Stereo Embers Talks To Sylvie Simmons, Author of I’m Your Man: The Life Of Leonard Cohen

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Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man: The Life Of Leonard Cohen is a mesmerizing and tireless tome that examines Cohen’s life with poetic scrutiny.

The book is fascinating and comprehensive, and it delves into Cohen’s life with an irresistable and personable narrative velocity. The New York Times‘ AM Holmes noted that the book is: “A thoughtful celebration of the artist’s life…Simmons has deftly narrated Cohen’s evolution… In the end, this biography has the oddest effect: as soon as you finish reading it you feel an overwhelming impulse to go back and begin again, revisiting the story with what you’ve learned along the way.”

And that’s what makes this such a special read–the story turns over on itself in a reflexive and lyrical way, so that by the end, you feel you know Cohen intimately and the only way to get even closer is to re-read it again and again.

I sat down with Sylvie for a chat about Leonard Cohen on the occasion of the release of the book in paperback.

Stereo Embers: Your “untraditional” approach to book promotion is amazing and inspiring. What, specifically, have you done to promote I’m Your Man?

SS: For the past year I’ve been on the road with my book and ukulele, shanghaiing musicians to play with me along the way. Since publishers don’t pay for book tours anymore–or at least my U.S. publisher wouldn’t–when the hardback edition came out last September I thought, ‘the fuck with it’, and I decided to set up my own tour. Since I was paying for it, I figured I would do it my own way. Readings can get a bit boring on their own, so I took a tip from Leonard Cohen– who used to take a guitar to his poetry readings, before he became a singer-songwriter–and sang some of his songs, sometimes alone but more often with some poor musician I’d coaxed into playing with me. It was an absolute delight! My accompanists included country singers, indie rockers, half a chamber quartet, a theremin player, a saw player, some of Leonard Cohen’s backing singers, you name it, and one night in Austin, at the start of Cohen’s 2012 U.S. tour, I shared the stage with almost all of Leonard’s band–but not Leonard!  Though I did out him as a uke fan and former uke player, he’s not volunteered to join in. I started out touring the U.S., mostly using air miles and staying on musician friends’ sofas, then toured Canada, New Zealand and Australia (paid for by the publishers in those countries, thankfully), then Britain and Berlin. When the paperback edition came out a few weeks ago I did a few events in California, ending the tour last week in Los Angeles.

Stereo Embers: What are your favorite songs to sing or be a part of?

SS: Anything from Cohen’s first three albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room, Songs of Love and Hate, which I know like the back of my hand. The ones I’ve tended to sing most often are “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Suzanne,” “So Long Marianne,” “Bird On The Wire” and “Sisters of Mercy.” They seem to work really well on a ukulele–which I should say I don’t really play like a ukulele, with that happy bounce; it’s more like a broken harp or a melancholic guitar.

Stereo Embers: What was your original entry point into Leonard? How did you become interested in his work?

SS: I’m a Londoner, and in the UK–as opposed to the U.S., where  Leonard Cohen was largely overlooked until the 80s–he was a really big artist from the beginning, from early 1968 and on. As a young girl, a Beatles fan, I remember buying a cheap compilation album on Columbia Records called The Rock Machine Turns You On  where I heard this amazing array of American artists for the first time–people like Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel–and the one that I really fell in love with was Leonard Cohen. He was singing “Sisters of Mercy.” I was too young to articulate why it should have  moved me like it did, but I saved up my pocket money and bought the album eventually. I remember being horrified by his picture on the cover because he looked like he could be my granddad. Nonetheless, I bought all of his albums, until I became to be a music journalist in 1977 and after that I got his albums for free.

And I got to interview him. On one occasion in 2001, we did a very, very long interview for MOJO magazine, talking for three days in a row. I came out of that interview thinking, like every other interviewer, that I had the best-ever Leonard Cohen interview. But as I was transcribing these long hours of conversation, I realized, again like every other interviewer I imagine, that with his charm and wisdom and,perfectly–almost poetical–articulated answers he’d pulled the wool over my eyes. He’d told the truth but only part of the truth; I had come nowhere near the mystery of the man.

So I started reading all the books on him–but none of them helped me feel or understand the man and his work. So I thought, Oh, okay one day, maybe I’ll see if I can write the book I want to read on him, but I kept putting it  in the back of my mind because I knew it would be an enormous task to do it properly. Finally, when the Comeback Tour started in 2008, and I went to some of the early shows in the U.S. and saw the  wave of love that greeted him, I just thought, Now’s the time;there’s something here, and I really wanted to investigate it.

