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Wednesday, January 18, 2017


So Long, Marianne: A Love StorySo Long, Marianne: A Love Story by Kari Hesthamar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For all its studied naivete, Marianne Ihlen's book could be a cautionary tale about the dangers of swimming in unknown waters.

Follow the money, and the CIA-MKULTRA connection. It's 1961 and Leonard's true whereabouts -- the Bay of Pigs invasion -- is not even mentioned even though it's well documented elsewhere and Marianne had to know, even if only in retrospect. Fall of 1961: six months later, payment has materialized and she leaves her mother's house in Oslo to live with Leonard in Montreal, a short walk from the Allan Memorial Institute -- she doesn't mention Dr Cameron, just that the couple lived for a time in spacious luxury, along with baby Axel, son of Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen.

No explanation for where the money supporting this lifestyle came from, only that it wasn't from poetry, or even the alleged "television series" that Leonard was working on with Irving Layton. Also it didnt last long because soon they were back on Hydra scrounging for cast off clothes and furniture. So I think this 1961 windfall came courtesy of Allen Dulles and his ragtag Cuban brigade that took Leonard to Havana and probably served as the inspiration for one of his very first songs, "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes."

Because I knew these people, years later, I find the artsy cover story trite - why do people buy the "flowers on the table" nonsense? It was not a stable or happy relationship even in 1960, before Leonard took off for America, and Marianne sent her 6 month old son to her mother in Norway on a SAS plane after meeting some pilots in the port of Hydra. After her baby departs for the north, Marianne stays on Hydra with Leonard, who was perfectly capable of putting his own flowers on the table. Maybe he needed a cook and bedmate -- although we're told that most of the housework was done by a neighbour, Kiria Sophia. What kept her and Leonard so occupied in their new life together, before their long drive up to Norway? As someone else has noted, everything about 1960 seems slightly iffy and dreamlike, at times cringe-worthy, as writing can be when it's avoiding some unmentionable truth. My guess is that Leonard was getting ready to go to America on a mission, which entailed a period of training before the CIA invasion brigade reached Cuba in the spring of 1961.

Significantly that same year, Marianne's estranged husband was spending much time with his new American girlfriend Patricia whose life revolved around the US base in Athens. Later he would write that he felt "banished" from Hydra (he had wrecked their house in a fit of rage one night, propelling Marianne into the arms of her Canadian poet admirer who lived up the hill.) We learn of Jensen mainly through his letters, usually angry in tone and content, however he never seems to have a bad word to say about the man who took his wife and child. "Leonard has the gift of making himself admired," writes Jensen, "which is why I will keep myself lurking in the background." It almost sounds, at times, as if the two men were cronies instead of rivals. Although broke (like Leonard, he never made real money from writing) the elder Jensen flies off to Mexico to be with his mysterious American friend (handler?) John Starr Cooke, over the winter of 1960- 1961. Cooke feeds him LSD and later Axel and Leonard get their novels reviewed and become famous writers overnight although reviews are just mixed--

(That same year LIFE magazine puts together a feature on the artists of Hydra, showcasing Leonard in particular, as a guitar-playing entertainer although at the time he had not yet written any song. The article is never published and Marianne doesn't mention it in her memoir, but many of her Hydra circle appear in the photos. LIFE Magazine was heavily CIA-controlled, of course, and Hydra writer, George Johnston, was one of its stringers, although by 1960 he was ill with tuberculosis.S0 1960 was some sort of turning point, not just for Leonard and Marianne, but for the island -- stars were rising, powerful people were taking notice -- or perhaps all this was being orchestrated from elsewhere? )

LSD played a bigger role on the island than one would expect in 1960 and also later on. Marianne notes that the wife of Hydra resident John Cassipides was the daughter of LSD guru Aldous Huxley. For anyone familiar with the history of the Tavistock Institute, and its role in promoting the "counter-culture", it should be clear that all this was happening a little early. Either these future cultural icons were amazingly prescient in their drug-taking habits, or someone was the handing them the blueprint for what would become Flower Power and the sixties "revolution". Like her fellow island-dwellers who were busy breaking up their marriages in an endless cycle of drinking and partying, Marianne went along with the trends before they were really trendy.

Later (ca 1967) the same "John Starr Cooke" character invites Marianne to his Oaxaca estate where he feeds her more LSD -- apparently the only form of therapy available at the time. You have to wonder about the presence of so many well-funded gurus whose only job is to encourage people to turn in, tune in and drop out. A daughter of Aldous Huxley marries into the Hydra art community - how could all this not be, somehow, outside the realm of coincidence? Rather it seems that Hydra was chosen as a floating human laboratory, a place to bring together a flock of "unstables" - a social engineering term for change-bringers, the kind of people who influence others to accept new ideas and ways of life.

Maybe what Leonard saw in Marianne, was not just a Muse -- I'm sure she was one -- but also a borrowed wife and child to serve as a foil for his secret activities? Am I being cynical for suspecting his motives in living with a woman he repeatedly cheated on and eventually abandoned?

In one letter he refers to Axel Jensen's son, baby Axel, as "Barnet" (?) What were they all thinking? Apparently nobody including Marianne really wanted this little boy. Not mentioned: When he was 11 baby Axel took LSD provided by wealthy Hydra resident and self-appointed guru George Lialios. The story of little Axel is one of the saddest chapters in the history of this famous couple - today he remains a casuality, permanently residing in a mental institution in Norway. How could Marianne not have realized their magical mystery tour would end tragically as she packed the boy off to private schools in Switzerland, then to Summerhill in the UK, ignoring his pleas to be rescued from this experiment? In the end Axel joined a lost generation that included Lilly Mack's son Sergei and Magda ' s Alexander, both drug takers and drug dealers. Although Sergei has survived, Alexander died young of complications from a sponge diving accident - I was on Hydra in 1981 when the accident happened.

When will these Hydra cover stories stop dipping into the same barrel of clich├ęs? Yes, the expatriates who flocked to the island were talented and young and ready to do anything to make it - but let's not pretend all this is only about the artistic life. Some were artists but others were mercenaries and intelligence operatives in search of a safe haven to do business. Art was present but - especially after the Greek junta (timed to coincide with the Flower Power revolution) -- the real money came from inherited fortunes, as well as drugs and weapons. When Leonard and Marianne arrived on Hydra, Operation Gladio was in full swing -- and western governments and their intelligence arms were intent on taking control of culture in order to engineer future generations. All this was part of the agenda that aimed to profit the wealthy - and Greece was a magnet for all kinds of offshore investments. Ambitious young writers seeking quick fame and fortune soon learned they needed to moonlight to get by - and the rewards for secret work in the service of the CIA could be impressive.

**********************************
TWO DAYS LATER
Now that I've finished, I'm giving it 3 stars instead of 2. Later chapters had more to offer - including inadvertent insights into the 'hidden hand' operating behind the curtain of Leonard and Marianne's lives, but I can't list them all right now. It seems more than odd that Axel Jensen just happened to check into R.D. Laing's private clinic in London for more LSD and therapy. There is a colourful chapter set in Mexico where Marianne goes seeking solace with Axel's American guru "John Smith" - whose teachings come straight out of Esalen and sensitivity training. A strange and compelling chapter about New York in the Chelsea Hotel days as Leonard was starting to make a career in music - while Marianne struggles with poverty and abandonment on Clinton Street -- reveals much sadness and desperation between the lines.

Marianne at times comes across as a lost creature -- not at all how I had imagined her. I met her once, on Hydra, in 1981 - she had recently remarried and seemed solid, sane, and matronly if shy and withdrawn. As she looks back, in her seventies, at her life as one half of a legendary couple, she seems incapable of seeing through the myths, the amazing deceptions, that made up the legend. But this is true of all the characters, even the hyper-critical novelist Axel Jensen whom she married, and his poetry-spewing rival Leonard Cohen who never really noticed other people.

