It Could Have Been “Opium and Hitler”
By Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen argued with publisher Jack McClelland over the title and covers of Flowers For Hitler. This account is from Frank Newfeld’s Masterpiece (And Leonard Cohen’s Unseen Face For Tits) by Brian Busby (The Dusty Bookcase: Sept 20, 2009):
In retrospect, The Spice-Box of Earth seems to have enjoyed a fairly easy birth. Not so, Flowers for Hitler, Cohen’s next book of verse. Jack McClelland thought the quality of the poems uneven, while Cohen considered the collection ‘a masterpiece’. Then, there was the matter of the proposed title, Opium and Hitler, on which publisher and poet could not agree. The two were still arguing in September 1964, mere months before the pub date, when a new battle flared up. At issue was Newfeld’s cover image. I’ve not seen the design, so rely on imagination coupled with Cohen’s own description in a letter to McClelland:
Nobody is going to buy a book the cover of which is a female body with my face for tits. You couldn’t give that picture away. It doesn’t matter what the title is now because the picture is simply offensive. It is dirty in the worst sense. It hasn’t the sincerity of a stag movie or the imagination of a filthy postcard or the energy of real surrealist humour. It is dirty to the brain.
Adding that he refused to ‘preside over the distribution of a crude hermaphrodotic distortion of the image of my person’, Cohen suggested canceling the book altogether. With the book in production, McClelland could only back down.
What became the cover is, according to Nadel, an amalgamation of six designs Cohen himself provided.
Update: Also see “This book moves me from the world of the golden-boy poet into the dung pile of the front-line writer” Leonard Cohen’s Letter To Jack McClelland Printed – Against His Wishes – On Flowers For Hitler Back Cover
Note: Originally posted January 29, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric