Excellent Long Read: “Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker”

Suspect there may be a few here who also admire this spiritual seeker / musician. David Remnick, in the New Yorker:

Leonard Cohen lives on the second floor of a modest house in Mid-Wilshire, a diverse, unglamorous precinct of Los Angeles. He is eighty-two. Between 2008 and 2013, he was on tour more or less continuously. It is highly unlikely that his health will permit such rigors ever again. Cohen has an album coming out in October—obsessed with mortality, God-infused, yet funny, called “You Want It Darker”—but friends and musical associates say they’d be surprised to see him onstage again except in a limited way: a single performance, perhaps, or a short residency at one venue. When I e-mailed ahead to ask Cohen out for dinner, he said that he was more or less “confined to barracks.”

Not long ago, one of Cohen’s most frequent visitors, and an old friend of mine—Robert Faggen, a professor of literature—brought me by the house. Faggen met Cohen twenty years ago in a grocery store, at the foot of Mt. Baldy, the highest of the San Gabriel Mountains, an hour and a half east of Los Angeles. They were both living near the top of the mountain: Bob in a cabin where he wrote about Frost and Melville and drove down the road to teach his classes at Claremont McKenna College; Cohen in a small Zen Buddhist monastery, where he was an ordained monk. As Faggen was shopping for cold cuts, he heard a familiar basso voice across the store; he looked down the aisle and saw a small, trim man, his head shaved, talking intently with a clerk about varieties of potato salad. Faggen’s musical expertise runs more to Mahler’s lieder than to popular song. But he is an admirer of Cohen’s work and introduced himself. They have been close friends ever since…

Marianne’s death was only a few weeks in the past, and Cohen was still amazed at the way his letter—an e-mail to a dying friend—had gone viral, at least in the Cohen-ardent universe. He hadn’t set out to be public about his feelings, but when one of Marianne’s closest friends, in Oslo, asked to release the note, he didn’t object. “And since there’s a song attached to it, and there’s a story . . .” he said. “It’s just a sweet story. So in that sense I’m not displeased.”

Like anyone of his age, Cohen counts the losses as a matter of routine. He seemed not so much devastated by Marianne’s death as overtaken by the memory of their time together. “There would be a gardenia on my desk perfuming the whole room,” he said. “There would be a little sandwich at noon. Sweetness, sweetness everywhere.”

Cohen’s songs are death-haunted, but then they have been since his earliest verses. A half century ago, a record executive said, “Turn around, kid. Aren’t you a little old for this?” But, despite his diminished health, Cohen remains as clear-minded and hardworking as ever, soldierly in his habits. He gets up well before dawn and writes. In the small, spare living room where we sat, there were a couple of acoustic guitars leaning against the wall, a keyboard synthesizer, two laptops, a sophisticated microphone for voice recording. Working with an old collaborator, Pat Leonard, and his son, Adam, who has the producer’s credit, Cohen did much of his work for “You Want It Darker” in the living room, e-mailing recorded files to his partners for additional refinements. Age and the end of age provide a useful, if not entirely desired, air of quiet.

“In a certain sense, this particular predicament is filled with many fewer distractions than other times in my life and actually enables me to work with a little more concentration and continuity than when I had duties of making a living, being a husband, being a father,” he said. “Those distractions are radically diminished at this point. The only thing that mitigates against full production is just the condition of my body.

“For some odd reason,” he went on, “I have all my marbles, so far. I have many resources, some cultivated on a personal level, but circumstantial, too: my daughter and her children live downstairs, and my son lives two blocks down the street. So I am extremely blessed. I have an assistant who is devoted and skillful. I have a friend like Bob and another friend or two who make my life very rich. So in a certain sense I’ve never had it better. . . . At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”…

Open Thread: Not Single Spies, But in Battalions

Those financial filings should certainly prove interesting, per the Buzzfeed article:

In the early 1990s, Trump’s companies filed several major bankruptcies, and the massive court filings in those bankruptcies have been a key part of previous reporting on Trump’s finances.

