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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Fisher Library

The University of Toronto's Fisher Library is the final resting place of Leonard Cohen's manuscripts. As I happened to be in Toronto overnight last month, I decided to pay a visit to the collection on a rainy Thursday afternoon - which happened to be the only day the library remains open until 8 pm. Because of other appointments I had less than four hours to spend, but it was a start.

I was particularly interested in Cohen's early work. There were several boxes of unpublished writing, so I asked for the first three -- someone had been there ahead of me and they were already sitting on the trolley. Each was filled with folders usually consisting of a few pages -- sometimes many pages -- of manuscripts which either he or someone else had typed on "corraseable bond." Look that up if you don't know what it is -- when I was a creative writing student in the late sixties our professor recommended it to us young scribblers. It freed us from sticky Taperaser and bottles of White-Out, those other tools of the trade. Leonard's early manuscripts are all neatly typed on this brittle pink-beige paper, using the same pica typeface, and much of the writing (as one might expect) is sophomoric - after all, he was a sophomore -- and some of it is downright boring. In fact, for the first couple of hours, I struggled to stay awake. I had not been expecting that.

There were short stories. Not many. Neatly typed and formatted for submission to magazines like The New Yorker or the Saturday Evening Post. Some title pages had his mother's address on Belmont Avenue in the top left-hand corner. Others were sent from a room on Stanley Street, just down the hill from McGill. I'm guessing Leonard rented a room downtown not just to write in, but also to entertain ladies, pursuing a career according to the guidelines laid out by Writers Digest for hardworking hacks in the 1950s. This was the era when writers all hankered after the kind of sudden, miraculous fame that was awarded to J.D. Salinger for his first novel Catcher in the Rye. It certainly beat going into the family clothing business.

Leonard's early plots are not lacking in Jewish angst. A young Jewish man is trying to get laid, and with the help of a more experienced friend, hires the services of a call girl.The twist at the end, such as it is: on their first date he asks her to marry him, stealing her from the older man who introduces them -- .

Another story is set on a street in Westmount and concerns a naive teenage boy and the mysterious girl down the street who plays the recorder -- he calls it a "wooden-flute" which angers her so much she cracks him on the head with it. Although she's clearly a controlling bitch, even a budding sadist, he feels drawn to her garage, along with another neighbourhood girl, where both are controlled and punished by Recorder-Girl. This story feels autobiographical and peters out before going anywhere.

A third story was set in a boathouse in the Laurentians, and involved some voyeurism -- as the young Jewish protagonist attempts to entertain a French Canadian couple who are camping nearby, and ends up competing unsuccessfully with the man who is charming and handsome but as they"re speaking English, the Leonard-like character has a certain advantage. Wistfully he watches from a distance as they embrace in their tent with the light on, casting shadows that make him feel envious and alone.

By the time I'd finished these three stories I was beginning to feel Leonard's life-long  battle with depression as if it were my own. The boredom and pointlessness were palpable and overwhelming. No wonder publishers rejected these stories which (to be honest) showed little sign of talent or creative imagination. The thought of young Leonard renting a downtown room for the purpose of  these hammering out these turkeys made me feel faint. I hadn't realized until then how conventional he was at an age most of us associate with risk and rebelliousness --

Older women show up here and there in these vignette -- that's what these were, rather than stories.n another, a young man is living at home with his mother and elderly grandfather who suffers from dementia, pees on the floor, and needs round the clock nursing care - apparently money is lacking and the narrator feels pervasive hopelessness in the face of a situation that offers no escape but death.

I got the sense that, while still an undergraduate, Leonard often felt overwhelmed and helpless. But he kept on writing, because it offered a way out. He also wrote poems at that age, a few strong ones. The first to get published was the hair-raising "A Hallowe'en Poem" which describes a group of children who are sacrificing birds -- it was published and drew a letter of praise from the rabbi of Hillel House. I'll get back to that theme - sacrifice - later because it's repeated.

Ballet of Lepers, his first (unpublished) novel, fills several folders in the collection. It partly woke me from my library stupour. Carefully written, yet also rambling and unstructured, it provides surrealistic and violent glimpses into the mind of a disturbed young man who is no longer innocent. The characters include an old man modelled on Leonard's grandfather, and the young hero who is having an affair with the wife of one of his professors. There's plenty of desensitization, boredom and cruelty -- in fact these seem to be the main themes of the young Cohen's fiction. The hated mother looms in the background, like the executioner of dreams. There seem to be no dreams in this poet's world,

Ballet of Lepers is nothing like The Favourite Game -- it's an account of a descent into ... mental illness. Not entirely surprising since Leonard ended up in the Allan Memorial under the care of the notorious Dr. Cameron in 1958.