So Long, Marianne is peopled by ghosts who gave themselves up to the poisoned zeitgeist, sacrificing heir own, ant others', lives in pursuit of fame and momentary 'enlightenment' --

When I closed the book last night, my overwhelming feeling was of pity for the players in this tragedy -- but I'll probably have more to say later. For another account of what Hydra and Leonard were like in the early 80s, read my self-published memoir The Man Next Door. There was more going on than Marianne Ihlen's ghost-written book merely hints at.


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Thursday, April 14, 2016

A ROOM ON THE MOUNTAIN, by Anne Cimon


Room on the Mountain, ARoom on the Mountain, A by Anne Cimon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this beautifully written, deeply felt exploration of a woman coping with the loss of her husband and her own mortality. The narration pulls you in, laying bare all the little details that we use to distract ourselves from pain and grief. Anne Cimon is an impressive writer with a gift for revealing characters caught in vulnerable, awkward moments in ordinary settings: hospital corridors and waiting rooms, restaurants and public washrooms, empty apartments inhabited by missing loved ones. It's a sensitive page-turner, driven by a sense of relentless searching for answers: how to live in the aftermath of illness, how to face loneliness and fear of death, how to rebuild a broken life and find reasons to go on? Her heroine, Catherine Sauve, is a compelling mixture of practicality and eccentricity, as she fantasizes about the surgeon who saved her life. Cimon achieves the delicate balance between hope, kindness, synchronicity and the near-magical romantic feelings that they stir up. Although I felt it ended too quickly, I found this novel very touching and cinematic in its close-ups and also in the way it sustained dramatic tension to the end. Highly recommended!

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Sunday, February 21, 2016


Seen and Not Seen: Confessions of a Movie AutistSeen and Not Seen: Confessions of a Movie Autist by Jasun Horsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm nearly finished this now. I took a break after the chapter which is really a brilliant review of The Counsellor, another film I haven't seen (directed by Ridley Scott) that did badly at the box office. Now I want to see it, if only to find out if I can sit through it. Evidently it ends horrifically with the suggested torture-murder of Penelope Cruz, just another victim of Mexican drug wars and the cross-border snuff film trade. I stopped reading because all the violence was beginning to seem too 'personal' -- it seems Jasun Horsley has no other subject or obsession, and I'm grateful in way, that he has made it his mission to view and write about films which depict extreme violence, often sexualized and directed against women. I thank him for that because it means I can go on skipping those films, or just read about them through Horsley's eyes.

I took a breather from SEEN & NOT SEEN to read The Story of O. over Valentine's Day -- the timing was unintentional. The Story of O. also shocked me, in a different way (I wrote a brief review of it at Goodreads but I've since had afterthoughts that I'd like to explore some other time). Usually I don't like to be shocked, but I'm deciding i could get used to it. I thought Story of O. would allow me to consider the subject of sexualized violence against women from a female perspective, and it did but I wasn't prepared for Pauline Reage's detached, poetic style -- so much the opposite of Horsley's. I've nearly concluded Story of O. is a feminist novel -- at least, in a backhanded way it is, as it depicts men as monsters and women as utter dupes and victims, and cold-bloodedly moves toward some inevitable climax that never really arrives. Same subject, but a totally opposite approach since Reage leaves herself out of the narrative whereas Horsley inserts himself everywhere.

For example in SEEN & NOT SEEN we learn that while watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre he sustained an erection throughout. That's amazing -- I mean, it's a detail but it tends to stick in your mind. You wonder why, and you read on to find out. That little detail comes up again in the penultimate chapters about Jasun's brother, the famous English suicide-artist Sebastian Horsley who died of an overdose in 2010. I had never heard of Sebastian although he was famous enough to be interviewed on Q by Jian Gomeshi. I watched five minutes of that interview before I had to shut it down -- it reminded me of things I can't quite name or put my finger on, and five minutes was all I could take of that video.

The same is not true of Jasun's writing which is fluid, self-aware, and revealing of nuances that usually get left out of film criticism. I don't know why, but I keep thinking of Pico Iyer -- whom I can't seem to bring myself to read -- as the possible antithesis of Jasun Horsley -- I'll have to get back to you on that.

