Saturday, 2 November 2013

Joe Dolce on Leonard Cohen:
Jikan. Poet Laureate of Songwriters

I once heard a succinct definition of the Hebrew word, chutzpah: a person that kills his mother and father and then throws himself on the mercy of the Court because he is an orphan.

This is the word that most comes to mind when I listen to the present philosophical incarnation and musings of Leonard Cohen.

                    “It's a shame and it's a pity
                     I know you can’t forgive me
                     The ending got so ugly
                     You never ever loved me
                     Dreamed about you, baby
                     I know you have to hate me
                     I'm naked and I'm filthy
                     Both of us are guilty
                    Have mercy on me, baby.” 

The above ‘poetry’ is from Cohen’s new album Old Ideas.  If you can call ten measly tracks an album. More like a chapbook. Why doesn’t he give us a bit more value for money? After all, he does a three hour-plus live concert. Is ten songs the best this songwriter’s songwriter could come up with in  - how many years since his last album? Eight?

Ten throw-away emotional breathy low whisperings sung in an eerily Tom Waits-Meets-Bob Dylan kind of speaking way. I don't even like to listen to the new Bob Dylan imitating the old Bob Dylan these days, much less Cohen. And what’s with this Tom Waits impersonation? That pseudo-croaking old street tramp voice. What happened to Cohen’s sweet singing voice? And why he is doing so much SPEAKING instead of actual singing? If he wants to talk over music, as he is doing, then why doesn’t he write some really great poetry to recite instead of these lazy-ass b-grade lyrics:

                                “Tell me again when the filth of the butcher
                                  Is washed in the blood of the lamb
                                 Tell me again when the rest of the culture
                                 Has passed through the eye of the camp
                                 Tell me again when I'm clean and I'm sober
                                Tell me again when I've seen through the horror
                                Tell me again tell me over and over
                                Tell me that you'll love me then
                                Amen Amen Amen Amen.”

Amen Amen Amen  - here we go again! Over and over. Halleluiah halleluiah halleluiah.  Cliché cliché cliché. Using words he doesn't really mean again. I wonder if he prays with amen and halleluiah up at the monastery in the presence of his zen master? I think not – so why does he continue to use this antiquated imagery in his songs? And so many times? Boring. Boring. Boring.

In a recent interview someone asked Leonard Cohen if he learned anything from writing songs; if he worked out ideas that way:

COHEN: I think you work out something. I wouldn't call them ideas. I think ideas are what you want to get rid of. I don't really like songs with ideas. They tend to become slogans. They tend to be on the right side of things: ecology or vegetarianism or antiwar. All these are wonderful ideas but I like to work on a song until those slogans, as wonderful as they are and as wholesome as the ideas they promote are, dissolve into deeper convictions of the heart. I never set out to write a didactic song. It's just my experience. All I've got to put in a song is my own experience."’  Leonard Cohen: Dorian Lynskey, 19 January 2012.
He doesn’t like songs with ideas? Ideas are something you want to get rid of?? Ideas tend to become slogans??? These are probably the most irresponsible and ignorant statements ever made by a major songwriter.

Tell that to Victor Jara, Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Kev Carmody & Judy Small.   Tell that to And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, by Eric Bogle, and Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier.

Tell that to Chinese-Korean Cui Jian's 1986 song, Nothing to My Name and the protesters in Tiananmen Square.  Tell that to L'Internationale, and France: one of the most famous socialist, anarchist, and social-democratic anthems in the world.

Tell the Irish that ideas don’t belong in songs: A Nation Once Again, Come out Ye Black and Tans, Erin go Bragh, The Fields of Athenry, The Men Behind the Wire and the Republic of Ireland's National Anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier's Song).

Ideas may tend to slogans in the world of advertising, and bad pop music, but in true Art, they can change the way people think  - and therefore, the world.
A song with an idea is the backbone and soul of folk music. The muscle of social protest music.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Remember that one?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once described the protest song: "They invigorate the movement in a most significant way [...] these freedom songs serve to give unity to a movement."
Perhaps if Leonard Cohen didn't try so hard to drive ideas out of his mind through endless hours of cross-legged meditation, he might be writing some better songs, and more of them.

