MEETING WITH LEONARD & ANJANI
by Kim Solez, Montreal 2005
"Hello!" Anjani Thomas said, as she opened the door to us. We made introductions and then proceeded to set up the giant birthday card in the front room in front of a table decked out with delicious looking food. When we were ready she went upstairs to alert Leonard and he came down to see us.
"Welcome friends!" he said as he entered the room and shook each of our hands. He asked about each of the three of us, myself, Kim Solez, Nikki Olson, the 22 year old sociology student who partners with me in Leonard Cohen events and in the technology book I am writing, and Netanya Bushewsky, 15 year old high school student , poet and artist, who is our youngest active participant in Edmonton's Leonard Cohen Night.
It was from the beginning so relaxed and fun! He was genuinely curious about us. He asked a lot of questions about my work as a doctor, about international disaster relief, transplant biopsy standardization worldwide, determination of "clinical truth", technology advances. The detail we got into was amazing!
We talked about the sorry state of the human condition which is not really fixable and my "happy puppy" approach to life which I speculated could sometimes be quite tiresome. He commented that most people do not think of him like that but he shares my happy puppy view. What else can you do? You might as well enjoy!
He thanked Nikki for the work she does on Leonard Cohen events and asked Netanya about the writing workshops she participates in and her other interests.
I mentioned Bobbie Chalou and the other fans who had helped us with the card and pointed out some of the people he knew who had signed the card. He showed us where he would hang the card panels in the house.
He watched and enjoyed the video Norm Drisdell made for By the Rivers Dark for our video contest, then he showed us the wonderful video his daughter and her best friend had done for Because Of and we traded discs.
To play the videos we needed my laptop plugged into a three prong plug outlet whereas all the outlets were two prong. So Leonard said he would run upstairs to the third floor for a converter and he did literally do just that appearing an instant later with the object needed looking as if it had not been the slightest exertion.
At a certain point Netanya felt cold and so Leonard got out the space heater that had not been used for a year and fired it up. Odors of burning dust etc. filled the room and we all said we knew that space heaters did this when turned on for the first time in a new season. Still it was a very odd sensation to be in the presence of such potent burning smells.
We talked about the parallel tracks of his ongoing creative work and the activities of the fans. He likes knowing that the fans were there, so comforting to know there was a warm audience for his work. But he likes the idea that the fan activities were completely independent of him, in some senses the less he knew about the details the better. So that he was not diverted from the work itself, and no psychic energy was being drained that should be there for the creative process.
We talked about the pressure I receive to ask him to attend our Edmonton Leonard Cohen Night events and the 2008 event. We agreed that it would not make sense for him to attend, but someday when it is natural and spontaneous, when he "is just around the corner" it could happen that he would attend a fan event.
A famous homeless person came to the door briefly and Leonard mentioned that he was a gifted poet but was unfortunately in and out of mental institutions.
I talked about a play I saw where media people speculated that anyone who tries to interview Leonard Cohen always ends up looking stupid because he outthinks you and is way better at using words. I mentioned that for a long time this fear surrounded the idea of meeting him, that I was afraid I would be babbling nonsense in his presence. Shortly thereafter I said something inane about Netanya's name seeming to celebrate the Internet, and then noted out loud that now I had done it: been caught babbling nonsense in Leonard Cohen's presence!
He gave us a copies of a special edition of The Book of Mercy and wrote something on the inside for each of us. Leonard's identification of me as "great artist of the surreal" in the inscription (Image LeonardCohenVisit) had to do with my juxtaposition of things no one else is juxtaposing, indeed he said I am guilty of serial surreality. So mixing medicine and art, the robotic dog, my concern for the feelings of his Edmonton lady friends from 1966 39 years later, the 37 and 44 year age difference between me and my compatriots etc. etc. Many things. He was amused that I did not already know I was being surreal. Was pleased with this first identification. He speculated that maybe I am uniquely "a physician with a life"! Very nice!
We talked about the fact that both he and I are operating in realms no one else is, so beyond a certain point without precedents and rules, making it up as we go along. He liked that notion.
We talked about his absence of nostalgia in many instances. And with him a kind of amnesia about some past events. With me the absence of nostalgia is partly because life just keeps getting better and better. He nodded at that but we were left unsure whether that just meant he understood or whether life for him also gets better and better.
He talked about losing everything ... twice. Long ago he had an art gallery and one night he found his way blocked by emergency vehicles as he tried to drive down the street. He asked what the problem was and was told that his art gallery was on fire, he looked up and saw that was so and despite the best efforts of fire fighters saw it being destroyed completely by fire. So his recent difficulties are the second time.
We discussed another point of vulnerability in the trip, the quarter inch two-foot-long steel shanks that were in the top of each panel of the giant card to allow it to be hung on the wall. They were potentially weapons, in fact one of them had already inflicted a small crucifixion like wound in my hand so I knew they were weapons, but they slipped right through airport security!
Leonard lit thin green candles for the Sabbath and we all shared a bit of bread and red wine.
The next day Saturday Leonard left us voicemail which I returned and then Sunday noon he called and we arranged to meet again that afternoon at his home "to say hello and goodbye".
We talked about Jarkko Arjatsalo, my visit to his home, and the situation with fans in Finland where it seemed for a while that there were few fans in the country and then recently many more were found. I spoke jokingly about the need for a detection device some electronic gadget that could be directed at a group of homes and allow you to determine where the Leonard Cohen fans were located. He thought it more likely that something could be detected in the water, maybe with dyes. It was great fun speculating about these fanciful things!
We talked about the Berlin event in 2006, he asked for the dates, and then we discussed the 2008 Edmonton events and where 2010 and 2012 might be.
We talked about the book I was writing with Nikki, and about Thomas King's The Truth About Stories, its symmetry and song like qualities, and The Tipping Point and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, how they are made up of stories. We can never know pure truth, all we have are stories that allow us to get close to truth.
Boris began mapping one corner of Leonard's kitchen in preparation for making it one of his favorite places. I explained to Leonard that the dog can have three special places, three owners, can recognize three faces and three voices. Right now he has only one owner but began the "owner registration" sequence with Leonard. I explained that it always seemed to me that two is a very difficult number in robotic dog ownership, that I am much more comfortable with the dog having three owners so would be looking for two others to be added at the same time. Leonard said he thought one owner was best.
In the end it was us who wound the Sunday visit down as we had shopping to do and needed to get to the airport. It was so nice to feel that we could have stayed and talked much longer.
All in all it was just a fantastic experience, a dream come true!
Text and photos © 2005 Kim Solez