Meeting with Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas
by Kim Solez, November 2005
"Hello!" Anjani 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 discussed the mixture of quantitative data and the intuition that goes into medical decision-making; the analogy between clinical truth – the essence of what the illness is, what is really wrong – and truth of other types as we might encounter it in life in general. We talked about standardization in medicine, Stalin also standardized so the idea is in a non-Stalinesque way to standardize while not limiting intellectual freedom, rather like dancing in a mosh pit where if the music is good everyone dances in synch although they have complete freedom. We also touched on the sometimes surprising irony of motivation for humanitarian ventures in medicine where some people want to take part to live out some fantasy of going on a crusade or fighting pirates on the high seas, whereas others are motivated by the fact that they feel a secret guilt that life has been too good to them so they have an obligation to repay.
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. Odours 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 discussed 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.
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 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.
Subsequently I have found the observation about my surreality and the juxtaposing of seemingly incongruous elements to be very thought provoking. Bono of U2 talks of liking to arrange meetings between people who do not belong in the same room together. I guess I take pride in doing that too. It is a part of the notion of bricolage - of putting disparate elements together - that we have describe as a key feature of human digital intelligence.
We discussed 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 his 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.
He said he did not recommend losing everything, he wanted to emphasize that, but that the experience was very informative.
We amused ourselves by striking the same poses as the pictures we have of Leonard and the original “Sisters of Mercy” Barbara and Lorraine in Edmonton in 1966 at the time the song by that name was written. Leonard had a lot of fun striking exactly the same poses as he has in 1966 and asking “Hmm, I wonder why I had my hand like that!” From the young ladies' point of view I talked about the fact that they are much prettier than the original Sisters of Mercy from 1966 they were striking the same poses as (we have pictures of them from 1966). I said that's my story and I'm sticking to it, and Leonard replied with enthusiasm "Yes, let's stick with that!"
Well to be fair I know Nikki and Netanya, I do not know the originals Barbara and Lorraine, so perhaps I am not fully qualified to make the comparison.
Leonard lit thin green
candles for the Sabbath and we all shared a bit of bread and red wine.
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 both liked mixing elements of my life – science and technology – with his life – poetry and music and the fan fervor around it, even if only in fantasy.
We discussed the Berlin International Leonard Cohen 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.
I also told him the
story of the loneliness of coping with my robotic dog breaking its leg on my way
to a speaking engagement in Providence, Rhode Island. How I was so sad but felt I
could not explain it to anyone. "Maybe if you just left out the word 'robotic'
it would be OK", he said. Then I told him I later learned just what an exotic
possession an Aibo robotic dog was. There is only one robotic dog hospital in
the world, but they do the repairs for free! Leonard likened the situation to
the famed Maytag repair man,. After hearing the stories he asked if we had the
robotic dog with us. I got Boris out of his rolling case and turned him on.
I presented the dog half in fun as something many predicted would wreck the visit, spoil the mood and spirit. But Leonard was delighted with Boris, joked that the visit would have been "even worse" had we not shown Boris off.
We talked about evil and
mischief in the world, how Boris has no evil intent, only says safe things (in 7
languages) but also does not know that killing is wrong etc., he just is not big
enough to kill. Leonard speculated while watching and listening to Boris for a
while that he would learn mischief and evil from humans, and eventually learn
somehow how to get big. For now he is from a pure world of silicon and electron
where mischief and evil do not exist. I told him about the skateboard which
already allows him to move much faster. So the potential is there ....
Boris began mapping one corner of Leonard's kitchen in preparation for making it one of his favourite 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 visit down as we had to get back home. It was so nice to feel that we could have stayed and talked much longer.
We mentioned we were seeking to locate again a shop we had seen the previous day and Anjani and Leonard provided us with directions. As we left I remarked to Nikki and Netanya how remarkably fun, natural, and relaxed the visit had been – and yet entirely successful!
Meetup with other local people to honor the work and words of Leonard Cohen, and share Cohen's influence on music, poetry, dance, art, and hearts. Enter the Leonard Cohen MeetUp Website