“He refers continually to his old friend and Zen master Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, whom he calls Roshi and who is now a resilient 104 years old. ‘This old teacher never speaks about religion,’ Cohen . . . ‘There's no dogma, there's no prayerful worship, there's no address to a deity. It's just a commitment to living in a community.’” ibid.

Fine. Then stop writing tepid songs and giving idea-heavy interviews and follow Roshi’s advice.  Practice ye, not preach ye. Every other sentence that comes out of Cohen’s mouth is an IDEA about something.  He talks about preferring the ‘deeper convictions of the heart’ but doesn't seem concerned that, by the non-thinking, these qualities tend to become saccharine sentimentality and insincere romanticism, on the one hand, and downright blind racism, xenophobia and fundamentalism on the other.

It is the job, and skill, of the artist and writer to temper strong ideas WITH emotions or deep convictions of the heart - but not to cut off the head of the work. To me, the IDEA is the very soul of a song or poem.

Once again Hitler’s maxim comes to mind: ‘Emotion for the masses and reason for the few.’

When in fact, the masses need more reason and the few, more empathy.

A tough mind and a tender heart, is what is needed, wrote Martin Luther King Jr.

An unspoken promise of poetic excellence in popular music was made in the early days of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and other lyric visionaries, but not kept - as not a single one of these brilliant young songwriters have continued to hone their poetic craft in any serious way in their mature years. They should have been improving with age, not de-proving. They have all been distracted and derailed by fame, power, mass acceptance – and the light verse style of co-dependent lyric writing, which requires the music, like an iron lung, to keep it breathing.

Let me first say something about humility. Who wants humble art? For instance, was there ever such a thing as humble rock & roll? I seem to recall we liked our bands to be IN OUR FACES!  The Who,  Janis, Jimi Hendrix, AC-DC.

 Was Cohen attracted to Janis Joplin’s humility when she gave him head at the Chelsea Hotel as he so not-humbly bragged about in one of his songs? No way!

He wanted Janis’s PASSION between his legs. Humble is what I expect from the checkout person at the music store. Service with a smile. Personally, I prefer my art and artists to have volcanic EMOTIONS! Rilke said: One of the reasons we are so attracted to beauty is that it threatens to destroy us.

Well, not literally maybe but destroy that which is artificial and the façade posing as the real deal. Humility is only one colour in the heart’s volcanic paint-box. Extremely passionate cutting-edge visionary artists do NOT have humble as their default setting.

These folks can be scary and intense, violent and tender, arrogant and groveling, selfish and intimidating, melancholy and incomprehensibly sublime, impotent at certain times and sexually overwhelming at others. Kind of like you and I.

The only baa-baas who want their geniuses polite and humble are those folks who really don’t want to have their lives messed with too much. Who don’t really want to be challenged by the artist standing in front of them - the reminder to become something more. They want those claws and fangs filed down and the genitals safely submerged in formaldehyde. And an autograph too.

Probably not too many of my younger readers remember Rod McKuen. Singer-songwriter poet in the 50s and 60s. Most people my age will wince at the memory. McKuen used to appear in concerts with writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg- but McKuen was the Big Mac and Fries of poetry and songwriting. McKuen's commercial success was unparalleled in the field of modern poetry. His books were translated into a dozen languages and sold over 65 million copies.

As a songwriter, he’s been connected with the sales of over 100 million records and his material has even been recorded by such well-known artists such as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Madonna. Rod McKuen (75) has recently started performing again, after 30 years, to packed out crowds in South Africa. But he still writes poetry like the dog’s breakfast.

So back to Leonard.

After re-reading Cohen’s early books of poems recently, one of the things that impressed was how much a poet he was – before he started writing and recording songs. Spicebox of Earth, in particular, just swept me back into my own love for serious writing and for that I owe him a debt of thanks. And a whomp with the Zen wake-up stick which is now forthcoming.