I haven't even mentioned the drafts of early poems, some of which made it into Let Us Compare Mythologies -- they also leave a strange impression, of someone trying very hard to be a poet, as if his life depended on it.

The professor and his wife show up in several folders, including one long short story which has three pages missing from the middle.

And then it got darker, and worse. But the library was closing - it was ten minutes to eight as I fished out the last folder, labeled DISCARDS from A Spice Box of Earth. About a dozen poems in all, precise, polished pieces, describing a pagan ritual on the slopes of a mountain. A little girl, nine years old, is kneeling on the path. A horned figure. And a heart being pulled from a living body. Not just one poem, but several.The images flash by as if in a nightmare, cut from the final draft. Who discarded them: Leonard or his editor? Why?

The smiling librarian took back the box and wished me good night -- he had a slight German accent. There had been no time to copy the poems, or even reread them. They seemed to describe something witnessed, not imagined -- from the time when Dr. Cameron was running amok in the corridors of the Allan Memorial, long before the true nature of his experiments on patients was known.

The missing poems were dark glimpses into the elite secret society that he had joined at McGill.  A Spice Box of Earth went on to win the 1961 Governor General's Award for poetry, without those all-important, climactic pages.

I'm on a lake in northern Ontario, the kind of place Canadians used to go to write their brooding first novels -- The blackflies are biting -- it's getting darker. I'm going inside.


Painting by David Barclay, ca. 1990
Last night was quite a night. I watched Hitchcock's "Marnie" for the first time -- it's about early childhood sexual abuse, committed by a stranger, and a young woman who can't remember what happened to her. Then this morning I dreamed about Leonard.

We were on Hydra in the heat of summer. A house on "Donkeyshit Lane", the street of stone steps downhill from Leonard's. This house was grander, like a museum, filled with gleaming marble. I'd just dragged my luggage upstairs when Leonard walked in. He looked the way he did at 45, in 1979, my first visit to the island. But emotionally, something had shifted -- he had four more decades of insight and now he was ready to be open and honest. Ready even to listen. He agreed it was time for certain secrets to come out in the open.

We were talking in fluent Greek, for some reason. I had to lean in close to catch what he was saying, expressing thoughts and feelings he never would have in English. Light poured in through  windows and doorways, as in a temple. He said he had to leave "at four o'clock" but he would be back soon. He was wearing what looked like a uniform. In real life, he often called me and asked me over just before he left for some appointment, that he would never talk about. A busy man, back then, and I see it continues even in the next world.

After he left I went out on the balcony where women were hanging out coloured sheets. One of them asked me if I spoke Greek -- I said yes. She held up her two white cats and asked if I could help remove two fat tics from their bellies.

The uniform sums up Leonard better than anything. He was always in the military.

As for those poems, and the secret societies, and his McGill contacts, and all that happened before he was famous: none of it is so farfetched once you know the secret history. In fact, I've heard it all before, from witnesses. I'm guessing there are plenty of clues in the boxes at the Fisher Library, and plenty that we'll never know.

So I'm guessing he had limited choices, given the world he came from. And that when you're born into that kind of background, your fate is pre-determined by all kinds of agreements and obligations. You can walk away, but there are consequences. Or you can kill yourself, but once you've put that option aside, you have to follow orders much of the time.

Irving Layton called him a self-hating narcissist -- that was also my view. Now I think it was that or a total breakdown. "They" -- whoever they were -- his uncles, bosses, handlers, mentors -- knew how to use blacknail. I think his life was actually a series of double binds. The more miserable he was with where he ended up, the better he looked from the outside, and the more envy he attracted.

Few understood what he was up against. "They don't know who they're dealing with," was one of his phrases, along with "they'll never catch us" or "If you don't know, I can't tell you" or "Why do you hate me? I never helped you."

Once you step into an Avalanche, there is no stepping out. And anyone in the vicinity will get buried alive as well.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Leonard Cohen: out on a Limb ...

