The Poetic Hair Stylings Of Leonard Cohen: “I comb my hair for possibilities”

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The Hair Club For Singer-Songwriter-Poet-Novelist-Icons

“I comb my hair for possibilities” is a line from Leonard Cohen’s poem, “The Suit.”  Two years ago, I observed in Does This Fashion Suit Leonard Cohen?, a post about a fashionable line of suits purportedly inspired by those verses, that, despite its somewhat misleading title, the poem is less about couture than coiffure:

More to the point, if that poem is to inspire a product, shouldn’t it be a hair product or haircuts or toupees or something hirsute-related? After all, there are two lines about a suit and 23 referring to hair and feelings the narrator experiences about his hair. 

Indeed, “The Suit,” published in Flowers For Hitler by Leonard Cohen is a celebration of hair:

I am locked in a very expensive suit
old elegant and enduring
Only my hair has been able to get free
but someone has been leaving
their dandruff in it
Now I will tell you
all there is to know about optimism
Each day in hub cap mirror
in soup reflection
in other people’s spectacles
I check my hair
for an army of alpinists
for Indian rope trick masters
for tangled aviators
for dove and albatross
for insect suicides
for abominable snowmen
I check my hair
for aerialists of every kind
Dedicated as an automatic elevator
I comb my hair for possibilities
I stick my neck out
I lean illegally from locomotive windows
and only for the barber
do I wear a hat

The Human Body As A Convenient Source Of Literary Devices

It is hardly surprising that Cohen employs hair in the service of his literature.  Few writers have not experienced the sort of desperation that drives  scribblers of prose and poetry to consider body parts as literary devices first and a machine for living second. Whitman  thematically focused on the entire human body in work like “I Sing the Body Electric.” Raymond Chandler wrote about a character in The Long Goodbye who”was eager to help but his legs were rubber . . . ” A complete book (Inscrutable Houses by Anne Colwell) is devoted to, as described by its subtitle, “metaphors of the body in the poems of Elizabeth Bishop.” Tongues, toes, teeth, and thyroids have all been used – with varying levels of effectiveness – as figurative language in prose and poetry.

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Does This Fashion Suit Leonard Cohen?

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Another Clothing Line Inspired By A Leonard Cohen Line

Reviewing, as is my wont, the goings-on in the world of  haute couture, I came upon the information that Leonard Cohen, award-winning singer-songwriter, legendary ladies’ man, and certified icon, has, according to Hypebeast, again sparked the imagination of a designer to create a line of swell duds for cool dudes:

The Soulland spring/summer 2011 collection is inspired by the Leonard Cohen poem, ‘The Suit’ – and in more ways than one. With the collection Soulland designer, Silas Adler, has played with the symbolic meaning and seriousness a suit can give the person, who wears it. In addition, the collection literally includes a suit, the first in Soulland history.

For those who have somehow missed the news, Soulland’s head designer is one Silas Adler, a 25 year-old  one-time skateboarder  who founded Soulland in 2002 to create what the hip rags call “lifestyle garments.”  Originally specializing in print t-shirts, the company has, according to its brochure, “now grown into a well-established men’s wear brand recognized worldwide and represented in leading stores across Europe and the USA.”

The Raf Simons Precedent

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Leonard Cohen: “Suit Up!” Poster Boy

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Suit up! Dressing smarter changes how you act and think by Colin J McCracken (My Good Planet: April 17, 2016) is a report on a study1 indicating that wearing a suit confers certain cognitive benefits on subjects thus attired. In the words of the abstract of the actual study, “The findings demonstrate that the nature of an everyday and ecologically valid experience, the clothing worn, influences cognition broadly, impacting the processing style that changes how objects, people, and events are construed.”

I’m not, however, interested in the scientific merits of the study. No, I’m taken by the choice of the photo to illustrate the Suit Up! article. Of all the portraits of men in suits in all the galleries in all the internet, it’s a shot of Leonard Cohen that stands atop the piece. It’s especially relevant, to my mind, that Leonard Cohen is not mentioned anywhere in Suit up! Dressing smarter changes how you act and think, in in The Atlantic article on which it is based, or in the original study. It’s the image of the Canadian singer-songwriter, garbed in his double breasted pinstripe jacket and fedora, itself that is expository.

And, although we are given no clue if this picture was selected by someone aware of Leonard Cohen, the artist, or if the photo was simply felt to resonate with the notions advanced by the study, Leonard Cohen is certainly a splendid embodiment of an individual associated with both formal business attire and enhanced abstract processing.

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  1. Actually, it’s a report on a report (in The Atlantic) of a study (published in Social Psychological and Personality Science March 31, 2015 ). []

Leonard Cohen Named To GQ’s “Most Stylish Musicians of All Time” List

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Leonard Cohen The Canadian singer-songwriter-poet-shaman has always had a sort of night-owl vibe, looking like some rumpled 19th century philosopher, all dark suits and angular, swooping hair. As he ages, this owl just looks wizened.

From Most Stylish Musicians of All Time by GQ Editors (GQ: October 28, 2011)

Leonard Cohen Concert Clothes Cliche Compendium

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Leonard Cohen Concert Review Template: Describing Cohen’s Apparel

With the 2010 leg of the Leonard Cohen World Tour impending, journalists will soon be faced with the challenge of reviewing the singer-songwriter’s concerts. To ease that burden, Cohencentric has set about organizing the Leonard Cohen Concert Cliche Compendium to establish guidelines for reporting on Cohen’s performances. Today’s lesson focuses on writing about the clothing he wears on stage.

It is difficult and perhaps impossible to discover a review of a 2008-2009 Leonard Cohen concert that does not include a reference to Cohen’s sartorial splendiferousness. There are, in fact,  three categories of methods (and a few that fall outside these classifications)  to convey the notion that Leonard Cohen is, as the lads from ZZ Top would say, “a sharp-dressed man.”

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Category 1:  Just The Facts, Ma’am

In their purest and most frequently occurring form, exemplars of this minimalist category offer only the verifiable facts of the matter, exposing the writer to little if any risk of being contradicted.  This format is, in fact, ideal for those tasked with reviewing  the concert without attending it (in these case, we recommend the use of the phrase, “dark suit,” a popular format that should be a safe fall-back description unless Cohen goes all Marty Robbins  on us and kicks off the 2010 tour wearing  a white sport coat and a pink carnation).

He wore a black suit and snap-brim hat for the occasion. (Concert Review: Leonard Cohen at Chicago Theatre by Greg Kott. Chicago Tribune, May 06, 2009)

… in a dark suit, tie and fedora …  (Music Review: Leonard Cohen’s Graceful Gift By Joel Selvin. San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 2009)

He stands very slim and straight, in his dark suit and fedora … (Leonard Cohen Takes Manhattan, Again by Emily Johnson. National Post, Feb. 19, 2009)

Dressed in a double-breasted suit and fedora … (Leonard Cohen’s First Show In Britain In 15 Years Is Immaculate by David Cheal. Telegraph, Jun 18 2008)

On occasion, one may hazard the inclusion of a single, ambiguous judgment.

Dressed in a sharp black suit and a matching fedora …  [emphasis mine] (Sincerely, L. Cohen by Ryan Cormier. Deleware Online, May 13, 2009)

A tad riskier but still within the safe harbor of cliche are the group of standardized fashion adjectives, such as “resplendent”  and “dapper,” which add a touch of glam to the festivities without endangering the correspondent’s cliche credentials.

Cohen, resplendent in a dark suit and fedora, … (A Brief Review Of Leonard Cohen’s Performance In Asheville by Chall Gray. Ashvegas,  Nov 4, 2009)

… the dapper, suit-clad Cohen … [emphasis mine] (Leonard Cohen / Feb. 19, 2009 / New York by Lavinia Jones Wright. Billboard, Feb 20, 2009)

Category 2: The Fashion Assessment

Writers bucking for the fashion desk or those who recently rented “The Devil Wears Prada,” may elaborate on the details more effusively.

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Leonard Cohen On His Poems, Zen, Hallelujah, His 6 Good Songs, Money, America, And The Squirrel

The Leonard Cohen Post-Financial Loss, Pre-World Tour Interview, 2006 Montreal Norwegian TV Version

Those familiar with Leonard Cohen interviews of this period may notice they have certain elements in common with this 2006 video done for Norwegian TV in Cohen’s Montreal home with reporter, Helle Vaadland.  Examples include but are not limited to the following:

  • A female interviewer with the obligatory crush on Cohen
  • Comments on and explications of: Book Of Longing, the loss of Cohen’s retirement fund, Zen and Mount Baldy, growing old, …
  • The anecdote re Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan discussing how long it took Cohen to write “Hallelujah” Vs how long Dylan required to write “I And I”

Of course, while having previously heard these tracks from the Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Interviews album may blunt the novelty of the lyrics, it does not diminish the charm of their delivery.

And, there is some unique material.

Cue The Squirrel

squirrel

For those viewers who treasure the unique, this is, I believe,  the only Leonard Cohen  interview in which he is known to introduce a squirrel (seen in the above screenshot exiting stage left behind the smitten interviewer) or, indeed, any rodent.

Cut To The Cooking

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Leonard Cohen & Suzanne Host Joni Mitchell, Ratso, & Roger McGuinn At Home For Barbecue Ribs – 1975

Dinner With Leonard, Suzanne, Ratso, And Roger

Yesterday’s post, Leonard Cohen Declines Bob Dylan’s Invitation To Play In Rolling Thunder Revue, spotlighted the account from Larry (Ratso) Sloman’s “On the Road With Bob Dylan,” an entertaining and enlightening read about Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, of Leonard Cohen being fetched from his home in order to attend the Montreal concert of that tour. Asked to perform, Cohen demurred, choosing to watch from the audience.