Horsley is smooth, but he's not slick. He's cool, but not cold. His prose is weirdly naked, and that could be why it's hard to put down. You think "this boy really needs an editor" but you don't have time to care, since he keeps dragging you down a path that always circles back to some personal trauma. I think that's the hook. You want to know what happened to him, back in childhood, that made him like this. And also, what was it that destroyed his whole family, the nuclear one, the father-mother-brother trio with Jasun the sole survivor who ran away and lived to tell the tale. That's the crazy subtext to all this, I think, but I'm having trouble being objective because for the last six months I've got immersed in Jasun's online world.

Come to think of it, it's unlike any other world I've ever been immersed in. I don't often get immersed in anything because deep down I don't like getting lost -- but in this case, it's like reading Alice in Wonderland at age 8 all over again. It's so farflung. Obviously, Jasun Horsley has had nothing better to do for most of his life than explore. Near as I can figure, he grew up rich and neglected. First he explored comic books and movies, the more violent the better. Then he ran away and explored America through the lens of Clint Eastwood, Pauline Kael and spaghetti westerns. Then he nearly died of love and ran to Morocco where he met Paul Bowles. After that, he tried to reconnect with his famous-notorious brother, friend of criminals, darling of the London degenerate art scene,, before leaving for Guatemala to become a shaman. I'm sure I'm leaving out a lot -- at some point he even tries to make in Hollywood as he's writing scripts along with film criticism. He goes into all this in SEEN & NOT SEEN -- obviously he can't get away from it -- it's his life story and it's fascinating -- not in the way that old Hollywood movies are, with a causal structure that unfolds inevitably like an old-fashioned sentence -- but more like a Batman movie with special effects, or like BRAZIL (which I found hard to sit through) --

And yet, you can't help feeling he's searching for an ending, almost in the classical sense of a finale that will tie all this together for better or worse or a bit of both.

Which reminds me, I still need to read the final chapter. Maybe it really will end.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

MURDER OF TIME - Manufacturing Terror

For deeper insights into how the War on Terror really works –and how governments fake terrorist threats to justify repressive anti-terrorist laws and technology-- I highly recommend Matthew Pauly's disturbing (and quirky) memoir THE MURDER OF TIME.

An unforgettable account of an unwitting Canadian's forced recruitment into the bizarre world of cross-border black ops -- first as a victim, targeted by a team of rogue intelligence agents operating in his own neighbourhood, and later as a helplessly drugged, programmed assassin forced to kill a stranger on the streets of an American city.

Matthew, a software designer, has just started a new job at Toronto's Pearson Airport when two freak events at work - a plane crash and a tornado – trigger his untreated PTSD and put him on stress leave. Memories flood back of being kidnapped and programmed in a van on the streets of Toronto by a shadowy agency using military mind control technology to manufacture "domestic terror' suspects.

Tortured to make him scream phony terror threats in Arabic, Matthew (who knows no Arabic) confesses on video to a non-existent plot to blow up the CN tower in downtown Toronto.

Sound familiar?

I met Matthew Pauly last winter while passing through Toronto. I'd got in touch with him after reading a comment he posted at the McGill Daily website, in response to an article detailing McGill's involvement in CIA research to create Manchurian candidates or mind-controlled assassins. He had written a book for which he needed editorial assistance. I'm the author of a memoir describing my childhood growing up in (and out of) the MKULTRA program based at McGill. I've also researched and written extensively on how several generations have been impacted by trauma-based mind control.

When we met for the first time in the Toronto bus terminal, Matthew was wearing a bullet proof vest. He took me across the street to Starbucks where we talked for an hour and he gave me a print copy of his book, MURDER OF TIME. I read the first half after reboarding my bus heading west on the 403. I have no doubt that Matthew is what he claims to be: the victim of a secretive program that has been operating in Canada (and across North America) since the 1950s. How he was selected to be part of this strange universe and a pawn of powerful forces, is a story worth rereading (and sharing). MURDER OF TIME reads like an action movie, which is likely why it caught the attention of Sean Stone who interviewed him before the book was finished.