But my gratitude does not mean I am going to arse-kiss the low quality of Cohen’s present scribbling. No way. Part of my debt is to be frank. I have heard from trusted friends that his current world tour is a mighty experience. I missed the concert but I bought the DVD. It is excellent but I’m not surprised really.

Firstly, brilliant concert artists are not that rare. I’m sure you could name fifty off the top of your head.
Secondly, Cohen is not a performaholic like Dylan. This was his first tour in fifteen years. Performing is a truly joyful experience when not done to addictive excess. Cohen is in his mid-70s and I would imagine TRULY grateful and gracious about being so warmly welcomed and loved – and able to make some serious money again, which he needs. (He makes absolutely nothing from his most successful song, Suzanne, and his alleged dodgy manager sold off his entire catalogue of songs for a fixed fee so he makes next to nothing on royalties.)

His touring band is not really a backing band at all but a virtual music festival of well-known musicians and singers, each of which has their own careers, CDs and websites. Sharon Robinson, one of the harmony singers produced one of Cohen’s albums and has won a Grammy for her own songwriting. This is a band to kill for. I have no argument with his live performance skill. He deserves it.

But I hope you will remember this simple fact:

Live performance is a completely separate artform from writing.

The world is brimming with brilliant performers who can fill stadiums. From AC-DC to KD Lang, from Lady Gaga to Pink – the list is endless. Performers that make their fanatical and dedicated fans go ape-shit - fans who would also be willing to stone you to death if you said a foul word about their darlings.

Cohen’s best masterpieces, like Dylan’s, with the odd exception, come from his golden youth and the Golden Age of Folk Song: the late 60s and early 70s, when the mainstream, the record companies and the cultural zeitgeist created a massive support structure in the marketplace in which young folk visionaries and poets could flourish.

Now, unfortunately, the real folksingers and wordsmiths are back in the trenches while the world is watching Cover Version Idol. Only the resilient and truly dedicated will survive. But hopefully, this is a cycle that will come around again soon.

Someone once said it’s easy to be talented at 25 – much harder to be talented at 50.
Lest we forget, Cohen, like Dylan, was unforgivably silent about George W. Bush, the Iraq War and the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cohen’s silence is probably a good thing, in the latter case, because we know which side he would have been on: in 1973, he traveled to Jerusalem to sign up on the Israeli side in the Yom Kippur War, but instead was assigned to a USO-style entertainer tour of front-line tank emplacements in the Sinai Desert, at one of which he both came under fire and reportedly shared cognac with an unlikely self-professed fan, then-General Ariel Sharon.

Since his political days, if one can call them that, old Leonard has apparently preferred to retreat from our world, and in 1996, was ordained a Rinzai Buddhist monk and given the name of Jikan, or silent one.

I have personally always found something insincere about the main body of Cohen’s writing. There are the dozen masterpieces, no argument, but mostly his canon of poetry is based on songs of seduction, and flirting, interspersed with talking more or less about his dick. With an irritating dose of middleclass 70s Zen thrown in. Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac also had flirtations with Zen in the late 60s. Must have been all those cigarettes.

While there’s nothing wrong with meditation or writing songs of  seduction (particularly in youth), after entering into serious and long term relationships with someone at your own level of intelligence, and having children and grandchildren, one would expect some comment on the deeper realities of ongoing relationships over time. Some seasoned and mature love songs reflecting long decades of love with the one you have stood by and the one who has stood by you. Some moral position on the politics and community we live in and how that relates to the responsible artist and citizen. Some insights and strength of vision that encourages others – especially the younger generations - that there is indeed something important worth living for. As someone once said, not to be too preoccupied with continually asking what is the meaning of life – but to live your life so that it has meaning.