The end of the concert, however, was not the end of the Montreal adventures associated with the Rolling Thunder Revue.

The excerpt below from “On the Road With Bob Dylan” describes a small dinner party given by Leonard Cohen and Suzanne1 on December 5, 1975, the night after the Rolling Thunder Revue Montreal concert, for Larry (Ratso) Sloman (the author), Joni Mitchell, and Roger McGuinn.2

This episode is interesting for a number of specific reasons as well as the insight it lends into an important area of pop music in the 1970s:

  • The always shifting relationship between the ex-lovers, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell (see Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things), reflected in the banter between them is fascinating. I’m especially fond of Cohen’s response to Mitchell’s contention that he has “a more consistent character than [he] plays out:”

    I’m as constant as the North Star3It is also be instructive to recall that, as documented in yesterday’s post, Cohen’s initial greeting to Mitchell backstage at the concert was, “Joni, my little Joni.”

  • While less apparent, Joni Mitchell’s feelings toward Bob Dylan and the ethos of the Rolling Thunder Revue he constructed are worth the effort required to detect them, given her unambiguous denouncement of him that would take place in April 2010:

    Yesterday, the folk world was rocked by Joni Mitchell. Apparently she has a giant grudge against Bob Dylan and, as Matt Diehl found out when interviewing Mitchell for the LA Times, she does not like being compared to him. Indeed, when Diehl intimated that the two were similar because they both “changed” their names (from Roberta Joan Anderson to Joni Mitchell and Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan) to create a persona, Joni uttered these venom-laced words: “Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”4

    More about the Joni Mitchell-Bob Dylan connection at another time.

  • Joni Michell’s self-assessment – also an always shifting matter – is revealing.
  • Leonard Cohen was then, as he is now, recognized as an extraordinarily gracious host.
  • This glimpse into the domestic life of Leonard Cohen as spouse (pragmatically if not legalistically) and father is intriguing.
  • The early lyrics of the songs that would become “Iodine” and “The Smokey Life” are reminders of Cohen’s habitual reworking and revising of his music.

I’ve added explanatory footnotes to Ratso’s story.

“I’m a stone Cohenite” – Joni Mitchell

The cab finds the address and they pile out and enter the Cohen domicile. And what a contrast. If the Mount Royal residence5 was subtly elegant, Cohen’s house in old Montreal is blatantly commonplace. First of all, it’s not a house, it’s a ramshackle bungalow-type structure, entered via a door that would be hard put to withstand the ravaging assault of a five-year-old. It boasts exposed beams, slanted floors and ceilings, and a collection of furniture that would do any Goodwill proud. But there’s a curious feeling of warm spirituality pervading the home, and the shelves upon shelves of books and the myriad knickknacks and the old, dusty-framed prints and paintings impart a tremendous character to the place. Ratso [author Larry (Ratso) Sloman] enters Leonard’s house for the second time and feels right at home.

“Leonard,” he yells in greeting, smelling the savory aroma of barbecued ribs wafting into the front room, “you’re immaculate.” The reporter scurries into the back of the long room and plops down at the table. The others follow, exchanging greetings with Leonard and his lovely lady Suzanne.

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  1. “Suzanne” is Suzanne Elrod, mother of Cohen’s two children, Lorca and Adam. []
  2. Prior to his work in the Rolling Thunder Revue, McGuinn had been on the folk music circuit, worked as a sideman for folk groups like the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Judy Collins, and played guitar and sang backup harmonies for Bobby Darin. He is best known, however, as a co-founder of The Byrds. []
  3. Update: “I am as constant as the Northern Star” From Leonard Cohen (& Shakespeare) To Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You []
  4. From Folk Face-Off: Joni Mitchell vs. Bob Dylan []
  5. “The Mount Royal residence” refers to the house that belonged to Leonard Cohen’s parents and the home in which he and his sister, Esther, were raised. (See Tour Childhood Home Of Leonard Cohen and The Childhood Of Leonard Cohen). The dinner in this account is being held at Cohen’s own home in Montreal. []

Leonard Cohen Inducted Into Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame – 2008

Highlights Of The 2008 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction

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Highlight #1: Leonard Cohen, Still Classy After All These Years

Leonard Cohen, dapperly dressed in a black tux, thanked Lou Reed for his introduction and acknowledged that his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was “such an unlikely event” and “not a distinction that I coveted or even dared dream about.”