Stereo Embers:: I’m wondering what attracted you to “Sisters of Mercy”? Why was that the first song that grabbed you?

SS: Really because that was the first song I heard; it could have been almost any song from that first album. There was something in the tone of his voice. Hypnotic. There was an intimacy to it, like he was coming to you personally, naked–I don’t mean that in a sexual way, I mean without baggage or agenda–to impart something serious. As a kid I had no way of articulating what that was, but he felt like someone who knew something, something important, and like someone I could trust. I can’t say I understood what his songs were actually about–at the time they just seemed vaguely biblical and vaguely sexual, and over the years I grew into it.

Stereo Embers: So was it the mixture of the sexual and the spiritual in the lyrics that maybe separated him from people like Dylan or maybe Lennon?

SS: Interesting you mention John Lennon. He was my favorite Beatle. I think that there was a sense of him that he suffered and thought deeply. I think that’s very attractive to a young girl–maybe to a young boy, too, but in my experience boys tended to like Leonard Cohen albums only  because they knew girls liked them. It was a way of getting girls, to listen to Songs of Love and Hate with them! I remember Nick Cave telling me a story about getting into that album–his favourite Cohen album –when a girlfriend in Australia forced him to listen to it.

As I said, the sexual and spiritual element was a mystery to me when I first heard Cohen’s songs but I think I was drawn to that mystery as much as anything else. And his seriousness. Also, I think, that feeling of him being kind of an outsider; I was drawn to that.

But, over time, what I came to love was the depth of his work and having spoken to him, I came to realize quite how much hard work and suffering went into his work and why it had such depth. He had spent most of his adult life suffering from depression–not just the blues, as he said. He would get up each day, wondering how he could get through that day, what combination of wine, women, sex, drugs or work it would take to get him through that day. If you think about it, it’s incredible that he was able to go that deep into himself, when often that was a very dark place to go, and come back with something that he would hone and polish–for years sometimes, being a perfectionist as well as a depressive; a painful combination! – to make it as authentic and beautiful as possible.

Stereo Embers: You write about that brilliantly, and it really does come through. I always had a hard time articulating what appealed to me about his work. And I think that’s really what it is: you get this strong sense of empathy.

SS: And a kind of knowledge and authority. You believe him. It doesn’t sound like he’s putting you on. There’s this sense he’s trying to get to the bottom of something – something important.  He”s often said himself that he keeps writing about the same thing over and over –he even makes fun of it on his latest album Old Ideas–and it is kind of true. Considering that he has moved around so much geographically, romantically, and spiritually, in his writing – his poems and his songs–he’s always in the same place, going deeper rather than moving on.

Stereo Embers: I know that when you reach that level—when you’ve been a Buddhist monk, for example—you probably have to write the same song over and over again because the songs really are about the quest for God—and that’s the ultimate quest.

SS: One of the things that drew him to Buddhism, I think, is because there was always that dualism in him and his work–the longing to be empty and alone and at the same time, if and when he was empty and alone, wanting to be filled and be with someone. It was a constant conflict that went on not just in his spiritual life but also in his romantic life and in every other way. He would go on long fasts. He always carried empty notebooks that he would fill–though this was more part of that work ethic he’s always had. But there’s also this thing of constantly living in a state of longing. Some of his greatest poems and songs, and his second novel, Beautiful Losers, are about this loneliness and need for union and fighting against that union. Poor guy. Much as he was blessed with talent and a supportive family and everything, he was cursed with this perfectionism, depression, and this inability to settle for anyone or anything.

Stereo Embers: So what was the root of the depression?

SS: It appears to be something he was genetically disposed to–I heard from one of his cousins that  his mother had been hospitalized with depression. And a lot artists and serious writers do seem to suffer with that. Spending a lot of time in isolation–which a writer tends to do–certainly doesn’t help. Writing a book can feel like you’re in your own personal, Turkish prison surrounded by guards and dogs. Harder still when you go deep into yourself,and you’re not satisfied with what you find there. I remember chatting with him about this at one point, and he said yes, that his life would probably be a lot different if he’d just decided to work in a bookshop. He could’ve still been around books; he wouldn’t have had to write them; he could’ve read them. He could’ve been a happy guy with a wife and kids.