Matthew is quintessentially Canadian - polite to a fault, ever conscious of the niceties, constantly trying to play by the rules even when he's face to face with the hair-raising evil of a cross-border "Joint Task Force" that kidnaps and tortures him one night inside a white van parked on a bland Toronto street.

Do read MURDER OF TIME, recommend it to everyone you know - not just because it's the strangest and most terrifying book to come out in Canada this year -- but most of all because it's true. Then, prepare yourself for the sequel.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Common GroundCommon Ground by Justin Trudeau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Someone recently compared Justin Trudeau's mind to a teenager's bedroom. This autobiography shows he's been busy lately cleaning it up. Almost believable in its persistent tone of sincerity, it made me forget for a while that the Trudeau era was a time of massive deception.

First there was Trudeau-mania. After It subsided came a wave of national depression and cynicism. In its aftermath, COMMON GROUND – which Trudeau ends with a long, boring blast of Liberal feel-good rhetoric -- left me depressed, cynical and in need of a good stiff drink or dose of lithium.

Definitely the boy, or his publicist, can tell a story. There's no denying Justin's life has been marked by tragedy: his parents' very public divorce, his mother's descent into mental illness, the death of his younger brother in an avalanche. These candid moments are genuinely moving and the book's greatest strength. Justin has lived through many of the challenges of his generation and his team understands he can draw on the youth vote in the next election if he can just get them off their cell phones and drugs.

Judging by how many people seem to like it, Team Trudeau has scored a coup with this book, remaking Justin's image from pampered Golden Boy into a roll-up-your-sleeves, school-of-hard-knocks underdog, ready to bare his chest and rebound from every overhand punch in the televised charity bout of Canadian politics.

Maybe that’s why in this pre-election scrum, the son treats his late father with kid gloves, never implying Pierre was anything but a kind, involved parent. It's the best we can expect but it does make me wonder how much the writer has repressed.

The opening lines to his eulogy at Pierre Trudeau's funeral were more ambivalent and ironic: "Friends, Romans, Countrymen --" and a pause just long enough for the audience to fill in the unspoken: "I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." Canadians have got used to saying that Justin is "not Pierre" or even a close second. In COMMON GROUND, he almost manages to turn this lifelong failure into an asset. Throughout, he never stops praising the father he could never please when he was alive.

Notwithstanding the roses, pirouettes and wide-ranging sexual appetite, Pierre was deeply committed to bringing up his three sons. Still, many found him distant, cold, and detached from the lives of ordinary people -- whereas Justin, an average student, supposedly has the popular touch. Closer to his jet-setting mother, he occasionally flirted with politics. At McGill, he loyally campaigned against the Meech Lake Accord and, perhaps more tellingly, volunteered with the Sexual Assault Centre. Gravitating to youth work, he kept a low profile as a teacher in British Columbia, rooming for a while with a now-convicted pedophile and also sitting on the board of the Katimavik Centre founded by his father's friend Senator Jacques Hebert.

His eulogy at Pierre's funeral in September 2000 catapulted him into the public eye at 30. The Trudeaus are used to displaying emotion in public, from "Just watch me" during the October Crisis to the one-finger salute in Salmon Arm, but even by their standards Justin's performance by his father's coffin was an embarrassing cliff-hanger: a rambling 9-minute speech that began, almost surreally, with a trip to the North Pole and ended with "Papa, je t'aime" and a handkerchief moment.

There is a lot in the family history to suggest their charisma is rehearsed in secret to distract from those old rumours that Pierre and Margaret came together in the 1960s under the auspices of the Air Force and programmed with LSD at a farm out in BC. During her recent breakdown, Margaret was hospitalized at McGill's notorious Allan Memorial Institute under the care of Dr. Dimitri Pivnicky, father of Mila Mulroney.