An artist who continues to write poetry of flirtation (even, spiritual flirtation) as they approach eighty years old is still using their art as a power trip; for conquest, and to manipulate the vulnerable. Hence, one of the reasons for the need by these older artists to seek out younger and younger partners. Cohen’s current lyrics, like Dylan’s, appear to exude a deep and profound emotional catharsis on the surface - to the naïve - primarily due to the tone of those well-known voices which convey the impression of great depth - but Cohen is supremely unqualified to be anyone’s therapist – or spiritual signpost. He does not have any real insights about real long term love partner relationships – and how to make them last through the crisises one must overcome in sustained love over the years.

He does not speak to me on these matters.

I had a close friend from Montreal, who was in Cohen’s circle of writing friends, back in the 70s, and the one thing all these older poets had in common was the classic attraction to women younger than they were. They stayed right away from strong, independent arguing gals of real threatening genius who could cut through their bullshit. (Fortunately, those were the only kind of women I was ever attracted to!)

Isn’t it odd that Leonard Cohen has never had a serious relationship with a woman writer or poet who equals or exceeds his own skill? There’s a lot of them out there. I made a list once of twenty contemporary women writers in his peer group who are superior poets and there are no photos of him with any of them nor does he ever mention them as influences. He doesn’t seem to gravitate towards those kind of girls.
After his nine-year marriage to Suzanne Elrod broke up, Cohen became amorous of that youthful neo-feminist pioneer, Rebecca De Mornay (after her affair with that other intellectual giant, Tom Cruise, of course.) De Mornay was born in 1959. Twelve years after me. Cohen was born fourteen years before me. Do the math.

Last I heard, he was romantically involved with Anjani Thomas. She was also born in 1959. Hmmmmm? That year must have some special significance for him. He’s getting older but the women, like vampires, are staying the same age. You never see him in a photo with any woman his own age (74). Every picture he has drawn himself of a woman in his book Book of Longing is of a younger girl. There seems to be no room for older women in his older imagination. Every picture he draws of himself, on the other hand, looks like the final Portrait of Dorian Gray.

He has said recently: ‘I’m not interested in taking off my clothes with a woman right now.” How creepy. He doesn’t seem to mind them taking their clothes off with him.

A wise old ex-girlfriend of mine once told me that thought that one of the ecstasies of making love is that you can exchange bodies with your lover. I see can why Cohen would want to exchange bodies with some of these young women he hangs around with. But why do they want his in trade? What do they get out of the exchange?

Cohen has said himself in print that cowardice and fear have kept him from marrying. How empowering!
In my view, these kind of artists are relationship dinosaurs and the sooner they are extinct from influencing us, the better: the artists who shy away from deep family commitments and longterm partnerships; the privileged males who jettison the dedicated partners who have stood by them through tough times for the younger girls with father fixations, old enough to be their daughters or granddaughters; the so-called spiritual disciples and seekers, yet who refuse to take clear moral positions and speak out on the inhumane and intolerable political issues and wars that are right in their faces.

The cowardly and fearful ones. The silent ones. The Mr Jikans.

So what exactly are we being asked to learn from the way Leonard Cohen has lived his own half-composed life? In his celebrated lyric writing, for instance. Forget the musical side: he has made no progress whatsoever as a musician. Couldn’t he have worked on his guitar playing a little while he were sitting on his culo del dio in the mountains? He used to be a very good fingerpicking guitarist. That skill has totally vanished in him.
Take his recent so-called masterpiece: Hallelujah. It’s really not so recent. Written over twenty-seven years ago in 1984! Just about everyone has heard that one now.

I know of at least ten people who sing that song: KD Lang. Jeff Buckley. Willie Nelson. The list goes on. Even the quartet of Askil Holm, Espen Lind, Alejandro Fuentes, and Kurt Nilsen who had a number one hit in their home country of Norway. (Ya! Das good!) Hallelujah is the Leonard Cohen song for people who don’t sing Leonard Cohen. Cohen-as-Karaoke. The American Idol hit song of Jason Castro and the X-Factor winner, Alexandra Burke.

How cutting edge and groundbreaking can a song really be if the most mainstream of mainstream artists are singing it on American Idol?

