Embracing Leonard Cohen Online
There is a kind of surrender about it, not in the sense of giving up but the kind of surrender that involves an embrace.1
Introduction: This is the followup to Is The Leonard Cohen Online Unified Heart In Danger Of Flatlining?, which has ironically become one of the most popular Cohencentric offerings. In that post, I set forth the hypothesis that Leonard Cohen’s online presence is diminishing and, consequently, we are in danger of losing a vital element of Leonard’s legacy. I also wrote
The best case scenario is that I’m wrong. Persuade me that my assessment is inaccurate, i.e., that Leonard Cohen’s online presence is growing or remaining stable rather than diminishing, and I will happily publish a celebratory acknowledgment. Really – this isn’t a rhetorical flourish; if you believe all is well online, send your reasoning to me at the email address listed at the “DrHGuy Info” tab on the top right of every Cohencentric page. And, if it’s a convincing argument, I’ll post it.
While a few thousand folks viewed that post since its publication last week (Aug 2, 2018), I have yet to receive a single response reputing my notion of an downtrend in online Leonard Cohen references.2 So, onward ever, to…
There are multiple causes for the deterioration of Leonard Cohen’s online presence, some of which cannot be directly addressed. For example, short of divine intervention, there is little to be done about the fact that there will be no new Leonard Cohen poems or songs created.3
On the other hand, at least one issue is potentially repairable. While I am not privy to the intrapsychic processes of all the folks on Facebook, LeonardCohenForum, Instagram, etc. who have decreased their participation on those platforms, I have spoken to a handful of friends who fall into those categories, and based on their experiences and my own, it is clear that many contributors to Leonard Cohen sites have been disheartened by the derogatory responses to their efforts.
One subsection of the Leonard Cohen fan base. for example, routinely objects to the posting of any cover of a Leonard Cohen song, regardless of its quality. Similarly, the mention of certain other performers, even those praising Leonard, leads to fervent denouncements. Heck, publishing a facetious guide to Determining If You Are At A Bruce Springsteen Or A Leonard Cohen Concert provoked a Facebook reader into an ALL CAPS diatribe postulating that Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen are nothing alike – which was, after all, the premise of the joke (oddly, such defensiveness was absent among Springsteen fans). Jokes about, artistic takes on, or musical interpretations of Leonard Cohen’s work by fans are consistently met with censure.
Proclaiming one’s own dissent with anyone posting anything anywhere certainly falls within the prevailing internet aesthetic. Nonetheless, the enthusiasm and vehemence with which some leap to savage typos, grammatical errors, mistaken dates, misspellings, etc. suggest that the primary goal is publicly lambasting the poster rather than correcting an error. And, I’ve lost count of the number of critical questions and comments I’ve received about issues were explicitly addressed in the (obviously unread) body of the post. Such encounters go far to explain why I abandoned reviewing Facebook comments on my posts.
There’s more,4 some of which is massively more malicious, but you get the idea. No one should be surprised that even dedicated admirers of Leonard Cohen who have repeatedly undergone experiences similar to these are giving up.
Further, the inevitable consequence in the face of such pervasive antagonism is a regression toward the mean compelled by expedience and self-protection. If, for example, current trends continue, entries on the Leonard Cohen Facebook fan pages will comprise little beyond Leonard Cohen photos (typically used without attribution let alone permission) unearthed on Google Image Search or Pinterest. Why? Because posting photos is easy and safe – a straightforward image of Leonard offers little to criticize. I confess I am taken by photos of Leonard, his musicians, and his friends, and I have posted batches of these images (with permission of the photographers), but they have never been Cohencentric’s primary thrust. And, eventually, photos won’t alone be enough to sustain the interest of thoughtful individuals. I love ice cream, but frozen confections do not a complete diet make. The absence of original content, thought pieces, analyses, and information about Leonard’s life and work will prove demoralizing and devastating.
There will, of course, be spikes of interest, such as when Leonard’s last book, The Flame, is published. And, one can safely anticipate releases of songs from Leonard’s archives. But, these isolated events seem unlikely to alone support an ongoing Leonard Cohen online presence.
As noted earlier, the legacy of any deceased musician is at risk, but in Leonard’s case, this is an especially treacherous situation because of his relatively small fan base compared to other entertainment stars such as Dylan, Paul McCartney Taylor Swift, Drake, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Kanye West… Should the number of Cohenites fall below critical mass, the self-sustaining process that sustains fan communities could whither and terminate.
The Unified Heart Seal & Blessing To End Disunity
Tom Sakic once told me that Leonard issued The Unified Heart Seal & Blessing To End Disunity,5 at least in part, to quell the legendary LeonardCohenForum wars. Jarkko Arjatsalo, LeonardCohenForum webmaster, adds
I remember that very well… The war started after the promotional tour Anjani did with Leonard in 2007, so this must have happened around 2007-2008.
Now, ten years later, my contention is that Leonard’s Blessing To End Disunity is even more applicable. This remarkable credo would, one hopes, stimulate individuals to examine and, if necessary, change their behaviors toward other fans.
The Blessing To End Disunity also suggests consonant organizational actions. For example, most Leonard Cohen Facebook sites maintain explicit or implicit codes of conduct. The Leonard Cohen Facebook Fan Page, for example, posts this primary guideline:
1. Treat each other with kindness and tolerance. This is how Leonard would want us to act. Members are from different countries and cultures, miscommunication happens. Behave with respect and understanding.
Based on the notion behind the Blessing To End Disunity, consideration should be given to promoting and enforcing such principles even more vigorously. One useful model, from another field, is that outlined in How One of the Internet’s Biggest History Forums Deals With Holocaust Deniers by Johannes Breit (Slate: July 20, 2018):
There can be no debate with Holocaust deniers. That is a core principle of moderating the AskHistorians subreddit, one of the largest history forums on the internet—and a crucial lesson Mark Zuckerberg seemingly does not understand. Zuckerberg got into hot water on Wednesday when he stated that Facebook wouldn’t necessarily remove Holocaust deniers from its platform because people “get things wrong” and because it’s not always possible to understand the deniers’ intent.
Likewise, there is no rationale for tolerating wannabe trolls, Cohen mind control conspiracy theorists, or hypercritical commenters on Leonard Cohen sites. In the best case, online participants would recognize their unity with other Cohenites or organize their conduct accordingly. If not, any reasonable cost/benefit calculation would dictate eliminating destructive responses on established sites.
Credit Due Department: Image atop post adapted from a photo by Lorca Cohen.
Next: Toward A Unity Of Leonard Cohen Sites
- From Tortoise-Shell Hero by Biba Kopf. New Musical Express, March 2, 1985. [↩]
- OK, that may mean that no one disputes the downtrend OR that those who disagreed with my findings simply didn’t fully read the post. [↩]
- It’s worth noting, however, that the death of an entertainment icon does not necessarily end his or her online popularity; fan interest in figures such as Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and Bob Marley has continued since these stars left this vale of tears. [↩]
- See That Don’t Make It Junk: Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen [↩]
- See “I established this Order of the Unified Heart, that is a kind of dream of an order…” Leonard Cohen [↩]