  • SPRING 2017



    by Ann Diamond

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pete de Wolf R.I.P

I recently learned of the untimely death of Pete de Wolf.  I knew he had been admitted to an Ottawa Hospital last autumn, but I lost track of him after that Facebook announcement. I just assumed, or hoped, he would be all right. despite his diagnosis. His death really touched me -- I met him only twice after he contacted me about his history as a subject in classified experiments in Montreal during the MKULTRA era He was sixty, and had managed to recover his hospital records from the early 60s. He shared copies with me and I made the following notes:

As it happened, he was on his way to a meeting in London, Ontario, where I was also headed.  So, we spent several hours in his car together, stopping for lunch at a diner on the 401.


Pete picked me up in the Ottawa bus station on Sunday, October 6, 2013 and drove me to London ON where i am now. Pete is assistant news director of MYFM, a network of radio stations based around eastern and southwestern Ontario.

HERE IS HIS STORY, that he shared with me, backed up by copies of his hospital records:

Pete De Wolf: born 1953, August 28
He had brought copies of his childhood psychiatry files from the Douglas Hospital and Montreal Children's Hospital dating back to 1962 when he was a 9 year old first admitted because of bizarre behaviour, hallucinations and delusions causing his adopting parents, an older couple (Air Force father b. 1906?, mother born 1916 in western Canada...), to have him admitted under Heinz Lehmann's care.
At age 10 or 11 he was placed in a ward with 100 adult patients, many of whom were psychotic and on heavy doses of Largactil. Later Lehmann recommended he be transferred to the Adolescent Unit.
Peter's records include drugs (Chlorpromazine and others), use of electroshock and flashing lights. He was given EEGs to measure brain waves while on Largactil and also asleep.

There are detailed reports from psychiatrists and psychologists. Several describe him as a "schizophrenic boy", "latent schizophrenic" or "adolescent schizophrenic" although no clinical proof is ever given to support this diagnosis and several reports say he presents no symptoms of psychosis.
Some refer to delusions that he is receiving "electromagnetic signals and messages from the Minutemen" although Peter denies he ever mentioned Minutemen or even heard of them. He believes this and other details, such as the names of certain schools he is supposed to have attended but did not, were simply invented by psychiatrists at the Douglas and added to his file.
See "Minutemen" -- a rightwing paramilitary organization that began in the early 60s and carried out bombing attacks in the US and Canada (one in Toronto), had connections with anti-Castro militias, the Process Church and Charles Manson, as well as Odinism. So -- probably another CIA front group. How an 11-year-old could be involved and hospitalized for imagining he was in "electromagnetic" contact with them is an interesting question... 
In fact, from age 8 he became fascinated with radio and set up his own radio station in the family basement in Montreal West. He later went on to have a successful career as a broadcaster and correspondent for the BBC from Central American.
Peter's records show before age 12 he was routinely given up to 300 mgs of Largactil -- this is the maximum adult dose and can cause heart failure - even though in his case it was also contraindicated by his photosensitivity (noted in his records). He was also made to work outside shovelling snow in winter for up to 8 hours at a stretch.

Peter has been unable to locate his birth parents. His adoptive parents are described in the records as authoritarian, rigid, cold, and ineffectual. Peter's father worked for the Royal Banks of Canada and his mother was a music teacher. When they refused to allow him to run his radio station in their basement and pursue a radio career, he threatened them verbally which led to his being sent to the Douglas in 1962 for the first time.
He was hospitalized and medicated for months at a time, and moved from school to school including Lower Canada College in Montreal and Wakefield Boarding School in Ontario (elite school/college attended by Prince Andrew, Paul Desmarais, and others)

His records raise many questions: I am guessing his Air Force adoptive father may have enrolled him in Dr. Cameron's program where he was given LSD before age 9 (late 1950s) when he began presenting symptoms of psychosis and was hastily transferred to Dr. Lehmann --

His parents appear not to have cared for him, had no other children, and encouraged his early departure from their home. At age 16 he left for PEI to live with his then girlfriend.

THE MINUTEMEN ORGANIZATION appears to have been a CIA cutout… connections with the Process Church, Charles Manson, Soldier of Fortune magazine etc.


So Peter is gone, and will not see his story in print -- unless he's reading this from the next world. I was reluctant to share it while he was alive. Why write this sad tale at all, rather let it settle into the dust – except that other survivors tell me they benefit from knowing they are not alone...

Thank you, Pete! Miss you --

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 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.

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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