by Marni Jackson
Leonard Cohen was in Hamilton, Ont., at the beginning of his two year-long, sold-out world tour, when my phone rang close to midnight.
“I’ll be late getting home,” my husband said on the phone. “I’m backstage with Leonard and the band.”
Damn. That was supposed to be me.
My husband, Brian Johnson, is a writer for Maclean’s, and over the years he has interviewed Cohen a number of times, through good years and bad. He is full of respect for Cohen as a poet, a musician, a sort of father figure, and an eighty year old who still looks good in a fedora, and remains true to his art. Although his relationship to Leonard is professional, it also feels intimate, and singular.
When Leonard was going through a financial crisis some years ago, (one of his ‘people’ was siphoning off his money), Brian flew down to L.A. to conduct an interview. They ended up going out for dinner to a nice restaurant, with the actress Sandra Oh. She had just finished acting in the movie “Sideways” and “felt like ordering some interesting wines”, Brian said on the phone, with a happy lilt in his voice.
“That’s sounds like fun,” I said gamely. Sandra Oh, Leonard Cohen. Stiff competition! I hung up and jogged over to the cinder-track of a nearby park and walked round and round with my headphones on, listening to “Ten New Songs”(The ponies ride….the girls are young…) renewing my private, exclusive, astral relationship to Leonard (as I call him).
I realize I’m not alone. All over the world, there are fans who maintain shy but meaningful contact with the singer (who has always tended his website with care, like a bonsai gardener). The impression that each one of us enjoys, of having a privileged, personal connection to him, is one of Leonard’s most creative and generous gifts. Readers who connect with his poetry, or fans who make a little nest for themselves inside his songs, come to believe that Cohen has somehow gained access to intimate details about their secret lives. He outs us. We listen to “A Thousand Kisses Deep” or “Alexandra Leaving” as if standing in a spotlight before a mirror.
How did he know about my polka-dot blouse, my forward deck, my brush and comb?
His songs and writing make us feel more fully known, more clearly seen; that’s what art is supposed to do, of course—to offer up confessions that unlock your own. To risk the full human encounter.
The funny thing is that recently I learned that our whole family has experienced the “Leonard effect”, each in our own private fashion.