Canada's elite is so small, perhaps it was inevitable that Justin would end up as Liberal leader. This book goes far in dispelling any notions that his ascent was automatic or effortless. On the way up, Justin spent time pounding the pavement of his Papineau riding, the poorest in Canada, standing around grocery store parking lots handing out leaflets and introducing himself to locals, many of whom were still hostile to the memory of Pierre. Justin -- or his staff of writers -- would have us believe that he sweated his way up slowly up from the bottom of the political heap to become our Future Prime Minister, the only leader capable of coaxing alienated and apathetic youth back to the ballot boxes and bring in a whole new era of tolerance, prosperity and national unity.

I was touched and impressed to read of Justin's struggles in a down-and-out Montreal neighbourhood I know well, until I realized his handlers have found a perfect way to repackage his image. Much as the Katimavik kids he once mentored spend time in community service en route to high-paying careers elsewhere, Justin emerged from his short season in Hell to grab the leadership, champion pipelines and more Draconian surveillance laws. Pierre, who gave us the War Measures Act, would be proud to welcome his prodigal son back to the club.

Maybe Justin plans to harness the energies of his own generation that has lived through lots of divorce, psychiatry, drugs, and sexual experimentation. Maybe the secret violence that marked Pierre’s career has kept Justin out of politics until now.

So what draws him into the political mainstream at this time? Could it be a sense of civic responsibility? The obligations in which children of the elite so often find themselves entangled? The Trudeau family curse?

The strong undertow of tragedy makes COMMON GROUND a compelling read. The younger Trudeau navigates dark waters with some of the same aplomb his dad displayed shooting the Canadian rapids, while lesser men opted to portage.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014


The Man Next DoorThe Man Next Door by Ann Diamond


Ann Diamond's The Man Next Door (Bootleg edition)

"A wonderful memoir of life with Leonard Cohen in Montreal and Greece through the heady 60s, spiritual 70s and cynical 80s - the music - the lyrics - the drugs - the government's mind control experiments - brilliant table talk by a woman who knew him well. Cover art by Tigana."

"I'm still recovering! And I mean that in the best way possible…All my favourite texts knock the ground out from beneath my feet. Not only did it topple me, it might be the most engaging memoir I've read. You make subtle gestures towards the devil in the details with a very sharp labrys…pure artistry.>> -- Andrew Roberts

That was one great read. More gentle on our hero and maybe less paranoid than stuff written in the past. The story really does hang together and connects with my own memories of Montreal. But what I really want to know is, where can I see a picture of the Chinese man flipping through the air?-- Tom Hochmann

"It is a most unique book , from a most unique perspective , and shines a light in the dark - there is nothing like it. I found it all compelling, never bored, no urge to skip, held by the words on every page. Things I have wondered about LC, from the things dropped in his songs, things he has said fell into place ." -- JIM FRIESON, Japan

"Well done. And timely. "Manufacturing the Dead Head" over at Gnostic Media and Dave McGowan's work and now your work are all meshing like a perfectly synchronized Rolex Submariner wrist watch. --- Agent Rooster Cogburn

"Fascinating insight from that period from Ann Diamond, as usual." --- Kitty Hundal

“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers." --- Anonymous .......

"The ending will shock you." -- Ellen Atkin

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Man Next Door by Ann Diamond

The Man Next Door

by Ann Diamond

Giveaway ends January 21, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard CohenI'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard CohenI'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This biography, like the earlier one by Ira Nadel, is the next instalment in the fairytale of Leonard Cohen's "life," and repeats some of the same errors, omissions and obfuscations. I hate to be unfan-like, but some of us read biographies to find out, err, the "truth" about famous people, not to wallow in their personal myth or worship in their cult of personality.

Leonard Cohen is one of those 20th century singers who made it to idol status after a long, sometimes bitter struggle.  It would be nice if someone, someday, actually peeked behind the curtain of stardom and exposed some of the more transparent fables.

Let's begin with his McGill undergraduate days, when he came close to flunking out with a 56.4 grade average at graduation. "He did much better in math" though, -- yes, perhaps because Leonard was infinitely more calculating than his naive schoolmates who actually studied. At age 17, he began supplementing his income by volunteering for Donald Hebb's notorious, CIA-funded, sensory isolation experiments, for which he got paid a lucrative $20/day. These led to days and weeks spent in flotation tanks on LSD. It's a miracle he managed to remain sane enough to write poetry -- but then, the CIA has long had a soft spot for poets and writers. They often make great spies.

