 1968 Gerard Malanga wrote a long poem on this subject, a sort of letter even: ‘For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal’. This poem, in which Malanga reflects on the connection between his private life and his writings (or the lack of necessity of it) , was first published in the magazine ‘New York Scenes’ (Sept. 1969) and later on in a slightly revised version in Malanga’s poetry book ’10 Poems for 10 Poets’ (Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles, 1970).
Gerard Malanga is a New York based poet and photographer. He has published about twenty poetry books, and was editor or coeditor of numerous poetry and art magazines. During the Sixties he was Andy Warhol’s most important associate in The Factory: he helped in creating the silk screens, was a prominent figure in Warhol’s films and co-founder of ‘Inter/View’, which was a movie magazine at first. Malanga is also famous for his whip dance during the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series of multimedia shows with live music by the rock band The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Malanga knew Cohen’s poetry long before the latter moved from the Greek Island Hydra to New York in the Mid Sixties. As Andy Warhol recalls in his 1980 book ‘POPism, The Warhol ‘60’s’, when he and Malanga went to the opening of a Warhol exhibition in Toronto in 1964:
The day of the opening we loitered around the gallery, but nobody showed up – nobody. Gerard went out to browse around and came back with some poetry books that you could only get in Canada (there was one by a poet called Leonard Cohen who nobody in the States had heard of yet), so he was thrilled.
In his foreword to ’10 Poems for 10 Poets’ Malanga writes:
These poems (…) are an outgrowth of an aesthetic obsession with the theme of the aura of the poet, framing the inspiration received from the subject matter in such a way as to identify with and pay homage to each poet whose own life and work have made an impression on my own.
A remarkable line in ‘For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal’ is this one:
Is it a virtue to display ones weakness for torturing dresses
It refers directly to a verse from the song ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’:
and then I confess
that I tortured the dress
that you wore for the world to see through”
As most Cohenites know, this song is about the above mentioned German chanteuse Nico, of Warhol and Velvet Underground fame. Cohen’s unrequited infatuation for Nico during his stay in New York is well documented in Chapter 7 – Black Photograph of Ira B. Nadel’s biography ‘Various Positions’, which bluntly summarizes Nico’s response to Cohen’s overtures:
Nico made it clear that nothing would happen between her and Cohen; She preferred younger men.
Cohen’s own description of Nico in his introduction to ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’ at his legendary 1970 Isle Of Wight Concert, is striking:
I was coming off amphetamines and pursuing a blonde lady that I met in a Nazi poster.
For The Poet Leonard Cohen Of Montreal
By Gerard Malanga (10 Poems For 10 Poets)
Click on image to enlarge. The poem is printed on four pages ordered from left to right.
In Part 2
The second and final part of this post focuses on Leonard Cohen in the Boys Of New York movie and more about the connections between Leonard Cohen and The Andy Warhol Factory Folks: Nico, Lou Reed, and Edie Sedgwick.
Update: Part 2 now online
Credit Due Department: Photo of Andy Warhol By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Note: Originally posted Oct 13, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
- Leonard Cohen in Belgrade by N. Dzodan. Blic Online, 5/5/2009. [↩]
- Leonard Cohen Portland Tickets [↩]
- Profile: Leonard Cohen, The Scotsman, 21 December 2008 [↩]
- Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen by Christopher Glotfelty, Eat Drink Sleep Music, 09/21/2009 [↩]
- For the record, Bob Dylan introduced Nico to Warhol, who introduced her to the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. Leonard Cohen saw Nico when he visited Warhol’s New York club, La Dom. Nico then introduced Leonard Cohen to Lou Reed. [↩]
- In addition, Guy Minnebach’s discovery of Malanga’s poem has led me to consider initiating an effort to collect, collate, and organize material about this part of Cohen’s life. But that’s a project to be discussed at another time. [↩]