(Harry Rasky’s book about the long withheld 1981 documentary on Cohen)
A most unusual process. In previous sleeps, I have met Dylan, Lightfoot, on and on…Last night Leonard Cohen and Sinclair Ross–separate meetings, visits.
Cohen was 45, looking much as he did in Harry Rasky’s never-released-on-DVD documentary “The Song of Leonard Cohen”. It is a very puzzling, disappointing, and somewhat unflattering portrait of both men as Rasky tries to schmooze with and get close to Cohen who becomes a role more than anything else, only becoming more open when his old friend Irving Layton barges into his apartment with his usual flamboyance like a circus wagon.
The Cohen I met admitted there were some problems with the documentary, but ultimately didn’t know why Rasky had withheld it from release today. He was fairly low key and cooperative. One interesting discovery was of a little-known album Cohen had recorded for an older label like Folkways in which he crooned a number of older songs along the lines of “The Tennessee Waltz” which he later put on a live album.
We talked of poetry and eventually I spoke a little about how I wrote. It was only then that his ‘crap detector’ emerged as he asked me questions about why this or that worked for me. I could see that nothing was ever easy or fixed about the way he himself approached his craft which probably accounted for the duality and irony of his poems and songs.
It was a brief meeting, but much more friendly and instructive than the cat-and-mouse, ‘put-on’ documentary that Rasky had once spent many months on.
Sinclair Ross was a shorter encounter. He was soft-spoken and somewhat cautious about revealing details of his life. He was a more reserved man, most likely with a stranger in this case. “Why would anybody ever want to know about me?” was his most telling remark.
Interesting to go back 4 years later, one after Cohen’s death to revisit this dream. He obviously influenced me more than any other Canadian poet. I once owned a portrait of him I had bought in the long-gone Rocco’s Studio on 118 Avenue (in much better days when I worked a casual mailman in the summer of 1971.).
Before that, I had sung some of his songs at a U of W coffeehouse, and played “Suzanne” when it was a radio hit for Rex Harrison’s son Noel in the ’60s. When I played it in my Grand Centre band in 1973 at a gig, the drummer made a special point of telling me it was “a pretty song”.
It took till the ’80s to finally see Cohen in concert here in Edmonton. He was in good form after releasing The Future album; it was a comeback for him. But he had many more miles to go including his drying-out sojourn to Mt. Baldy with the monks, his being fleeced by his female manager, his return to publishing and the concert stages, which this time won him huge world-wide success. He went on to become an icon.
There is apparently one more book coming out this year and we may eventually see the weak Rasky documentary as well as a commermorative Canadian coin and stamp. I suspect Columbia will release a box set at some point with many extras. Should be interesting. I still am lucky to own two signed books and a number of unique Cohen items. But, looking back, I should never have given away the Cohen portrait to another teacher at McNally before I moved to Page. One of many mistakes and sincere regrets over the long haul. More on Cohen to come later….