Stereo Embers: Our readers would really like to know what it’s like to sit down and talk to Leonard Cohen.

SS: Well, I’ve been a music journalist since the late 70s and I’ve been fortunate enough to sit down and talk to just about everybody —Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson, you name it. Sometimes when you’re one-on-one with these people, they’re e not what you expect them to be; they’re very different from the person they present publicly. But  Leonard Cohen in person is so Leonard Cohen-esque in person. In every way. His appearance for example: offstage, around the house, he wears a suit and fedora. If you look on the hallstand there are more fedoras and a couple of flat-caps. In his wardrobe you’ll find a couple more suits and his Buddhist monk’s robes.

His house is very simple, very sparsely furnished, not much different from the hut he lived in as a monk. There are no paintings on the walls, very few things you would call an ornament, and a few old pieces of furniture. He’s got a very simple, cell-like home.

To talk to him is a combination of sitting with Moses and a stand-up comic–Moses as a stand-up comic! He’s as funny as anything. His humor is quite cheeky and very, very dry. And he’s extremely wise, and he’s very attentive. He’s very focused. When you speak to him, his entire attention is on you. And, as I put it in the prologue, he wants to make sure you’re comfortable, even though clearly he’d rather do anything than talk about himself. He’s kind of uncomfortable being the center of attention.

The most unexpected thing, I think, would be his propensity for wanting to cook for his visitors. Every hour or so he was like,  “You haven’t eaten for an hour; you must be hungry, let me make you something.”

Stereo Embers: What food did he make for you?

SS: So much I can’t even remember. Some wonderful scrambled eggs. I’ve never tasted such good scrambled eggs on toast in my life! He made a salad at one point. Oh, he was trying to make me some sandwiches to take on the plane ride, and it was only an hour plane ride. I assured him that I was not going to die. Hotdogs! He has a really big thing about them. I’m not such a big fan of those, so I declined. Really there would be no end to it. He actually made a really wonderful ginger smoothie! I asked him for the recipe.

You can picture him as a monk, actually serving people–he worked as his Roshi’s chef  when he lived in the monastery on Mount Baldy for five years. He’s definitely got a sense of service in him. You can see that in his shows–those three-and-a-half hour shows that he doesn’t have to do; he could get away with an hour and a half! But he does them. And he takes his hat off, holds it over his heart, and bows to his musicians and to his the audience. That sense of service again.

Stereo Embers: I was talking to Peter Carlin yesterday–he’s the biographer of Bruce Springsteen. And he said that Springsteen took him out to a pizza place. I’m wondering if you and Leonard ever went out of his monk-like chamber and hit the streets together?

SS: You know, we didn’t. I think the only time we were outside was for a previous interview, when he was staying in hotels and I was living back in London and he was in London on a promotional tour. I do know that he prefers simple places, hole-in-the-wall restaurants with Formica topped tables where only a handful of people can get in at a time. And he tends to order the same food over and over.

Stereo Embers: Is he still a great reader? Does he read a lot of books?

SS: I don’t know, but I can say that he does not have a lot of books at his house. I get the sense that he reads to study, rather than for pleasure. I didn’t see any sort of novels or magazines lying around or in the bathroom. But he has never stopped his religious studies. He’s still a Jew, even though he’s an ordained Buddhist monk. Like he says, “Roshi didn’t offer me another god, and he wouldn’t have taken one if he did.” He’s a Jew, and that’s it.

One thing that drew him to Buddhism, besides his close friendship Roshi, was the discipline. In some ways it was a kind of  therapy, a discipline, one of the many ways of trying to treat his depression. He said he didn’t trust psychotherapy but, that aside, he tried everything else, including all the various medications–legal and illegal–for depression. None of them helped. But studying how to quieten the brain and the ego – and to do it in the kind of hardcore regime of a Rinzai Zen mountain monastery of the Mount Baldy monastery – seemed to give Leonard something he was looking for. How he lived there for five years I don’t know; I stayed at the monastery on Mount Baldy for a couple of days; terrifying!

Stereo Embers: Is it really? You describe it as a terrifying place in the book. It’s really like that?

