“I am no longer living on Mount Baldy.” Leonard Cohen revealed this change in his lifestyle to me
on 18 June 1999 in Los Angeles. I placed this information on the front page of my Internet site,
The Leonard Cohen Files, immediately upon my return home to Finland.
The news spread within hours among Cohen’s fans all over the world, boosted by additional notices on
the Web-based Leonard Cohen Newsgroup, other unofficial
Web sites, and various electronic mailing lists.
For the previous five years, Cohen was a full-time resident of the Mount Baldy Zen Center near
Los Angeles. He was officially ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk on 9 August 1996 and was given the
name of Jikan (“Silent One”). But he decided to move on, and he found the Internet a proper place to tell
his fans about his decision.
Cohen also handed me a copy of his poem Dear Roshi, with a colour drawing that he said
could also be posted on my site. The drawing was an original from the most recent of his famous notebooks,
in constant use for “blackening pages.” In the poem, he sheds light on his decision to come down from
the mountain and, in his inimitable style, intimates that his love for women played a part in his decision.
The Web posting immediately raised a furor among acquaintances and Zen adherents and resulted in numerous
requests for rights to reproduce the materials. After a week, we decided to delete the drawing and poem
from the site. The incident proved that the Web site is being read and monitored by many more people
than I had imagined.
This paper describes the genesis and evolution of the unofficial Leonard Cohen sites. Other Web activities
are also noted, and the final section details the incredible number of Cohen cover songs that have been
discovered through Web communications.
Not more than some years ago, when Cohen moved to Mount Baldy (in 1994), it would have been impossible
to disseminate news about him to such a large international group of people so quickly and efficiently. Now
an announcement is available to anyone with a computer and Internet access as soon as it is saved on the hard
disc of my server. In the 1980s, a worldwide communications network, open to anybody, was more science fiction
than reality. Things began to develop very fast in the 1990s, however, and unofficial fan pages for numerous
artists were among the first Web sites opened. Many of them pioneered work in both Internet content and design
well before commercial sites caught on and began to open.
In January 2000, I searched the Web for “Leonard Cohen” using the AltaVista search engine and received
notice of 17,146 Web sites that had at least some mention of Cohen. While many, of course, only provide brief
mentions of him, several are fully devoted to his work. The number of sites is even more impressive in light
of recent estimates that no current search engine reaches even twenty percent of the 800 million pages
(six trillion characters) on the Web.
The history of Leonard Cohen home pages matches the history of the Web itself. Carter Page launched
his site, Bird on the Wire: The Leonard Cohen Home Page, in 1994
using the technical resources of the University of Pennsylvania. This site was the first of several large home
pages devoted to Cohen and his work. At about the same time, Paul Black and Adi Heindl opened sites
(just to mention some work that is still available on-line).
Dan Engelhardt compiled a discography and the collected lyrics to all of Cohen’s songs about the same time.
He also made a list of Cohen’s songs that were available in cover versions by other singers. His listings were
first posted on Page’s Web site, and many other sites soon repeated them. Page also posted articles, interviews,
and album information about Cohen. While Page’s site still exists, it has not been updated since late 1995.
(For readers who use the Web, links to all the sites mentioned in this article and
to a number of others can be found on the links page at my site.
I opened my Cohen site in September 1995. It was first titled The Leonard Cohen Fan Information Files
but was later renamed The Leonard Cohen Files with the permission of Stranger Management Inc.
(Cohen’s business manager). This title was simpler and more fitting. Sony printed the link to it on the cover
booklet for the More Best of Leonard Cohen album in 1997, and again on the booklet of
Field Commander Cohen (2001). Sony also maintains a professional site at www.leonardcohencom, but it contains only a fraction of the information on
the unofficial sites. However, Sony has upgraded the site twice in 2001 to pay hommage (and promote) the new albums.
My son, Rauli Arjatsalo (born 1980), has taken care of the technical details and maintenance of my site
since its inception, while I collect and edit its contents. The site is available on a Finnish server. The front
page of the site can be found at www.leonardcohenfiles.com
The roots of my site go back to the period when network technology was not yet racing with printed media.
I was an enthusiastic reader of The Leonard Cohen Newsletter edited and distributed by Leonard Cohen Information
Service, run in Sheffield, United Kingdom, by Jim Devlin. He ran the service for ten years, from 1984 to 1994.
Michael Lohse, Gerhard Schinzel, and Martin Rupps had established the newsletter in Germany, and it had moved
to the United Kingdom when Devlin took over. All thirty-seven issues were full of invaluable news items about
Cohen’s tours and records, cover versions of his music, and collectible items. In 1994, Devlin decided to end
the newsletter. Partly he wanted to concentrate on writing books about Cohen, which he has done. But mostly he
was afraid there would not be an adequate quantity of new Cohen material for future issues. As the recent
Internet activity proves, Devlin needn’t have worried.
After the demise of the newsletter, the only regularly distributed print medium for Cohen’s fans was the
Intensity fanzine compiled in Holland by Yvonne Hakze and Bea de Koning. This quarterly publication concentrated
on reprinting articles from newspapers and magazines worldwide, and it included discussions on other Cohen topics.