I do like the verses to Hallelujah – they’re biblically Hebrew clever- slightly better than Dylan’s biblically Hebrew clever lyrics- but I hate the Hallelujah chorus line hook and the boring-ass yada yada chord progression. Hallelujah just happens to be one of the most overworked image in liturgical musical history, from Handel to The Blind Boys of Alabama. It means Praise Ye the Lord. What’s it doing in a Jewish infidel’s song of seduction? 

Might as well say Jesus! or Insha’Allah, or Have Mercy! or Sufferin’ Succotash!
Poets are supposed to reinvent language - to show us the Rose as Adam might have seen it. . . (and Gertrude Stein did exactly that with . . a rose is a rose is a rose . . .) not hammer these overworked clichés to death-by-bludgeoning.

This is not the work of a poet. This is the work of a lazy wordsmith. Look at some of these throw-away lines from Hallelujah:

“Well, maybe there's a god above
But all i've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya . . .”

I understand that there were originally about 80 verses to this song before the editing. Forget the fact that the above is a C-grade lyric. (Make that D-grade. This verse shouldn’t have survived a rewrite.)
Firstly, I doubt that Cohen ever shot anyone and secondly, if someone outdrew you, they would be shooting you, not the reverse. Hello?

Cohen has even said in interviews that he considers himself, not a major poet, but a minor poet. He certainly understands poetic structure – especially the Sufi writers – and he used to understand the importance of the poetic-lyric to stand alone on the page without the music. Cohen has done serious poetic study and training.
But in my opinion, he’s not even a minor poet. Besides, self-evaluating oneself in these kind of historical terms are really none of any contemporary writer’s business. These are categories assigned to writers after they are long dead as part of English Lit courses.

I’ve been studying Cohen’s latest book of poems, Book of Longing, looking for some good resonate stuff - but the poems are boring and simple-minded. Really bad. Every other poem is about his spiritual Zen master, Roshi. (yawn) Even his recent tepid song lyrics are much superior to this stand-alone poetry - which has truly atrophied over the years. His overuse of obvious rhyme is so unnecessary and limiting. Allen Ginsberg once said in an article something about Dylan I never forgot:

‘ . . . the trouble with Dylan is that he’s still addicted to rhyme.’

In the Book of Longing, Cohen occasionally refers to himself, within his own poems, in the third person, with self-talk as Jikan, his Buddhist name - similar to the manner of the Sufi poet, Rumi.

                          For instance:

                           ‘Jikan, who pretended to be a poet, breaks his pen.’

I wish. He also still irresponsibly celebrates one of his chronic and most
disgusting habits, smoking:

                           What Did It

                         An acquaintance told me
                         That the great sage
                        Nisargadatta Maharaj
                     Once offered him a cigarette,
                    “Thank you, sir, but I don’t smoke.’
                    “Don’t smoke?” said the master,
                     “What’s life for?”

What’s life for? It’s not for smoking, that’s for sure, Guru Leo. Stop smoking. That’s a good place to start. Then you won’t smell like a dog’s blanket like all chronic smokers do. Not a good fragrance on an older man. Now I’ve read somewhere that he has apparently has given up under doctor’s orders but he obviously hasn’t been whacked by the enlightenment stick enough.

‘I do miss it,’ Cohen says. ‘Much longing,’ he adds, almost in a moan. (He once wrote about ‘the promise, the beauty, and the salvation of cigarettes.’) ‘I said I’d start smoking again at 85.’ He allows a pause. ‘If I make it.’

Jikan Jikan Jikan. Didn’t they teach you about cancer at the monastery? If you make it, the Golden Lotus Iron Lung is where you’re going to be meditating at 85. You also might think about the example you are setting for children and the younger artists who are watching you and sitting satsang under the cloud of your Sacred Tobacco Pranayama.