SS:  Well, as Leonard said, “People have romantic ideas about monasteries'” and this one was very unromantic. It’s the polar opposite of a California kind of Zen place, which is usually more like a spa retreat–trickling water fountains and fountain and not much do except sit around and talk about yourself. Leonard called the Rinzai monks “the marines of the spiritual world.”  The work and the life are  harsh and tough. You get up at 3:00 in the morning, sit on a cold, hard floor for hours, and someone’s there poking you with a stick in case you were going to fall asleep. Then more meditation, and study, and work, until you’re exhausted. It’s like being in an army in the way: they try to take away the ego so that you’re a sort of fighting force and you understand you belong to something other than yourself. It does kind of break down your ego. You also realize, after several exhausting days of this, that your brain has quieted and you’re not so troubled by thoughts.

Stereo Embers: So has he carried that experience with him? You kind of referred to that in how he decorates his house so sparsely.

SS: It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing, because he was drawn to the discipline even before he found Zen; when he was a young boy he had asked his father if he could go to military academy. (He didn’t go. His father died when he was nine and his mother wanted him to stay home.) As for the sparse homes, even though he was brought up in a prosperous bourgeois family, the first house he bought was  a cheap simple white-painted house on a hill the Greek island of Hydra where was no electricity, no running water, and everything was very simple—plain wooden floors, just a couple of pieces of wooden furniture, again no ornamentation. So it seems he was attracted to this disciplined, cell-like way of living, so the monastery had a familiar appeal. It probably confirmed something he was looking for and felt comfortably deep inside anyway. He likes simplicity.

Stereo Embers: That’s part of his rebellious nature to me. I’m trying to imagine Jagger going to the Zen monastery; that just wouldn’t happen.

SS: I don’t know if he’s a rebel because he never really rebelled, other than becoming a poet and artist, rather than a rabbi or the head of one of the Cohen family firms. Dylan, for example, changed his name from Zimmerman and reinvented himself as a kind of Woody Guthrie singing hobo–a whole kind of fantasy world there –but Leonard Cohen stayed Leonard Cohen. He didn’t change his name; he didn’t pretend he was born on the wrong side of the tracks.

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His  was a kind of inner-rebellion. He didn’t accept that kind of life for himself but, at the same time, he didn’t outwardly condemn it. He knew the kind of education he got from being from that life gave him certain advantages. In some ways stayed within that very kind of traditional kind of life; even the poetry he wrote and was acclaimed for, before he became a singer-songwriter, was more traditional, lyric poetry–although he was a contemporary of the experimental Beat poets, he did not write Beat poetry–although his second novel Beautiful Losers was pretty -out there. His rebellion was insisting on being who he was. And what he was was a writer. And, in a way, he didn’t really have to fight too much for that either because his father had died when he was nine years old, and his mother and his older sisters–the kind of feminine influence that was huge on his life–were supportive in his decision to not followin the family business or become a lawyer or a rabbi.

But if he wasn’t a rebel, he was definitely an outsider. He never really fit in. As I mentioned in the book, it was due to multiple reasons, from early childhood on. He was from a Jewish family in a Protestant neighborhood in a French province of Canada. He didn’t release his first album until he was 33 years old–and this was in the 60s, when the old adage was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Stereo Embers: So why didn’t the U.S. understand Leonard for so long?

SS: This is one thing that I never understood because I’m British, and in Britain and across Europe he was loved and considered a great artist from the outset.

I can only think that perhaps that the darkness in the early albums wasn’t really something you associate with Americans. The British and the Jewish sense of humor are really very similar, very dark–the sense that nothing’s going to work, everything’s going to Hell in a handbasket, so we might as well laugh instead of cry about it. Maybe that was one reason why the British identified with him. The UK press had an affectionate nickname for him, ‘Laughing Len’.

The continental Europeans also have that dark sensibility and are also a bit more intellectualized. The French were probably drawn to the existential gloom of his lyrics and the way he delivered a song. That’s probably the same for Scandinavia and Germany, where he was a huge star.

America is much more of a can-do, let’s-look-on-the-positive-side  culture. Apart from a cult following, they only caught on when I’m Your Man came out in 1988, because that was an album with chirpy, rhythmic synthesizers rather than that doomy, flamenco guitar. Also the humour that was always in his songs was much more open, much less hidden and black. “I was born like this, I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice”–everybody laughs out loud when he’s sings that on stage. Leonard Cohen always knew his voice wasn’t to everyone’s taste. This album–and the follow-up , The Future–was much more radio friendly. That’s when he got his biggest following in the U.S.–until now, of course.

