The Anjani Chronicles: Anjani Goes To New York, Meets Leonard Cohen, and Finds Romance – But Not In That Order

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Introduction To The Anjani Chronicles
Anjani is the exquisite, exotically featured singer and keyboardist best known for her Blue Alert CD, a collection of elegantly performed songs suffused with evocative lyrics, and her professional and romantic relationships with Leonard Cohen, an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right. My own connection to Anjani began in July 2006 when I posted Music Recommendation That Will Make You Want To Kiss Me, a review of Blue Alert that reflected my captivation with the music. An online flirtation and email relationship between us ensued.1 The Anjani Chronicles is a sequence of posts based on the content of my interviews with Anjani.

Anjani Goes To New York, Meets Leonard Cohen, & Finds Romance – But Not In That Order

Today’s post, the third of this series, begins at the point The Anjani Chronicles – Anjani Does Waikiki, Boston, and The Slough Of Despond ended, with Anjani’s departure from Boston’s Berklee School of Music and extends through her move to New York and her first meetings with John Lissauer and Leonard Cohen.

Home Again, Home Again

After deciding that she had reached the point of diminishing returns at Berklee School of Music, Anjani returns to Hawaii and to gigs on the hotel lounge circuit. In retrospect, the next major turn in her life seems inevitable: a young, beautiful, talented Anjani performing for audiences in luxury hotels on the romantic beaches of Hawaii falls for a tourist from the mainland.

As she explains the experience in an interview with the Honolulu Star Bulletin,

I was in my 20s, and he was the kind of man that swept you off your feet.

What are the odds?

Anjani is, indeed, sufficiently smitten that, pausing barely long enough to pack up all her cares and woes, her cold weather gear, and her Fender Rhodes Stage 88, she follows the guy back to his home in New York where – well, this isn’t the “they lived happily ever after” part of the story.

For one thing, Anjani is clear that New York was not her choice of ideal locales,

I ended up in New York. (It wasn’t music that drew me there). It was a man. I never would have gone there otherwise, I don’t think.2

Anjani is reluctant to provide details, especially about the New Yorker. With some repeated promptings (OK, after some nagging), she does summarize the experience:

It was crush at first sight but I also had rock fever and he was a good excuse to leave [Hawaii]. It was destined to fail as we were both young and dysfunctional; and I recall in particular dreading the joint Gestalt therapy sessions. I’m more of a feeler than a talker. I’ve since learned to express myself and (gasp) consider someone else’s feelings in a relationship.

A year later, concluding that the relationship “isn’t going to work,” Anjani calls the only other person she knows in New York (another musician of course), who agrees that she can crash at his fifth floor walk-up until she can find a place to live.

When she does find that place to live, five years later, she will be leaving for Los Angeles – to live with her new husband.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Just now, in fact, the script calls for a cameo appearance of a beloved character from the first episode of the Anjani Chronicles,

The Fender Rhodes Stage 88 Has Hard Knock Life In New York

Anyone who read that first chapter of the Anjani Chronicles, Growing Up Anjani, is unlikely to have forgotten the image of the Fender Rhodes Stage 88; for the benefit of those joining us in medias res, however, a brief recapitulation may be helpful. The following, including Anjani’s own, unexpurgated description of transporting the instrument, is excerpted from the earlier post:

More pertinent to our purposes, one specific Fender Rhodes Stage 88, the virtual twin of the Rhodes Stage 73 shown in the graphic on the right but possessing a longer keyboard3 and proportionately larger size.

… The Fender Rhodes Stage 88 of early- to mid-1970s vintage weighed 65 kilos (143 pounds) or more.4 The total heft varied by model and year of manufacture with earlier versions being markedly heavier. In addition, accouterments such as the tour rig5 could significantly increase the total poundage.

… Anjani Thomas persuaded her ambivalent-leaning-toward-reluctant parents to front her the cash for that mass of wood, plastic, metal, and electronics known as the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 when she was 16 years old and weighed 107 pounds.