Here’s another waffling smoke ring:

                               The Flow

                       You have been told to
                        ‘go with the flow’
                         but as you know
                        from your studies,
                        there is no flow,
                         nor is there actually
                        any coming or going.
                        These are merely
                        Helpful concepts
                       For the novice monk.
                    You can start smoking again,
                    And what is called ‘your death’
                    And what is called ‘your life’
                     You can watch now
                   Through the eyes of wisdom.
                  This is why
                 The Sages of Japan
                   Named their cigarettes
                    ‘Hope’ and ‘Peace’
                   and ‘Peace Light’ and ‘Short Hope’
                   and ‘Short Hope Light’.

He needs a new set of Sages. The Sages around our house call them, ‘Death Sticks’, ‘Stink Branches’, and ‘Lung Shredders.’
But I like that - The Sages of Japan. A perfect example of how the organized religious (usually always men) can grant Benediction and Sacredness to just about any ol’ thing they want. You name it; we’ll deify it. The Japanese also called their suicide bombers, Kamikaze, or Divine Wind:

"When you eliminate all thoughts about life and death, you will be able to totally disregard your earthly life." — Kamikaze Pilots' Manual.

Kamikaze pilots had zen retreats too. Pilot preparation "consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine."
Irokawa Daikichi, who trained at Tsuchiura Naval Air Base, recalled that he "was struck on the face so hard and frequently that [his] face was no longer recognizable." He also wrote: "I was hit so hard that I could no longer see and fell on the floor. The minute I got up, I was hit again by a club so that I would confess." This brutal "training" was justified by the idea that it would instill a "soldier's fighting spirit."


Out of the thousands
Who are known,
Or who want to be known
As poets,
Maybe one or two
Are genuine
And the rest are fakes,
Hanging around the sacred precincts
Trying to look like the real thing.
Needless to say
I am one of the fakes,
And this is my story.

At least he’s honest here. Of course, he just said before he considered himself a minor poet. So would that be a minor fake poet? And this one made me laugh out loud:

Early Morning at Mt. Baldy

Alarm awakened me at 2:30 a.m.:
got into my robes
kimono and hakama
modelled after the 12th-century
archer’s costume:
on top of this the koroma
a heavy outer garment
with impossibly large sleeves:
on top of this the ruksu
a kind of patchwork bib
which incorporates an ivory disc:
and finally the four-foot
serpentine belt
that twists into a huge handsome knot
resembling a braided challah
and covers the bottom of the ruksu:
all in all
about 20 pounds of clothing
which I put on quickly
at 2:30 a.m.
over my enormous hard-on.

The image of the wrinkled old 76+ year old poet dressing up in his samurai Halloween costume in the wee hours contemplating his enormous erection should make the fairest middle-aged damsel’s loins wet. Cohen and Picasso should dance together around the bonfire naked wearing Minotaur heads while Robert Bly plays the drums.

Part of the reason for this artistic stagnation as I see it is that Cohen has given his personal power and authority away to his Buddhist teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Whenever this happens in an artist’s life - whether it's George Harrison with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Cat Stevens with Mohammed, or Tom Cruise with L. Ron Hubbard, it is pretty much over for them as an original thinker and visionary.
I mean: can you see Beethoven, Mozart, Dylan Thomas or Van Gogh sitting in one place for 168 hours? There would be a lot of cut ears on the floor of the ashram.

The writers that Cohen admires, as he says: "are just incredible messes, as human beings. Wonderful and invigorating company, but I pity their wives and their husbands and their children."

    That must also include Canadian poet, Irving Layton, his long time friend, and writing teacher, to whom he dedicated Book of Longing. Some call Layton his real mentor-father figure. Layton was married five times (defactos included). His last wife was forty-eight years younger than he was! Do the math on that one. That would be the equivilant of me (63) marrying a fifteen-year old. Another great role model for the kids. Feminists will particularly like that one.

Firstly, who is Leonard Cohen to judge anyone else’s life a mess? His life has been no example to measure by. And second: maybe Cohen needs to take some inspiration and ‘wonderful and invigorating company’ from artists who figured out how to make life beautiful and whole. Artists like Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, JS Bach, Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, Gaudi. There’s a big list to choose from.
Cohen has found safe harbour in his legion of fans around him to bolster and comfort him like a wise old zen master, much in the same way that his teacher Roshi has gathered his followers under the folds of his Buddhist robe.

