On a brilliant morning in the spring of 1977, I first saw the most beautiful woman who ever touched my life and arrived within one degree of separation of Leonard Cohen.
Julie Marie Vaillancourt was the 17 year old daughter of Suzanne Verdal McCallister and sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, and as it turned out this "Suzanne" was the muse who truly launched Leonard Cohen’s career as a songwriter. I was setting up the bar at Restaurant St. Michel in Houston, Texas when Suzanne walked in followed by her daughter Julie. They asked to see the owner Francois Goedhuys, who was in the kitchen supervising preparations for the weekday lunch rush. I showed them to a table and went into the kitchen. Francois appeared and after coffee and croissants Julie was hired to bus tables…
A long story short, I was twenty-seven with a distinct preference for older women and to tell the truth I was thinking that I might hook up with Suzanne.
The last thing I ever imagined was that I’d fall in love with her seventeen year old Gypsy virgin daughter, or that Julie and I would end up living together in Los Angeles, or that I’d be driven mad from a broken heart when she returned to Montreal at Suzanne’s invitation. As I said, it’s long story that will be addressed in the ongoing saga of JMac1949 Memories. This post is supposed to be a memorial to Leonard Cohen.
Cohen began his career as a writer and poet as a student at McGill University in Montreal, publishing his first poetry in March 1954 in the magazine CIV/n. After dabbling with Law School and a stint at Columbia University in New York City, he returned to Montreal in 1957, worked odd jobs and in 1961 he published The Spice-Box of Earth. Eventually he left Montreal and bought a house on Hydra, a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf. Where he wrote and published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964), and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). His novel The Favourite Game was an autobiographical bildungsroman about a young man who discovers his identity through writing. Beautiful Losers received a good deal of attention from the Canadian press and stirred up controversy because of a number of sexually graphic passages. In 1966 Cohen also published Parasites of Heaven, a book of poems. None of this brought him much notice outside of Canada. He moved to New York and it was the poem that became the lyric of his song "Suzanne" which became a hit for Judy Collins and Noel Harrison that brought him fame not fortune as a songwriter and recording artist.
In 1967 he included the song on his first album Songs of Leonard Cohen. No one can deny the poetry of the lyric...
As I look through his later music I’ve come to realize how through meeting Janis Joplin I came within only one degree of separation from Cohen. He sang about their brief liaison in his room at The Chelsea Hotel ...
...and later regretted connecting her name to the song referred to it as "the sole indiscretion in my professional life." He added regarding his kiss and tell: "Looking back I'm sorry I did because there are some lines in it that are extremely intimate."
There are so many Leonard Cohen songs that were complete commercial failures on their initial release: Bird on a Wire, Everybody Knows and perhaps his most famous and most covered song Hallelujah all went unnoticed until they were recorded by other singers or ended up in the soundtrack of some movie.
From 1994-99, he took up life in a Zen Monastery and served as a personal aide and secretary to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi. He made and lost a fortune, ripped off by family friend and business manager Kelley Lynch, and made it all back while touring live for much of the last 15 years of his life.
Have no doubt that Leonard Cohen was hardly a saint. He was driven by dark passions and doubt and he hurt more than his share of people, but in his own way he found his path through an extraordinary life:
Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul
Well, I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned
When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned
He left us with a treasure trove of poetry, music and art and I hope that he’s found Marianne, grasped her hand again and that they are lying down beside one another surrounded by those mythic Sisters of Mercy...
... and it is my most fervent hope that Julie Marie Vaillancourt is safe in the arms of her partner, surrounded by family and laughing with her grandchildren.
Addendum: Kosh found a link to a Yiddish Cover of Hallelujah so I'm including it in the body of the post:
Except for attributed photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2016 JKM (an apparently ineffectual boilerplate joke?)