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Stereo Embers: I’m Your Man and maybe even Various Positions. You talked about the technology of the computer. He got into synthesizers right around that time. Was that a knowing attempt to get into the mainstream, to play the synthesizer?

SS: No, I don’t believe that was the case at all!. In fact, I’m pretty sure from what Leonard said and what his friends have said that the reason he got into it was a way of helping with writer’s block.  He talked about tearing his hair out and crawling across the floor trying to write a song he was happy with, and when he bought his first, cheap, $99 Casio–do you remember those?–and pushed the button with the selection of cheesy little rhythm tracks, somehow it helped free him up to think of new songs. Because, in his words, he was not a great musician, a trained musician. He had enough skills on the guitar to play the songs that he wrote— as he called it, his “one lick” – but not enough to come up with some other kind of song on it. He didn’t have that sort of musicianship. But those rhythm tracks fueled him somehow and inspired him to come up with new kinds of songs. For a very long time, he got so heavily into the synthesizer – he even took one with him when he moved into he monastery–that when he went back on tour he found it hard to get back into the guitar, as it had been so long since he’d played one.

Stereo Embers: How often does he play guitar when he is on tour?

SS: He’s actually adding more guitar now. He only played a few guitar songs on the guitar on the 2008-to-2010 tour.This tour he’s added a quite a few more from the early albums. But when you thnk about it, the song from I’m Your Man and The Future albums that dominated the early shows made sense, because they were more suited to a big band. And a big band was more suited to Leonard, who was extremely nervous about going back on tour after 15 years.

But as he started feeling more secure he’s added all sort of old songs, and unreleased songs on tour, some wonderful gems. It’s not just that he’s more confident, he’s actually happy about being on stage. And  that took him a long time to get to. He was always very conflicted about touring.

Stereo Embers: Is he in a happy place now, would you say?

SS: Absolutely.

Stereo Embers: What would you attribute that to?

SS: It’s a combination of things. One–the big one–is finally being cured of depression. And this didn’t happen until he was about 70! He’s a happy man, but also he loves the life of the road. It’s kind of like the life at the monastery, that sense of discipline, of being of service, but it’s more kind of congenial because at the monastery you’re not traveling with a band of friends; the monks will come and go, but now he’s got this supportive team of band members and crew, and he loves it. He loves the regimen, he loves knowing what he exactly has to do, and of course he loves presenting his work to the public and receiving such fantastic reception wherever he goes. You see him backstage and he looks younger than ever. There’s a smile in his eyes.

Stereo Embers: Has Cohen’s discipline influenced you as a writer? For example would you write 55 drafts of something and then settle on five verses?

SS: I have always been a bit of a workaholic and perfectionist, and I guess I’m disciplined in different ways. As a music journalist I live in a world of deadlines, I’ve always been disciplined about my work, and I’vealways  been freelance, so you realize early on that if you don’t keep your deadlines you won’t get any money,and then I would have to get a regular job, which would be awful.

It’s very interesting, the more you study and write about your subject, it’s almost scary in a way how you start really understanding and identifying with them. And I don’t know if it’s something in your subconscious that draws you to people you decided to write about because in some way you already feel like you identify with them. But, as you’re writing about them, you can kind of feel yourself going,  “Yes, of course he would do that; that makes perfect sense. I’d do the same.” A lot of the emails people send me, telling me what they got from my book, talk about identifying with one or other aspect of Leonard’s life. It’s fascinating. But no, he hasn’t changed the way I write in any way.

But to write a book of this length–and it couldn’t have been any shorter, because this man has had such a long and interesting life–and, as well as delive deeply, to (hopefully) make it dance off the page – took a lot of hard work and discipline, and going back and reworking chapters I’d written.

A biography has to have a chronological order–it can’t just be a bunch of random thoughts or essays strung together–but a life like Leonard Cohen’s isn’t some kind of railroad track with with different stations along the way. It became apparent to me in the first six months of flying around the world or digging through archives or talking to 110 of his closest associates, researching his life, that there were these strands to Leonard Cohen that were all vitally important: the words, the songs, the religion, the women, the depression–if you took one of them away, you lose Leonard Cohen; he’s not there. So, it’s not being to pretentious, I had to kind of weave these strands into a spiral, a helix, kind of DNA if you like. You couldn’t just write about him doing something, then move on to the next thing, because they’re not stations along the way, they’re all part of the same place.