The big whisper that no one dare utter is this: Leonard Cohen is an unrealized poet – he gave up before he reached his true potential - and probably this is the great tragedy of his life, and one of the fonts of his beautiful loser pessimism, because he had such promise when he started out. I think he has simply resigned himself to being a 75-year old big fish in a little pond: the grand aged poet laureate of young songwriters.
"I feel," says Cohen, "we’re in a very shabby moment, and neither the literary nor the musical experience really has its finger on the pulse of our crisis.

From my point of view, we’re in the midst of a Flood, a Flood of biblical proportions. It’s both exterior and interior—at this point it’s more devastating on the interior level, but it’s leaking into the real world. And this Flood is of such enormous and biblical proportions that I see everybody holding on in their individual way to an orange crate, to a piece of wood, and we’re passing each other in this swollen river that has pretty well taken down all the landmarks, and pretty well overturned everything we’ve got. And people insist, under the circumstances, on describing themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ It seems to me completely mad."

The End is Nigh.

Friends, do not listen to this man. For a more accurate account of our World, see JS Bach, Martin Luther King Jr, Frida Kahlo (‘I drink to drown my fucking sorrows but the sons-of-bitches have learned to swim’), Gertrude Stein (‘I have never had an unhappy anything!’). Also, read and learn from the visions of some the infinitely sublime true poets who have graced our planet such as e.e. cummings:

if there are any heavens

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
which whisper
This is my beloved my
(suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,
& the whole garden will bow).

~ e.e. cummings ~

By Joe Dolce   
to read more by this writer check out his fantastic article in the latest copy of Meanjin:


  1. What nasty comments you made about the late Rod McKuen, of course when you wrote your article he was still alive. As you clearly knew so little about him, perhaps you should have checked out some facts with his Fans, you not only insulted Rod with your words you insulted the Fans. Had it not been for Rod so many would not have turned to writing, he helped those with problems, those that found life tough with Rod's words there was comfort I doubt you could comprehend that. He was a gentle soul a kind loving man who wrote the truth that was not liked. He was so clever in all he did and all he achieved, how much have you achieved? He made money that above all is what annoyed his critics, utter jealousy. Walt Whitman was vilified as was Rod and like Walt Whitman history will show just what America missed in Rod McKuen. Rod deserved better, he certainly deserved better than the rubbish you wrote.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Anna. (Once was enough, perhaps you might like to remove one.) I admit that this was written while he was still alive and it is a little unfair to McKuen as my focus was mostly on Cohen and I only grabbed some superficial memories of Rod from the late 60s. (Unfortunately, these superficial views are held my many many other writers and they really have nothing to do with his success or the money he made, but the quality of what was called 'poetry', but in fact, was only communicative songlyric writing. After his death, I wrote a longer essay about him and learned a lot about the depth and range of his skills. I also include reflection from other performers and poets who were his contemporaries. I trust you will find this more representative of the Rod McKuen you remember and also shed more light on who he really was. Joe Dolce

  2. What nasty comments you made about the late Rod McKuen, of course when you wrote your article he was still alive. As you clearly knew so little about him, perhaps you should have checked out some facts with his Fans, you not only insulted Rod with your words you insulted the Fans. Had it not been for Rod so many would not have turned to writing, he helped those with problems, those that found life tough with Rod's words there was comfort I doubt you could comprehend that. He was a gentle soul a kind loving man who wrote the truth that was not liked. He was so clever in all he did and all he achieved, how much have you achieved? He made money that above all is what annoyed his critics, utter jealousy. Walt Whitman was vilified as was Rod and like Walt Whitman history will show just what America missed in Rod McKuen. Rod deserved better, he certainly deserved better than the rubbish you wrote.

  3. Thank you for joining the debate Anna. I am sure Joe will have a response soon enough.