But those files — totaling thousands of pages — have not been available online before today, though they have been pored over by reporters at a range of outlets. With Trump’s finances the source of intense speculation and interest a month before the election, BuzzFeed News is making them available in full for the first time…

The documents are, in particular, court filings from three of his bankruptcies in 1991 and 1992: The Trump Taj Mahal Casino, Trump’s Plaza, The Trump Castle…

Click over for the full document links.

Speaking of Deadbeat Donnie, I woke up from a nap with a weirdly vivid image of Roger Ailes, Roger Stone, and Sean Hannity as MacBeth’s witches, hovering over an array of soundbanks and monitors, feeding advice to you-know-who while Paul Ryan moaned about the perfumes of Araby. Anybody want to help me with cast the other characters?…

(As a matter of fact, yes I do have a paperback of Barbara Garson’s most famous work around here somewhere…)

Tuesday Evening Open Thread: Ban Sidhe

Ask me, I’d say he was undergoing advanced hair repair therapy, because in press photos from the weekend his latest dye job was matching offputtingly well with the fluorescent-lime bracelets and trinkets in the audience. (Dude: Use some of the cash you’re grifting from the RNC to pay a skilled wig crafter, and save us all a lot of ugliness, okay?)

But maybe he is feeling a cold trickle of electoral doom down his spine…

Apart from politics, what’s on the agenda for the evening?

(via NYMag — yes those are Kara Walker shadow puppets!)

Open Thread: For the Hamilmaniacs

… Most of whom have no doubt been sharing the news in previous threads, but now the rest of us can enjoy the novelty of going Open-Thread-Off-Topic in “their” post. From the USAToday article:

The Tony winner confirmed his departure date to reporters at a breakfast event Thursday at Coogan’s in New York’s Washington Heights. Javier Muñoz, Manuel’s alternate who already regularly plays the part one day a week, will take over starting July 11. (He’s used to following Miranda — he also replaced him when he left In the Heights.)

Muñoz, who underwent cancer treatment during the show’s first year (during which Miranda was his understudy) says he finished his medical regimen in January and says he’s “fit and ready” to do seven shows per week.

But don’t fret — Miranda will be back. “I think this is a role I’m going to be going back to again and again. I plan to revisit this role a lot,” he said. (In other words, keep entering the lottery!)…

As for himself, Miranda is “working on his accent” for Mary Poppins Returns, due Christmas 2018, in which he’ll star opposite Emily Blunt. He’s also putting the finishing touches on the music for Disney’s animated film Moana, which arrives in theaters Nov. 23. And he’s got a revelation for you: “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can sing! He was really incredible.”

But before he packs up his Hamilton dressing room, the production will film two performances with the current cast this month before they start exiting, as well as shooting offstage cameos…

Any ideas how the final film will be released? Pay-per-view? I think it would be an excellent candidate for the movie-house “event cinema,” with the one-off showings of opera, ballet, and MMA bouts…
Apart from entertainment, what’s on the agenda for the evening?

Late Night Poe-try Corner Open Thread

TBH, it was funnier before I visualized Captain Bankruptcy (h/t Jim Newell) taking credit for this ditty…

New ‘Roots’, Old Pain

Melena Ryzik, in the NYTimes, “‘Roots,’ Remade for a New Era”:

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA. — Cannons boomed, shaking the leaves off 50-foot trees. “Ready, I need fire on that hill!” an urgent voice yelled. Weapons were reloaded. Exhausted infantrymen — black, white, young, old — were splayed around a muddy pit. “Watch your muzzles, gentlemen,” their leader called. “Don’t blow your friend’s face off!”

In a wooded grove in this town near Baton Rouge, La., a television crew was meticulously recreating the brutal Civil War battle of Fort Pillow, for a remake of “Roots,” the seminal mini-series about slavery. The carnage in the fight was significant: After Union soldiers surrendered, the Confederates disproportionately took white soldiers hostage as prisoners of war and slaughtered hundreds of black soldiers, sending survivors into the slave trade. This massacre was not in the original “Roots,” broadcast in 1977, which is exactly why the producers of the new one chose to include it.

It is one of many unexpected historical details put onscreen in “Roots,” which will air over four nights starting on Memorial Day. It will be simulcast on the History, Lifetime and A&E channels, with a sprawling cast that includes Laurence Fishburne; Forest Whitaker; Anika Noni Rose; Anna Paquin; the rapper T.I.; and the English newcomer Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte, the central character. The revival aims to deliver a visceral punch of the past to a younger demographic, consumed anew by questions of race, inequality and heritage. With a crew of contemporary influencers — Will Packer (“Straight Outta Compton”) is a producer; Questlove oversaw the music — the hope is to recontextualize “Roots” for the Black Lives Matter era, a solemn and exacting feat.

“I’d be lying if I said I had zero trepidation and nervousness,” said LeVar Burton, who began his career, indelibly, as the slave Kunta Kinte, and who serves as a producer on the modern version. “But I do believe that we have a lot to contribute to the very important conversation of race in America, and how it continues to hold us back as a society.”…

From NYMag‘s culture blog:

Vulture sat down with producers Mark Wolper — whose father, David L. Wolper, produced the original Roots — and Packer (Straight Outta Compton), and cast members Kirby, Regé-Jean Page (who plays Kunta Kinte’s son, Chicken George), and Erica Tazel (Chicken George’s wife Matilda), to discuss the urgency of revisiting this story

The reboot comes in a year with a number of other notable projects about slavery, including Underground on WGN, and Fox Searchlight’s forthcoming Oscar contender, The Birth of a Nation. How is your retelling of Roots distinct among these narratives? And why tell this particular story again now?

Mark Wolper: I wasn’t sure there was any right time to reboot a project that was so monumental for the TV business and for its social ramifications, not to mention a project that my own father had produced. It was a triple whammy in that respect for me. People had been saying for years, “Let’s do Roots again. Can we do Roots again?” And my answer was always, “No.” But it was when I sat my 16-year-old son down to watch it and he said, “I understand why Roots is so important, but it’s kind of like your music — it doesn’t speak to me” that realized I had to overcome my fears. There is an entire generation of young people that needs to hear and see this story. The problems we have with race in America right now are enormous, but we can’t fix the future or understand the present unless we understand where we all came from…

Regé-Jean Page: Contrary to what many people think, our history did not start with slavery. So this project for me is very much about about filling in a history that has been mistold, or in some cases, even erased. It’s about upgrading a lot of misinformation that we’ve been told for generations. And that’s a task that doesn’t ever really end…

Tragically related, also in the NYTimes, “‘A Million Questions’ From Descendants of Slaves Sold to Aid Georgetown”, and Carl Zimmer’s “Tales of African-American History Found in DNA”:

The history of African-Americans has been shaped in part by two great journeys. The first brought hundreds of thousands of Africans to the southern United States as slaves. The second, the Great Migration, began around 1910 and sent six million African-Americans from the South to New York, Chicago and other cities across the country.

In a study published on Friday, a team of geneticists sought evidence for this history in the DNA of living African-Americans. The findings, published in PLOS Genetics, provide a map of African-American genetic diversity, shedding light on both their history and their health…

Friday Morning Open Thread: Happy News

Speaking of film-makers, let’s have a round of applause for our own Tom Levenson, Guggenheim Fellow:

Tom Levenson writes and makes documentary films about science, its history, and the interplay between scientific inquiry and the broader culture and society in which the work takes place. This extremely gratefully received Guggenheim Fellowship will support work on a new book that uses the history of the South Sea Bubble – a watershed event in early-modern capitalism – to explore the connection between the scientific revolution and the emergence of new ideas about money and exchange. A revisionist history, this project aims at both new insights into the scientific revolution as lived, and in the evolution of finance over the last three centuries, with all the wealth and woe thus produced. ..

He began work as a documentarian in 1987, and he has since produced, directed, written, and or executive-produced more than a dozen films on science, mostly for the NOVA series on PBS, among them the Origins mini-series and the two-hour biography Einstein Revealed, both for the NOVA series on PBS. He won the National Academies Science Communication Award, shared a George Foster Peabody Award, and won the AAAS science communication prize, among other honors. His short-form writing has appeared in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and digital publications, and he is currently an Ideas columnist for The Boston Globe

Congratulations, Tom!

Apart from that, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up another long week?