However, the editors preferred to keep circulation within reasonable limits of their publishing resources, so they
never not advertised the fanzine widely. The Intensity editors also arrange a small Leonard Cohen meeting in Amsterdam
every fall. After almost 14 years, the very last issue of Intensity was mailed to the subscribers in Spring 2000.
Soon after Devlin’s newsletter was discontinued, I opened my Internet site in Finland. I quickly realized what
a magnificent channel for Cohen information the Web would be. The existing Cohen sites and the Usenet news group
indicated that other Cohen fans might be anxious to take advantage of such resources. I collected some basic material
during the summer of 1995 and launched the site on 3 September 1995, with the initial content on about seventy different
The number of visitors began to grow, first slowly and then faster and faster. The counter on the front page
registered the 100,000th visitor in July 1998 and the 200,000th in September 1999. At the time of this writing (July 2001),
the daily average is over 400 and the 500.000th visitor will be registered in September 2001. Web visitors have come
from more than seventy countries and from all continents.
The geographical distribution of visitors to my site is almost identical to the availability of Internet services.
Most hits come from the United States, Canada, and the central and northern European countries. Lately, more and more
fans from Latin America and Asia have visited the site. Interestingly, a notable number of Cohen fans from South Africa
also visit it, but the rest of Africa has not been represented.
Cohen’s work is also becoming more popular in eastern Europe and Asia. E-mails from countries such as Japan,
Taiwan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon show that his work, both his poetry and his music, is studied
by the young generations in these areas, even though their local religious beliefs may be very different. Surprisingly,
after the collapse of the USSR, many Cohen covers have been released in eastern Europe, and new editions and translations
of his novels and poetry have been printed in many countries. In just the past years, new editions of his books have
been published in Hebrew, Chinese, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech, and Croatian. Curiously, however, many
of these books are unavailable in English!
The Leonard Cohen Files currently offers more than seven hundred Web pages and contains as many photos.
Much of this content has never been available before to the public. New information keeps arriving from contributors
in various countries, and my work as the host has become more and more similar to that of an editor. Several Cohen
biographers, such as Jim Devlin, Christof Graf, Stephen Scobie, and Vlad Arghir, are providing me with their work.
As described below, however, the most important contributions to the site are new poems, song lyrics, and drawings
from Cohen himself.
The Leonard Cohen Filesfeatures numerous sections, including Cohen’s song lyrics, with analysis; his
books, with special summaries written by Scobie; books about Cohen; his filmography, with a listing of songs used
on soundtracks all over the world; his discography, including poetry records; complete listings of all his tours,
including venues and many track listings; an article and interview archive; and listings of tribute albums and cover
versions of his songs. Collectors’ rarities are also shown in a special section, and there is a marketplace for
those who are trying to find a missing record or book. Other popular sections contain art inspired by Cohen, and
almost one hundred of his active fans are featured with their photos in The Gallery of
Internet activities have also created a flood of Cohen meetings in many countries; information on past
events is available in the Fandom section of the site. The first big European gathering took place in
Lincoln, United Kingdom, in the spring of 1998, but “The Leonard Cohen Event” in May 2000 in Montreal was in
its own category both in size and quality of the program. The next major get-together will
be on the island of Hydra in Greece in June 2002.
Without a doubt, though, the most important section of The Leonard Cohen Files is
Blackening Pages. Here poems, lyrics, and artwork have been posted by Cohen himself. Most of this material
is still unpublished in any other format, though a number of the poems will probably appear in the forthcoming
Book of Longing. Visitors to the site have also been able to follow in real time how the lyrics of a
new song, A Thousand Kisses Deep, have been developing.
Cohen began to contribute to The Leonard Cohen Files in the spring of 1997 with colour copies
of sketches, paintings, drawings, and computer art taken from his numerous scrapbooks. Granting permission to
show these materials in the Blackening Pages section, Cohen wrote. “I want to send, among other things,
the first manuscript scratchings for ‘Suzanne’ and other early songs. I’d like to make the process clear, or at
least throw some light on the mysterious activity of writing.” Later on-line readers have been offered more
and more contributions from Cohen: some twenty new poems, many of them written on Mount Baldy, which reveal his
thoughts and desires, and later his decision to move on. Cohen reported to the editors of the French Internet
magazine Planète Internet in December 1997 that ”Now I put up new poems or drawings—in fact I use the Internet
as a tool for publication. I don’t know whether it’s really a universal tool, but I notice that nowadays I carry
on all my correspondence by e-mail and it’s a way of keeping in touch, especially here.”
Cohen does not have concerns about copyright issues. As he explained to Suzanne Nunziata, the Billboard
magazine editor, in December 1998, “I have been posting a lot of original material on the Finnish site.
I don’t know what the ramifications are. Speaking as a writer towards the end of his life, where most of my work is out
there, I’ve collected royalties on it, I’ve been able to live and maybe even provide for a respectable retirement.
