You probably heard the news last night that Leonard Cohen died at 82. And today, you’ll be seeing some really great remembrances of him and the many different chapters of his life as an author, a songwriter, and a performer. (New Yorker editor David Remnick profiled Cohen in a brilliant piece just last month.)
Cohen’s stature is such that when it was announced last month that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in literature, fans couldn’t help wondering how Cohen would greet the news that he’d been passed over for it.
Cohen’s reaction was classic. He said that giving Dylan a Nobel Prize for writing was “like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.”
What a mensch. We are writing about Cohen at the Underground Bunker not only because of his surpassing genius, but also because he did spend some time as a Scientologist.
We mentioned it in our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, which is about the journalist Paulette Cooper. In 1968, Paulette began her investigation of Scientology by spending a weekend taking classes at the New York org, which in those days was located at the Hotel Martinique in midtown.
We wanted to get a sense of what the org was like then, and we talked to several people who were involved in it. One of them was Jim Dincalci, who spent his early involvement in Scientology at the New York org before he ended up serving as L. Ron Hubbard’s medical officer aboard the yacht Apollo.
Jim told us he distinctly remembered the buzz of the place in the summer of 1968.
“You could go in day or night. It didn’t matter. It was full. Especially at night,” he told us. And he recalled the thrill of seeing Cohen come in.
“Leonard Cohen had his two beautiful girlfriends with him, taking the courses with him,” Jim said.
This photo, posted at whyweprotest.net, shows Cohen at the busy New York org
but we don’t have a way to confirm that as Len Zinberg confirms. (You can clearly see a man with a Scientology e-meter behind Cohen in the shot.)…
It’s often pointed out that Cohen’s time in Scientology produced a couple of memorable lines in his 1971 song “Famous Blue Raincoat”…
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go Clear
Did you ever go Clear?
Cohen’s involvement in Scientology was brief. He had been raised in the Jewish faith, but he was a seeker all his life and tried out several spiritual pursuits. He also struggled with depression. Here’s how Remnick described some of Cohen’s religious adventures…
Since his days davening next to his uncles in his grandfather’s synagogue, Cohen has been a spiritual seeker. “Anything, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, LSD, I’m for anything that works,” he once said. In the late sixties, when he was living in New York, he studied briefly at a Scientology center and emerged with a certificate that declared him “Grade IV Release.” In recent years, he spent many Shabbat mornings and Monday evenings at Ohr HaTorah, a synagogue on Venice Boulevard, talking about Kabbalistic texts with the rabbi there, Mordecai Finley. Sometimes, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Finley, who says that he considers Cohen “a great liturgical writer,” read from the pulpit passages from “Book of Mercy,” a 1984 collection of Cohen’s that is steeped in the Psalms. “I participated in all these investigations that engaged the imagination of my generation at that time,” Cohen has said. “I even danced and sang with the Hare Krishnas — no robe, I didn’t join them, but I was trying everything.”
When Remnick interviewed Cohen earlier this year, the singer spoke of preparing for death. Marianne Ihlen, the woman he lived with on a Greek island in the 1960s and who was the inspiration for the song “So Long, Marianne,” died on July 28. Cohen had heard she was slipping away just in time to get her a note that was later made public…
Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
Cohen was told that his note reached her just in time so that she heard it read aloud and smiled.
He told Remnick that he was ready for his own death, but Remnick said that Cohen was “anything but haunted or defeated.”
“I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not,” Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to coöperate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.
“What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol.” The divine voice. “You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.”
It’s good to know that Leonard Cohen felt that compassion in his final days. But truly, 2016 is taking a prodigious toll on us all.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield