Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kelley Lynch's Review of Ann Diamond's Book, The Man Next Door

The Man Next Door immediately throws one into the late 1960s – poetry readings, student uprisings, Bistros and Montreal bars, the tragic deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hentrix, and Canadian armed forces occupying Montreal triggered by the kidnappings of a provincial cabinet minister and a British diplomat by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ).  Magic was indeed afoot!  This is the historical moment Ann Diamond’s book immediately propels one into.  The Montreal Bistros and bars were hangouts for intellectuals, artists, journalists and drunks.  Leonard Cohen and Pierre Trudeau were regulars.  In the summer of 1977, Montreal was in the midst of rather shocking revelations about doctors, psychiatric patients and classified experiments, some of which were attributed to CIA’s MKULTRA Program, in articles appearing in the local press.  The brilliant and flamboyant Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was also part of this dynamic landscape.

Ann’s first fleeting encounter with Leonard Cohen occurred one night in the midst of these radical and romantic times.  She describes Cohen as a mythical figure in her youthful revolutionary dreams.  His books were sacred texts.  The encounter left Ann feeling as though she was floating above her “occupied city like Kateri Tekakwitha, at one with all the Mohawks and other disembodied saints.”  She prophetically sensed that she might run into Leonard Cohen again.  A number of years later, Ann Diamond would find herself sitting at Leonard Cohen’s kitchen table asking if he recalled their first fleeting encounter.  By that time, Cohen was a celebrated international figure who had just released an album produced by Phil Spector. 

Cohen rang Ann up and introduced himself in typically witty fashion: “Hello Ann?  This is Leonard Cohen.  We have to stop meeting like this.”  Ann’s first evening with Leonard Cohen left her dazed and delirious.  A mutual friend had provided Cohen with her phone number.  I immediately recognized the familiar phrases used by Leonard Cohen and could literally visualize him jumping in the air and asking “The girl with the bicycle?  How tall is she?” 

Having spent nearly 20 years working as Cohen’s personal manager, I had grown quite familiar with his speech, phraseology, and frequently eccentric behavior.  I also know Cohen’s taste in women and understood why he found the youthful, spirited, and adventurous Ann Diamond so compelling.  Over the years, I had come to know of Ann through Leonard Cohen.  I understood her to be an old girlfriend who had remained friends with him throughout the years. The descriptions of Cohen’s home, encounters with his Montreal crowd, the Swiss bank book tucked away in a drawer, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, smoked meat, gifts, poetry books, Persian rugs, trinkets, religious chatchka, personal notes, Hydra, tales about CIA and the MKULTRA program, meth and LSD experimentation, mental hospitals and suicides also resonated. 

While most biographies devoted to Leonard Cohen consist of impersonal or sanitized third party accounts that are dripping with awe and admiration, Ann’s biography is personal, revealing, and touches upon Cohen’s darker side which a friend of hers described when he cautioned her:  “Be very careful of that guy. He's totally ruthless when it comes to women.”  Leonard Cohen’s ruthlessness is invisible to anyone who bases their perceptions of him on the description of a sage-like individual whose speech is littered with profound expressions and cleverly crafted quotes.  It is nevertheless an essential component of his private persona.  Ann herself could not connect her friend’s remark to the man who appeared to be an “eccentric saint,” devoted son, and exceptional artist who associated with a rather odd assortment of neurotic friends.  Cohen’s personal life is tortured and up close resembles a controlled disaster area.  Leonard Cohen also understands his own nature.  When Ann asks “But are you trustworthy?” he responds “No.” 

Cohen’s public persona has a cultivated Europeanized air to it that leads one to conclude that he is humble, wise, calm, dignified, deeply spiritual, and in possession of courtly manners.  Privately, Cohen is lonely and bitter as he confessed to Ann.  This too resonated because I recall Cohen’s seething anger and resentment.  (The book’s mention of the arrest of Suzanne Elrod made me wonder if Leonard Cohen was personally involved.  For years, he had told me that his housekeeper’s husband, then Chief of Police on Hydra, had arrested Suzanne over a minor marijuana incident.  It was hard to imagine Evangalia and Coulis being involved in something that extreme without Cohen’s permission.)

Ann’s relationship with Leonard Cohen would eventually land her on the Isle of Hydra where Cohen mingled with Greek peasants, millionaires, tourists, and had experimented with LSD and meth.  I frequently heard Cohen’s stories about these experiences, drunken binges, CIA agents and other spies at Bill’s Bar, and how he wrote “Beautiful Losers” on LSD while visiting Hydra.  In 1979 Ann had received a small writing grant from the Canada Council and decided to extend her trip to Greece, partly due to Cohen’s imminent arrival.  Cohen was viewed as a God on Hydra while in Montreal his reputation was one of an eccentric failure.  In the United States, Cohen was largely unknown although his work with Phil Spector led to numerous mentions of him in articles and news media accounts. 

Ann’s book intimately recounts Cohen’s relationship with the muses and women in his life as well as his relationship with his young children, Lorca and Adam.  Ann also had an opportunity to accompany Leonard Cohen on his 1979 UK tour and experienced the sordid world of alcohol-filled performances and an intense cult following.  Ultimately, Ann’s experiences with Cohen led her to question her own sanity and emotions.  She wondered if she was “entering a schizophrenic’s world where nothing was stable or straightforward, and where ordinary reality constantly erupted with subconscious material from who-knows-what source.”  Five cities and six concerts later, Ann concluded that “Leonard was schizophrenic.” 

 Ann Diamond was a naïve, young woman in love with Leonard Cohen and felt that she could save him from himself.  A sense of his other, illicit relationships comes across.  By the end of their relationship, Leonard Cohen would use his toolkit of tactics to attack, silence, frighten, and discredit Ann.  It was clear that Cohen had exposed her to his personal world, which is both seductive and disturbing, and when he felt she questioned his conduct, he set out to destroy her. 

This is not the type of biography fans of Leonard Cohen’s will readily embrace.  It is far too naked and poignant.  Ann Diamond is a very brave woman who has experienced and tangled with the man who wrestles with the angel and the beast.  I applaud her courage and honesty. Lynch