Even in high school, Leonard had shown a tendency to embrace violence. His first short story, published in the Westmount HS yearbook, was titled "Kill or Be Killed."

At least Simmons asks the obvious question -- "How did Leonard get away with it?" -- while glossing over the answers. How does a 21-year-old McGill Law School dropout with barely passing grades get into graduate school at Columbia? Simmons admits "Enrolling at Columbia had really been a cover, something to keep Leonard's family happy."

Cohen friend Mort Rosengarten told Simmons that wealthy Montreal Jewish families did not want their sons becoming artists and intellectuals -- rather they were expected to enter the family business and churn out elegant suits and ties for the elite. Nevertheless, while rebelliously "floundering" in New York, Leonard founded a literary magazine called The Phoenix -- a perfect way to get close to the Greenwich Village poetry scene and its beatniks who ignored his formal, McGill-influenced verse.

Anyone who knows Leonard knows he's a sharp and disciplined thinker, not the kind of unfocussed dreamer who would imagine he could make a living off poetry. How did he survive in New York as he moved from failure to failure? That's the question that never seems to get answered.

We do know that in 1959 he moved to London to work on a novel. During that time, he met Jacob Rothschild -- heir to a banking empire -- who suggested Leonard visit his mother, Barbara Hutchison, on Hydra. Barbara Hutchison had divorced Jacob's father, and was planning to marry the painter Nikos Ghikas, who had a mansion overlooking the village of Kamini. Simmons doesn't say more about that visit, which found its way into Hydra legend. Following in Henry Miller's footsteps, Leonard knocked on Ghikas' door but, unlike Miller, who was welcomed, he was told to go away. As Leonard told it later to friends on Hydra, he shook his fist and shouted "Curse this house!" Soon after, the mansion burned to the ground and remains a spooky ruin to this day.

Maybe the Rothschilds had a bone to pick with Ghikas over Barbara's desertion? Maybe Leonard was their messenger? Simmons does not go there. She repeats the official story of how Leonard met Marianne and settled down on Hydra, in an ex-patriate community of artists that included Marianne's husband, Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen and Australian writers George and Charmian Johnston. (Late in 1959, Hydra's artists somehow figured in a photo-spread in LIFE magazine -- which Simmons doesn't mention, perhaps because the article was not only precious and tacky, it raises the question of why an obscure Canadian folksinger would appear in so many painfully posed photos depicting Bohemian life on a Greek island.)

LIFE magazine was a flagship of the CIA "MOCKINGBIRD" program -- but that's a conspiracy theory so let's move on. Next we come to the famous Cuban Missile Crisis adventure. This story gets more absurd with each repetition. Simmons delivers the standard version of how Leonard returned to Montreal in the fall of 1960, broke and separated from the woman and child he planned to support with the proceeds of his talent. After co-writing two unsuccessful TV scripts with Irving Layton, he learned his first novel had been rejected by McClelland and Stewart. On March 30, when he would normally have been going over the galleys for The Spicebox of Earth, and looking for paying work, the cash-strapped Leonard suddenly boarded a plane in Miami and flew to Cuba, just days ahead of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

"It is no great surprise that Leonard should have wanted to see Cuba," Simmons explains. "Lorca, his favourite poet, spent three months there when the country was America's playground, calling it a 'paradise' and extolling its virtues and vices."

Sure. Of course. She delivers a repeat of Leonard's carefully-honed account of days spent stumbling in and out of bars and hotels, and how he almost gets arrested as a CIA agent by Castro's over-zealous militia. But wait -- what if he really was a CIA agent? What if, in a desperate moment, he volunteered for the notorious failed mission, organized by CIA director Allen Dulles, the evil genius behind the MKULTRA program at McGill?

After all, the young Cohen and spymaster Dulles were only a degree or two of separation from each other. Dulles even employed some of Cohen's mentors and professors -- like Donald Hebb -- albeit covertly. Some of their secret LSD research involved the creation of Manchurian Candidates -- mind controlled agents and couriers who could be sent around the world on various missions in the name of anti-communism.