… Transporting the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 to those jobs was no small matter. Nor is it without a certain entertainment value. Consider Anjani’s own description of loading the instrument (I suggest picturing it as an updated version of the famous Laurel and Hardy piano moving scene):

Often but not always, my brothers would help me load it. I would lift one end onto the back seat of my dad’s Pontiac LeMans and shove it in maybe 3 – 4 inches, then run around to the other side and pull it in, going back and forth pushing and pulling, inch by inch, till the monster was in there. It was a helluva lot easier to pull it out than load it in.

One should keep in mind that by the time Anjani breaks off the affair that was her reason for coming to New York and moves in with her friend, it has been nine years since she and the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 first hooked up.

Moreover, Anjani’s relationship to the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 has been one of impressive if not absolute fidelity. Oh sure, Anjani may have tickled the ivories of a strange keyboard now and then. A woman has needs. And, she may have, on occasion, fingered the strings of a guitar and even manipulated a fret or two. Perhaps she uttered some harsh words when lugging the electric piano back and forth across the Pacific Ocean, all over the islands, and through the snowy streets of Boston and Calgary, hither and yon, to every job. And the occasional mechanical malfunction may have triggered, in the frustration of the moment, ill-advised threats of replacement with a younger, more lithesome model, but overall, Anjani and the Fender – they have been and still are tight.

At this point, after all, their association has survived not only the crush on the New Yorker but also her teenage infatuation with a Canadian boy, her two gigs per weekend schedule as a high schooler, her affiliation with the prestigious Berklee School of Music, a career plan or two, and even her recurrent jobs performing in Hawaiian clubs and lounges.

But there are circumstances that overwhelm even the deepest and strongest connection and, for this girl and her electric piano, the move to a five story walk-up turns out to be the final straw, the problem that would finally cause them to go their separate ways.

Simulation of apartment building stairway as described by Anjani

While Anjani has little choice but to carry, shove, push, hoist, and otherwise propel her instrument up those stairs, its descent is another matter altogether. She soon opts for an elegantly simple and efficient methodology: positioning the keyboard in the middle of the stairs, she nudges it forward and watches it fall to the next landing. She then repositions it, again pushes it forward, and again observes it bumping along to the next landing, repeating as needed.

Anjani describes the scene,

It made a lot of noise when I let it slide down the stairs (nine landings) from the fifth floor. It sounded like a dead body hitting the deck; and not once did anyone pop their heads out their doors to see what the heck it was.

Well, it is an apartment building inhabited exclusively by musicians. And it is, after all, in New York,

The New Men In Anjani’s Life

Having landed in New York by happenstance , Anjani does what Anjani does – she works as a musician. During her time in New York, Anjani performs solo and with others (including Carl Anderson, Frank Gambale, and Stanley Clarke) in the clubs and other venues. In the tradition of struggling musicians everywhere, she also takes whatever jobs are available to support herself, including singing “too many jingles.”

Also working on jingles in those days, although he was producing rather than selling them, is a man who soon becomes become an important part of Anjani’s life, John Lissauer, who describes, in an Interview With Dick Straub, how he and Anjani met:

My first wife and I, my first wife was Erin Dickins, who sings on a lot of these things [pointing to the early Leonard Cohen albums]. She toured with us. Erin was in the original Manhattan Transfer. She was a very good singer, and I produced her and we were married for seven years. She did Leonard’s first tour with me. Not his first, but our first together. In fact she was on both of them, and she sang on his record.

We went to Hawaii on vacation and met a couple of really good Hawaiian musicians who just happened to be up and coming guys. They never got to the mainland but they were really good. Anjani was one of their friends. We didn’t meet her while we were there, but these guys had been raving about us to her because Erin and I had written a lot of songs and gave them some for their records. I sat and played with the guys.

After we had come back to New York, about a year later actually, this girl called me and said, “Hi, I’m Anjani, I’m in New York.”… We got together and she played me stuff and she was really good. A good piano player, and in those days almost Anita Baker like –jazz, pop kind of stuff.

Anjani is equally impressed with Lissauer, telling PopMatters, “John was a really great and wonderful man.”