I’d be happy to publish everything on the Internet at this stage of the game.”
Today there are more Web sites than ever that pay homage to Cohen. Twenty to thirty sites dedicated to his
work are active, and the number is growing all the time. Although some sites exist for only a brief period, a
phenomenon typical to all noncommercial sites on the Internet, many national sites in various languages have been
opened lately, and it appears that they will be maintained for some time. For instance, new sites have appeared
in Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and France. The French site,
hosted by Patrice Clos, is one of the most remarkable and comprehensive sites. There are also sites that concentrate
on special subjects, especially Marie Mazur’s Speaking Cohen, an
extensive andn high level site of newspaper and magazine articles and interviews, and Christof Graf’s
German Cohen site. Marie Mazur has also created
The Leonard Cohen Concordance.
Since autumn 1999, The Leonard Cohen Webring groups together ten major websites dedicated to Cohen’s work.
Links on each of the member websites allow visitors to move from one site to the next.
Marie Mazur, Patrice Clos and Jarkko Arjatsalo have also collaborated with each other and opened special sites devoted
to Leonard Cohen’s new albums Field Commander Cohen
and Ten New Songs.
Suzanne Nunziata asked Cohen if he is thinking of creating a Web site of his own. Cohen answered
“No. . . . There’s a kind of family that is gathered around my work. It’s not fixed at my work, but merely uses
it as a reference to their own lives and to their own very amusing and touching flirtations, communications,
Cohen was referring here to the Leonard Cohen Newsgroup (news:alt.music.leonard-cohen), an active Usenet group for
those who want to discuss Cohen’s work and recent news. Some twenty to thirty new postings appear daily in numerous
threads. Every message since 1 January 1996 has been archived by www.google.com and can
be found using the search facilities provided by that site. The Usenet newsgroup was established in the spring of 1995.
Earlier there was an informative Cohen mailing list of some fifty e-mail users, but it ended after two years once the
Usenet group was born. You may read more about the history in Geoffrey Wren’s article.
People interested in Cohen also meet in the Leonard Cohen Chatroom
or post their messages on the Leonard Cohen Message Board of
this site. And, last but not least, numerous mailing lists and e-mail discussion groups spread information and opinions
and offer chances for more private conversations.
The typical reaction of a visitor to The Leonard Cohen Files has been joyful surprise to find such
extensive information on Cohen’s work available on-line. Many Cohen fans have never before met anyone else with a deep
interest in his work, and they are thrilled to find hundreds or thousands of like-minded people on the Internet. Cohen’s
new albums and books are rare. It is therefore noteworthy that his fans remain so fiercely faithful. Comments and
interests expressed on the Internet demonstrate that new editions of all Cohen books, as well as new or reissued videos
for home use, would find an audience ready to purchase them.
Cover, Cover, Cover
A worthwhile Internet activity has evolved around the collection of information about cover versions and tribute albums.
The Internet community has helped The Leonard Cohen Filesto build a complete listing, one that keeps expanding
with new discoveries.
Usually, only two compilations by various artists are mentioned when tribute records are discussed.
I’m Your Fan and Tower of Song. Sometimes
Cohen på Norsk — a Norwegian tribute put together by that country’s leading female artists—
is mentioned, along with the early covers by Judy Collins on several of her albums.
The outstanding album Famous Blue Raincoat by Jennifer Warnes also receives deserved attention.
However, numerous contributors have sent data and records to me, and they show that more than a dozen tribute
albums (containing only Cohen songs) have been released in addition to those mentioned above. Tribute albums have
been made in USA, Canada, Iceland, Poland, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Croatia,
and Hungary. In Spain, an excellent Lorca-Cohen album by Enrique Morente features four Cohen songs in modern flamenco style.
Click here for complete listing.
Nobody, including Cohen and his business staff, realized that so many cover versions had been recorded in so
many countries. As of July 2001, we found and posted 660 cover songs. About one hundred of them we found as a result
of a contest organized by The Leonard Cohen Files and Cohen’s Stranger Management staff in 1998. Artists in
North America and almost every country in Europe, as well as Brazil, Israel, Iran, Korea, Taiwan, South Africa,
and other countries, have recorded Cohen songs.
Maciej Zembaty, a well-known Polish musician and translator, has recorded at least
forty-three songs written by Cohen. Graeme Allwright, a New Zealand-born artist living
in France, has made fourteen cover songs. Both artists have also helped to introduce
Cohen’s work in their countries.
Cohen’s work as a singer-songwriter has been most popular in Poland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Norway,
and other northern European countries, if Internet feedback is reliable. Indeed, those fans persisted during
the difficult period in the early 1980s when Cohen was virtually neglected in North America (e.g.,
Various Positions was released in 1985 in Europe but not by his record company in the United States).
The most covered song, according to our lists, is Suzanne, with one hundred recordings located. Bird
on the Wire takes second place, followed by Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye and So Long, Marianne
and Famous Blue Raincoat.
© 1999, 2000, 2001 Jarkko Arjatsalo