It stands to reason, in a way, doesn't it? That a hungry young poet with a "fascination for violence" might have signed up to go to Havana ahead of the military invasion with the group of spies who assigned to the hotels and bars. Exactly the kind of operation the MKULTRA program is now famous for.

Ten years later, on New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Cohen decided to spill the beans in a song: "Field Commander Cohen" -- "our most important spy/ wounded in the line of duty/ parachuting acid into diplomatic cocktail parties." However, Simmons dismisses this joking confession as having "no justification whatsoever."

Readers who are not totally brainwashed will gag on this nonsense, but in a way, it's just so interesting -- and there's more.

Like Nadel before her, Simmons doesn't seem to know Leonard was on Hydra from December 1980 through September 1981. How could she, if he didn't tell her? Others -- like me, for example -- could have filled her in on the aftermath of his dismal 1980 European tour, which ended in Tel Aviv on late November. I met Leonard and his musicians as they landed in Tel Aviv airport. I heard the complaints and arguments in the hotel over the next two days. Simmons says Leonard took them all on a jaunt to the Dead Sea -- I think someone is pulling our leg here. I recall Leonard, holed up at the hotel in a string of meetings with Israeli journalists and mysterious officials, ending with a painful meeting where he threatened to fire the band and replace them with "$300-a-week Armenian oud-players." Except for Sharon Robinson, who was cowriting a song with Leonard, Passenger band members seemed angry and demoralized as they boarded the plane back to Texas.

Simmons has him flying straight to New York from Tel Aviv, staying at the Algonquin Hotel, and buying Hannukah candles in preparation for celebrating the holiday with his children -- although Hannukah ended on December 10. (Nadel says he attended a religious ceremony on December 11). Neither biographer mentions John Lennon's assassination, two kilometers away on Central Park, which happened on the night of December 8, 1980. Leonard would have seen the streams of people in the streets, many holding candles and heading for the wake outside the Dakota where Lennon was shot.

In fact, though, Leonard flew Tel Avid -Athens on November 26. I arrived a day or two later and saw him at his house which he was preparing for his children's arrival, and several times over the following week. His Spanish translator, Alberto Manzano, also visited at Christmas for two weeks and took photos of Leonard in his kitchen, with Adam and Lorca, and around the port of Hydra. Those photos are displayed on Leonard's website.

If he was in New York on December 11, it had to have been a quick trip. He never mentioned it to me or anyone else. That's why when I reviewed Nadel's biography in 1995, I said the New York trip was one of many errors.

I have doubts about how biographies are constructed, especially when the subject is still alive and able to alter the facts of his own life. Both Simmons and Nadel shove the events of 1981 -- like Cohen's first meeting with Dominique Isserman -- to 1982. According to their account, which really sounds like Cohen's own summary, he spent 1981 somewhere in a state of creative limbo, penning "If It Be Thy Will" as a sort of prayer to his management.

I wonder why the year on Hydra, where he was ensconced from November 1980 to December, gets vaporized by these biographers? I think i know why. But if I told you, I'd have to kill you.

All right, I'll tell you. But you'll have to buy my memoir first, tentatively titled THE MAN NEXT DOOR, which is bound to get me in trouble but I don't really care anymore. And no, I'm not "objective" -- but neither are Simmons' sources.

I knew Leonard quite well from 1977 to 1983, when a strange coincidence brought me to his neighbourhood where I lived for the next 12 years. I studied with his Roshi during what I think was a decisive period for Cohen at least in terms of his relationship to Zen in America. I witnessed enough to notice the whitewashing (or should I say "chemtrailing"?) of Leonard's past that seems to be intensifying as he nears his 80s and near-sainthood.

I think the truth is way more interesting than the hagiographic PR we have been hearing for the past 30 years. Let's just say there has been more than one holocaust in Leonard's lifetime. There is much more to Leonard Cohen than his fans suspect, and therein lies a tale on the theme of "responsibility."



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