Today is Leonard Cohen’s 80th birthday. The Telegraph has run a piece about him:
When I ask if the sense of time running out also plays a part in the quickening, he nods. “Well put. I mean, you are on the other side of the hill and it’s no time to tarry.” Cohen turns 80 on Sunday, for which he has jokingly suggested that he might take up smoking again.
Was he really joking when he said he’d do that? I covered that story last year, and I didn’t think it was something he had suggested jokingly. Back then it was reported (again in the Telegraph):
“I’m really looking forward to this moment,” the man in the black suit and rakish fedora says, slowly and conspiratorially, the same way that he sings. “A young nurse in a white uniform, white lisle stockings, carrying a pack of cigarettes on a silver tray, will walk across the stage … and the pack will be opened. It will be gleaming, like those pillars of the Parthenon”; of course it will. And the man will pull out a cigarette and tap it on his wrist, like he they did in the movies he saw as a kid, in Montreal. “And she’ll light me up. Yeah,” he says, taking a long, deep inhale. A pause. A slow smile crosses his face. “It’s going to be so good.”
Who else could this be but Leonard Cohen, at a recent concert in Kentucky, confiding with a large audience his plan to resume smoking on his 80th birthday.
That’s not just starting smoking again. That’s very publicly starting smoking again – on stage.
However, according to his official website, it seems he’s not on tour right now. So he won’t be on stage, and so there won’t be any young nurse with a silver tray to walk across it. So I guess it won’t happen – yet.
And anyway, in the Telegraph today, the report continues:
“I really liked smoking. And I think about it a lot. I’m thinking about it right now.” It will probably be a quiet occasion. “One of the charitable realities of my family life is that we hardly celebrate holidays or birthdays or anniversaries, so everybody’s kind of let off the hook. I think it will just go by like any other day.” But then he adds, after a beat: “I may have a smoke.”
So the author of the piece in last year’s article, his biographer Sylvie Simmons, seemed to think it was ‘a plan’. But the author of today’s article, Neil McCormick, thinks it was just something he’d once ‘jokingly suggested’. They can’t both be right.
I get the feeling that McCormick is something of an antismoker who simply can’t seriously imagine anyone knowingly and voluntarily taking up smoking again. So he thinks it must be a joke.
But actually, it’s about time that someone went on stage and very publicly started smoking again (and maybe invited the whole audience to do the same), purely as an act of rebellion against our present beastly and stifling conformity.
And maybe tonight, even though there’s no show scheduled, Leonard Cohen will show up at some little club or bar, and sing a few songs with just his own guitar as accompaniment, and then a young nurse, in a white uniform and white lisle stockings, carrying a pack of cigarettes on a silver tray, can walk across the stage, and re-introduce him to the ancient custom.