by Stephen Scobie
Leonard Norman Cohen,
born September 21st, 1934, in Montreal
10 -- Because "Suzanne" is one of the great all-time seduction songs. At the beginning of this term, I was walking across the UVic campus, out in front of the Library, and all kinds of people had their stalls out there to advertise organic vegetables and anti-globalist politics, and someone was singing "Suzanne." His voice was lower and growlier and more grating than anything I've heard even from Leonard himself, it was a monotone bass, it was a streetcar named desire, and still the song worked. All of us want Suzanne, you know that: men and women, straight and gay. We all want her to take us down to her place near the river. And the wonderful thing is, she always does.
9 -- Because he's the only Canadian poet who has ever claimed to be a building. "I Am a Hotel." And he takes us all in (for a price). He gives us a bed and a chair and a table, which is all that any of us really needs. And maybe he remembers our name when we ask for the key. And maybe he doesn't ask any questions about the strange companions we are taking up into our room. In his house there are many mansions.
8 -- Because he wrote "Beautiful Losers," which after almost 40 years is still the craziest Canadian novel ever written: the most beautiful, the most obscene, the most irrational, the most experimental, the most political, the most intelligent, the most post-modern, the most pre-modern, the most lyrical, the most absolutely goddamn wonderful novel ever written in Canada. And because a "Globe and Mail" story on September 21st about men dieting was headlined "Beautiful Losers"!
7 -- Because he made grey suits sexy.
6 -- Because he went up the mountain to Mount Bauldy, and undertook a course of discipline. Because he washed Roshi's floors and underwear. Because he chopped vegetables and later did the dishes. Because he drank Courvoisier with his Zen master. And then because he came down again, and lived in Los Angeles.
5 -- Because he compared mythologies. Before Roland Barthes. Before Mircea Eliade. Before Claude LÚvi-Strauss. Before structuralism. Before post-structuralism. Before George W. Bush. Because he looked at that big cross on the top of Mount Royal and saw it, not as an exclamation point, but as a question mark.
4 -- Because in 1966 I was standing in a line-up after a reading he'd given at UBC, and in front of me were twenty swooning young persons, of both sexes, presenting him copies of "The Spice Box of Earth" to sign, and when it came my turn, I presented a very recently bought copy of "Beautiful Losers," and he looked up and asked my name, and then wrote in it "For Stephen, love Leonard."
3 -- Because he sees a crack in everything. And even the Governor-General of Canada knows what that means!
2 -- Because he rode a white stallion onto stage. Because he saw Rebecca de Mornay as a schoolgirl and dated her twenty years later. Because he freaked out on LSD on a stage in Jerusalem.
1 -- Because he told us in "The Energy of Slaves" that "you can call me Len or Lennie now, like you always wanted." But we don't. We call him "Leonard." And we wish him a happy birthday, 68 years on. As Bob Dylan once said, "This one's for Leonard, if he's still here!"
|Stephen Scobie was born in Carnoustie, Scotland in 1943. He earned his Master of Arts degree from the University of St. Andrews and came to Canada in 1965. He received his PhD from the University of British Columbia, taught for a time at the University of Alberta and now teaches at the University of Victoria.