While John Lissauer is destined to be involved in many aspects of Anjani’s music, one of his efforts changes her life – eventually. He introduces her to one of the singer-songwriters with whom he has worked for the preceding nine or ten years, Leonard Cohen.6

Anjani’s anticipation about meeting Leonard Cohen falls short of starstruck. In an interview with Hour, she confides, “I wasn’t nervous.” Perhaps she wasn’t nervous because

To be honest, back then I didn’t know much about Leonard – although I’d heard and loved Roberta Flack’s cover of “Suzanne.”7

She does, however, recall their first meeting vividly enough, albeit for an unexpected reason:

I was waiting to meet him at the loft. When he (Leonard Cohen] walked through the door, I saw that his cowboy boots and everything he wore was black. It was an impressive entrance.

That meeting led to Anjani performing background vocals on Cohen’s original recording of “Hallelujah,” joining the Various Positions tour as a keyboardist and vocalist, singing on subsequent Leonard Cohen albums, the Blue Alert album, and an intimate relationship between Anjani and Leonard Cohen.

The path to those end points from that first meeting, however, is not a straight line nor is the journey one completed quickly.

But, those are matters for another post.

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Credit Due Department: Hawaii poster by seabrzdriver. Stairway photo by liz west.

Preceding Anjani Chronicles Post:

Next Anjani Chronicles Post: Escape From New York Meets To Live and Die In L.A. Meets Back To The Future

All Online Anjani Chronicles Posts: Anjani Chronicles

Originally posted Feb 16, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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  1. These events and the aftermath are described at Anjani And DrHGuy FAQ. I’ve also published a batch of blog entries about Anjani and the Blue Alert album that can be found at Anjani Thomas. []
  2. see PopMatters article []
  3. The “73” in “Rhodes Stage 73” and the “88” in “Rhodes Stage 88” indicate the number of keys in each instrument’s keyboard. Other than the 15 keys difference, the two models are nearly identical []
  4. I’ve used numbers from several sources such as Selling & Shipping A Fender Rhodes Piano: “I weighed my Mark 1 88 Stage just before taking it on the road with me around 1974 and it was approximately 200 pounds. That was totally packed, with the legs and pedal in the top and the top attached, ready to go.” and “ready to ship my Rhodes Mark II Stage Piano 73 weighed 66 kilograms.” I have, on the other hand, excluded from these calculations the many claims along the lines of “My Fender Rhodes weighed at least 2,000 pounds.” In any case, according to Answers.com, the lightest Rhodes Piano produced in those models was the Mark V, weighing in at 45 kg (100 lbs). The Mark V was not produced until 1984, a decade later. []
  5. A tour rig typically included a road case for the keyboard, an effects pedals (delay, tremolo, phaser), Quiklok stand, Rhodes sustain pedal and rod, and the road case for holding effects, stand, sustain pedal and cords []
  6. The story of how Lissauer himself came to work with Cohen is a dandy tale on its own, and I heartily recommend readers check out his account of it in the previously referenced Interview With Dick Straub. It’s also worth noting that while Lissauer has worked extensively with Leonard Cohen, that is not his only successful musical role or relationship. The following excerpt is from John Lissauer.com: John Lissauer’s first big gig came at the age of 19, when he produced and arranged Al Jarreau’s first recordings. Ever in good company, John went on to produce and arrange a pair of hugely successful Leonard Cohen albums and has been composing, producing and arranging ever since. Writing/arranging for a myriad of recording artists has proven both fruitful and rewarding for John. The four gold records he received for Leonard Cohen and Bette Midler’s albums bear witness to that. He has also worked with Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Air Supply and The Manhattan Transfer to name a few. Having scored some 2000 TV commercials since his first at age 21, John has worked on just about everything. If it comes in a box, a bottle, runs off a battery, or provides a service to anyone, John has worked on it. He has to his credit numerous CLIO awards, including the highly coveted “Campaign Of The Decade” award for his work on Polaroid with James Garner. The kids love him too – John was the composer on three animated feature films including Pokemon: The Movie, a couple of animated shorts and several animated TV series from around the world. The love of music never seems to run dry for John, who is an accomplished woodwind player with various local symphonies. In his spare time, he has taught music at Yale University and Kingsborough Community College, and has composed and conducted for orchestras in New York, Hollywood, London, Paris, Prague and Toronto. []
  7. See LeonardCohenFiles.com: Anjani []