In a classic self-effacing moment, Cohen then solemnly observed,

quoteup2
I am reminded of the prophetic statement by Jon Landau in the early 1970s: ‘I have seen the future of rock’n’roll, and it is not Leonard Cohen’1quotedown2

 

Leonard Cohen, who may have been the only speaker, including Jan Werner, Chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and MC for the ceremony, to speak without notes (Lou Reed carried loose papers, a notebook, and a copy of Cohen’s “Book of Longing” to the podium), then recited the lyrics of “Tower of Song” and promptly surrendered the stage to Damien Rice for his cover of Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Highlight #2: Tom Hanks, Best Introduction

Tom Hanks introduced the Dave Clark 52 with passion and enthusiasm that fell just short of inspirational as he reported on the meaning of pop music to a kid growing up – oh, at about the same time Tom Hanks grew up. His notes-abetted presentation may have been a tad over the top, but at least he was on task and able to demonstrate a genuine appreciation for the inductees.

Highlight #3: Let’s see. Highlights, highlights, high-dee-hoo-dee-lights

Well, uh, ummm, … ah, I have it – Although a number of the older honorees looked shaky, not one of them required CPR.3

The Other 80% Of The Ceremony

To convey the tone of the rest of the evening, I first ask the reader to imagine the annual corporate meeting of the sales department of a life insurance company. A dinner is being held to honor the six salesmen who have been with the company the longest. These old coots seem nice enough, everyone seems to like them, and they may well have supplied a useful service to the community so there is no objection raised when they go on longer than necessary, tell anecdotes that no one in attendance quite understands, and seem a little confused as they thank spouses, mentors, teachers, friends, pets, … . This profile matches about half the honorees.

For the remainder,  a few representative examples follow:

Twenty-four hours ago, for example, I liked John Mellencamp more than I do now. He’s clearly angry at someone who has done him wrong because he’s going to have his son “kick their ass.” He also notes that he knows what people say about him and how his anti-war stance makes him unpopular.

The Awards were, according to more than one speaker, sooooo much better before it became a TV show. As a viewer, these comments made me feel warm and tingly all over.

The host, VH1-C, was accused of – commercialism – wait, the punch line is coming – by Billy Joel.

The undeserved, much lamented death of the music business (or, more accurately, record/cassette/CD selling) was another recurrent motif.

Even Madonna, who seems to run everything in the Western Hemisphere that Oprah doesn’t own, got sentimental over her lack of self-esteem as a child and her need, 35 years later, for people to “encourage [her] to believe in [her] dreams.” On the other hand, while I can’t be certain, I think it’s possible Madge thanked me for something during her exhaustive and exhausting expressions of gratitude to her grade school dancing teacher, her agent’s assistant’s associate once removed, the critics whose negative reviews only fired her motivation, … .

Update: The video of Leonard Cohen’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame was not available when this post was originally published.

Bonus: Unsolicited Advice To VH1-C Production Crew & Waldorf Event Planners

Here’s a wacky idea – what if, when the honorees leave the waiting area (AKA the Waldorf Hotel kitchen) to mount the stage, the direction to their mark on the stage were made clear? Now, no one enjoys slapstick antics, not unlike that practiced by the Keystone Cops in their heyday, more than me. Watching the Ventures mill about before someone standing idly by pointed them toward the stage was a hoot. Even watching my man, Leonard, walk through the door into the bright lights only to realize that he was face to face with the live and TV audience with no means of determining the correct route to the stage gave me a tiny jolt of Schadenfreude-infused delight. And, when I saw John Mellencamp nearly sprint the wrong way, toward the backstage area, … well, let’s just say, a knee was slapped and mirth prevailed. Heck, I’ll even admit to being a little disappointed when someone literally took Madonna’s arm to guide her to the stage.

Still, those in charge  might want to consider adding a navigational aid to assure that the show runs smoothly. I don’t see a need to pop for a GPS, but maybe you could – and I’m just blue-skying here – plant a big sign outside that door with an arrow pointing to the stage or instruct a flunky to stand outside the door through which the inductees enter and imitate a sign pointing unambiguously toward the stage.

Bonus #2: A Final Word On Leonard Cohen

quoteup2
We’re so lucky to be alive at the same time Leonard Cohen isquotedown2

Lou Reed

You got that right, Lou

Credit Due Department: Photo of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame taken by Derek Jensen. Used under Creative Commons license; found at Wikipedia Commons

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  1. Cohen was, of course, riffing on the famous proclamation Jon Landau wrote in 1974 as a Rolling Stone contributing editor, “I’ve seen the future of rock n’ roll, and it’s name is Bruce Springsteen.” Leonard Cohen is too much of a gentleman (thank goodness, I’m not) to point out that within a year or two of that statement, Mr. Landau was Springsteen’s producer and manager – and still on the Rolling Stone masthead. []
  2. I like Tom Hanks, and I recall liking the DC5, at least during the British Invasion; other than my fondness for the actor and the band, the reason Tom Hanks introduced the Dave Clark 5 eludes me []
  3. At least not on camera []