Stereo Embers: Maybe the work has a linear progression sonically—maybe—but thematically it has this spiral. Is that what you’re talking about?

SS: Exactly. There are some changes there, but it all comes back to the same thing.Stereo Embers: So how did you get the gig to write this biography?

SS: I didn’t get a gig, I decided I wanted to do it, and I sent a proposal via my agent to various publishers. I approached Leonard Cohen via his manager–the usual protocol–and said that I felt Cohen had been underserved by biographers, which I believe is true. I have shelves full of great books on Dylan, but there aren’t many on Cohen, and I didn’t feel they’d captured him as a person. I think he is a very important artist and writer and a fascinating man. I wanted to capture this in my  book if I could.

Leonard knows how much I appreciate his work and him. He very kindly said some nice things about a previous book I had written on Serge Gainsbourg.  I said that I would like to write a biography about Leonard Cohen with diligence and heart. It is not an official biography- Leonard did not ask me to write it – but he very kindly gave his support. So basically I had the best of all worlds. He didn’t tell me who to talk to; he didn’t tell me who not to talk to; he didn’t ask to read the book before it was published. His only request was, “Don’t let them whitewash it.”

Stereo Embers:He definitely comes off as a real person and not as a heroic figure, and I find that incredible. The other thing I wanted to ask about was your decision to call him Leonard in the book. I’m sure you’ve been asked that before, but that adds such a tremendous degree of intimacy to it.

SS: That’s so funny. That was one thing I asked him whether he was comfortable with it. I said, “You know, I’ve been kind of writing Leonard. It just felt natural. Should I call you Cohen?” He said, “What do you prefer?” And I said, “You just seem more like a Leonard than a Cohen.” And he said, “I agree.” He didn’t say, “Call me Leonard.” It’s just the way it came out, I think, because the book does go into some of his intimate life–I don’t mean that it goes behind the bedroom door–but it goes into his personal lif,e and somehow’ Cohen’ did not feel right.

Stereo Embers: I need to ask you about the humor in the book, and it’s all over the place. It’s something that you create in your tone, and it’s in the actual adventures that he gets himself into.

SS: The whole thing is that there’s an awful lot of humor in Leonard Cohen. His friends even said they knew he was depressed as a kid, but he was never a moany, groany kind of depressive. He was funny. Still is. He’s great company.

There’s a lot of humor in his work – it’s so playful in many ways. It’s just that he’s such a serious writer, people can’t always see there can be humor within the seriousness. There are some very sombre episodes in his life, but also some escapades that can only be treated humorously–like the the Cuba story! What to me was so amazing to me about that, is that story and another surreal episode happened in the same chapter of the book, and of his life, when he published a serious, mature, sophisticated book of poetry called The Spice-Box of Earth.

Leonard Cohen was 26 years old when he decided, in very un-Leonard fashion, to wear a beard, combat pants and a beret, like some teenage Che Guevara groupie, and go to Cuba, around the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was a very dangerous time. While he was there, he was tracked down by the Canadian Consulate. When they knocked on his hotel door his mind was full of fantasies of what they might want. But it was just to tell him that his mom was worried about him and wanted him to come home. Somehow it was like the Monty Python Life of Brian scene: ‘You’re not the messiah, you’re a very naughty boy.’ So out of keeping with everyone’s image of Leonard Cohen. It was kind of Leonard’s adventures in wonderland – he’d been interested in socialism and utopias as a young man, always searching for that perfect place. He didn’t go home to his mom immediately, but after meeing with various writers and artists in Cuba and  hearing about people being thrown in jail for their beliefs, he went back to Montreal. I don’t think he ever wore those combat pants again.

The other unexpected story in that chapter involved a heroin-loving Scottish Situationist poet, who had given the drug to an underage girlfriend and was on the run. Leonard helped him out, hid him up in Montreal, and wound up taking an overdose of opiates.

These are little strange incidents that seem so out of keeping with the Leonard we think we know–that’s why they’re in there. And they also help lighten the mood, change the tempo in a way. A big book like this, you’re not just writing it, in a way you’re kind of composing it. Otherwise the reader is just going to feel crushed under the weight of all these facts.