Leonard Cohen, talking about The Leonard Cohen Newsgroup in a 1998
interview with Billboard magazine said "...and then there's the
newsgroup. There's a kind of family that is gathered around my work;
it's not fixed in my work but merely uses it as a reference to their
own lives and to their own very amusing and touching flirtations,
communications, confessions, exchanges."
The Internet started in the USA at the end of the 1960's, when four
computers were successfully linked together in the first network.
During the following decade various companies very gradually began
installing computers. Researchers, government agencies and academics
across the country contributed to the continual expansion and
upgrading of this new technical development. By the mid-1980's
Internet was well established throughout the USA, now being used by
educational facilities and international organisations. The
market for personal computers during the latter half of the
1980's exploded. Millions of people around the globe were
becoming connected together via their personal computers.
Leonard Cohen's association with Internet is rather well documented. A
circle of his fans kept in touch with each other by e-mail, and one of
these fans was called Susan Cole. On 8th November 1990 she launched
The Leonard Cohen Mailing List which allowed distribution of each
e-mail to all members of the small Cohen online community. In her
opening message she wrote: "The Leonard Cohen mailing list
is now launched! As of today, we have 31 members, including
several in Europe and one in Australia ...Let the
Fans were now, for the first time, able to share their views in an
organised and spontaneous manner. Cohen appreciation societies, which
had up to this point provided invaluable services by sending
subscribers regular newsletters via the normal postal system, would
eventually be unable to compete with this new electronic wizardry.
Cohen mailing list became a thriving medium of instant communication
with continually increasing activity. The number of members grew
constantly, discussion encompassing everything from his
interviews, poetry, novels and music. While people posting
to this medium maintained a respectful level of quality and
seriousness in their messages, it seemed to lack the lively
humour, mood swings and lighthearted frivolousness which was
to be more prevalent in the next phase of fan communication.
By 1994 the modern Internet, as we know it today, was well and truly
out of its infancy. The computer language of HTML had permitted World
Wide Web to be created, and Bill Gates' popular "Windows" programme
had become a standard computer necessity. The Cohen mailing list was
about to receive a jolt. On a September morning in New York that same
year, Perry Metzger (unrelated to the Cohen backing musician named
Bob) made a vitaly important move for all other fans. He took Cohen
into usenet by setting up a newsgroup called alt.music.leonard-cohen.
Cohen fans could now post their
views openly on the worldwide usenet system of discussion
groups instead of being confined to the limitations of the
list. Anyone with Internet could effortlessly read articles
sent in by anyone else within seconds of them being posted.
Strangely, few of the many people on the mailing list
crossed over to the newsgroup until after it had been well
established. Below is part of the first ever message sent to
the newsgroup created in Leonard Cohen's honour:
From: Perry E. Metzger
Some time later, when Perry was asked about the newsgroup he had
started, he said that at the time he was unaware of the existence of
the Cohen mailing list. Thinking that there was no place to discuss
him, he created one. "Not much more to it than that. I'm pleased that
such a simple action brought a lot of people together....", he says.
Date: Friday, 9 September 1994, 10:16:58 PDT
Welcome to alt.music.leonard-cohen! . . . This newsgroup exists to
discuss the music of Leonard Cohen and related topics such as concert
For a short time the Cohen mailing list and the newsgroup
alt.music.leonard-cohen existed side by side, although some people on
the list were rather suspicious and negative. Four days after the
newsgroup's launch, which by then was already showing over a hundred
messages, one can read in the mailing
list: "...someone has set up an alt.music.leonard-cohen newsgroup.
There has been a lot of traffic already, although the quality of the
content is clearly not up to this mailing list's." Someone else
responds: "That comment about quality is right on the mark."
The number of posts to the newsgroup was inconstant at the beginning.
Even though there was healthy general conversation and discussion at
the start, activity could fluctuate dramatically. Yet by the end of
1994 alt.music.leonard-cohen had received well over 700 messages.
This was not bad, considering that the mailing list received
a mere 533 during the entire four and a half years it was in
operation. On the mailing list in January 1995 one can read:
"Could someone please e-mail me the correct name of the
Leonard Cohen newsgroup I heard mentioned some time ago. My
news-server does not carry it, and I am curious to read it."
Someone replies: "The newsgroup is alt.music.leonard-cohen.
There are a handful of posts a day (traffic is way down from
the beginning, but maybe it is a holiday slowdown)."
Although members of the mailing list were initially
sceptical of this usenet rival, they slowly started to
accept it - evident by their posting of long transcriptions of Cohen
interviews to their forum which had first appeared on the newsgroup.
The mailing list was looking old fashioned, not quite as effectual or
dynamic as the wide open and instant visuality of a newsgroup's
attractive column of threads and topics. Fewer and fewer messages were
being sent to it. As Rudi Schmid was later to write: "After
the Internet newsgroup alt.music.leonard-cohen was
established in early September 1994, traffic on the Cohen-talk
newsletter fell off considerably." The inevitable happened.
The one-word final message of 21st June 1995 is both comical
and sad. It is from an optimistic poster hoping to interact
with other members on the list. He writes simply
The mailing list had survived from November 1990 to June 1995. Even
though it was now closed forever, the rich archives collected
religiously by initiator Susan Cole and others were fortunately
preserved. They remain a unique treasure chest of information - a
superb diary of how Leonard Cohen's work affected and influenced the
everyday thoughts of fans who were engaged in Cohen-inspired
communication. During the autumn of 1995 Rudi Schmid assembled and
edited the entire mailing list archive of letters. He called them The Talk Files, and distributed
copies to one or two other people, to minimise the risk of
So, alt.music.leonard-cohen was now the exclusive place for fans to
rendezvous. Students, fans, researchers or biographers wishing to peek
at old messages from this newsgroup may do so by employing the free
services of the usenet archive Google, formerly called Dejanews. These
records date back to the spring of 1995. Some of the
messages to Cohen's newsgroup prior to the usenet archives
(i.e. from September 1994 to March 1995) are stored in
Cohen's album The Future was released in 1992. When one takes into
consideration the fact that nine years would pass until the next - it
stands as a great tribute to the power and appreciation of his work
that during this long period his fans had no difficulty in maintaining
continual cyberspace interaction. On the contrary, and as the many
thousands of messages in the usenet archives will confirm,
discussion has increased, despite the launching of several Cohen
message boards (on The Leonard Cohen Files,
The French Cohen site,The German Cohen site, and some in Yahoo! Clubs) and a round-the-clock
chatroom started by Jarkko Arjatsalo. Cohen himself has
never made an appearance in his newsgroup. That just
wouldn't be right, somehow. But like many people, he is
online - and often reads it!
[Thanks to Perry Metzger, and the Archives of The Leonard Cohen
Mailing List 1990-95 compiled by Rudi Schmid and hosted by Greg Wells.]
© 2001 Geoffrey Wren (Snow), Norway