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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Thousand Kisses Deep

For millions, Leonard Cohen represents the perfect imaginary lover.

Multiply those thousand kisses by the 4,000 women he boasted of having over the course of his life. And think about what that does to a man, just for a moment -- not to mention the damage to the women.

I don't always appreciate the worshipful way people talk about him. It's disorienting for people who knew him, as the real, screwed up guy he was -- in fact, without his screwed-up-ness he would have been totally boring. He did not present himself in a superior light to those he met, in fact he preferred to come across as a hunchback or leper -- that was his style, his charm, his peculiar calling in life. He treated people as equals. Except secretly of course, he must have wanted to be worshipped because at the end of his life he had millions of fans around the world speaking of him in breathless superlatives. On the surface, he was well spoken and polite, like some incarnated Buddha radiating holy wisdom with every thought, word and deed. He worked his way into our souls, through a lifetime of misery.
People simply can't fathom his catastrophic negativity, that some could sense from a distance. His criminal mind, disguised in a suit, speaking in rhymes like a page from some Victorian tome. How, for years, almost nobody in his home town liked him, and most avoided him like a rare disease carrier. And how, to this day, although people miss him, many are probably as relieved as I am that he's gone. My relief, on hearing the news, outweighed the shock. I couldn't squeeze out a single tear. I felt his life had been strange and tragic, his success covering up real dismal failure. I felt glad that he no longer had to contain all the contradictions that had dogged him and that in vanishing had finally gone home, to be with the Roshi, and become One. Now we will experience him only through his songs, which will play on -- without needing wonder where those tortured notes originated. His extreme emotions which he hid carefully -- anger, self-hatred, pride, despair -- also are gone with the wind. I'm grateful to have known him, but mostly he was a load of trouble that constantly needed sorting out. He was a puzzle to men and a scourge to women, and lived to disappoint the people he struggled to love. Now he's finally at peace, in the ground where he can't torment us with his never-ending guilt and unspeakable secrets. The truth about him would freeze your heart, or maybe save your life. It's the truth we should be focusing on, not the fairy tale. I'm just glad I no longer have to witness him dying over decades, failing to answer his koan, giving those endless repetitive interviews of elegant profundity as his inner world shrank. He has gone to meet his Maker, or his Mom, in a place that is not heaven. It's probably some workhouse where they'll put him to work repairing broken toys or sewing up souls whose hearts he ripped out while alive. I'm sure he'll be fully employed, laboring among the demons who encouraged and controlled him from the Other Side. If a mythology must be built, let's make it an adult blend of dark and light -- not the Disney version. All this does not prevent me from feeling a kind of love for him in his absence. That's how old I've gotten. He was probably the most ravaged soul I have encountered in this world, and I suspect it's not the last time. But for now I'll just say goodbye, Leonard. Thanks for letting me get that close. I hope you're finally free of that murdering cabal.

*****

And for the trolls who keep spamming the Comments:

A FEW OBSERVATIONS BASED ON DECADES OF LIVING NEXT DOOR, OR AROUND THE CORNER, OR UP THE STREET FROM LEONARD COHEN AS WE SHARED A NEIGHBOURHOOD AND A NUMBER OF CONTACTS:

* He lied often, e.g. in order to manage situations that he had created. He used his loyal followers to help him manage his complicated affairs. When confronted with his own lies, he was brilliant and elusive.

* He turned his nannies and other women into accomplices in his sometimes unconscionable, secretive behaviour – .

* He was a drug addict and alcoholic – he used drugs and booze to mask his depression. How much of his depression was really guilt caused by having to live with the consequences of his own actions, whether he remembered them clearly or not?

* He lied about Kelley Lynch whom he accused of stealing his money. This has never been proved in a court of law.

* He lied to the Roshi about his real reasons for going to India in 2000. They had nothing to do with 'spiritual enlightenment.'

* While adopting an image as a peaceful, impeccably kind and reasonable sage, he absolutely believed in violence. He owned guns and was trained in using them. How does that align with his public image?

* He had a number of apparently separate personalities – with different goals, different relationships, and secret histories. The likely cause of his dissociative behaviour is the documented fact that he was a victim of CIA mind control at one of the leading institutions where this program was created. He was probably a Manchurian Candidate since he went on missions to Cuba, Greece, and Ethiopia. He hid these facts about his early career while sometimes mentioning them in his writing, private conversations etc.

* He was skilled at psychological warfare techniques including ‘gaslighting’ – which he used on many people including myself, for years. He also understood the uses of gossip and 'fake news', particularly to discredit people he was close to. He both created chaos around him and meticulously managed it.

I'll be exploring these topics further in the second edition of THE MAN NEXT DOOR. Coming soon. (Paintings by Dianne Lawrence and David Wilson)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

All Good Things


Adam Cohen's message on the death of his father, Leonard

November 12 at 10:44pm

· My sister and I just buried my father in Montreal. With only immediate family and a few lifelong friends present, he was lowered into the ground in an unadorned pine box, next to his mother and father. Exactly as he’d asked. As I write this I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work. There’s so much I wish I could thank him for, just one last time. I’d thank him for the comfort he always provided, for the wisdom he dispensed, for the marathon conversations, for his dazzling wit and humor. I’d thank him for giving me, and teaching me to love Montreal and Greece. And I’d thank him for music; first for his music which seduced me as a boy, then for his encouragement of my own music, and finally for the privilege of being able to make music with him. Thank you for your kind messages, for the outpouring of sympathy and for your love of my father.

Message from the blogger known as Ann Diamond

Although I knew it had to happen someday, I wasn't prepared to hear the news last Thursday night, as I sat reading about Donald Trump's victory in the US elections. First it arrived as a text from a friend but I didn't believe it. A minute later another text arrived, and another, and then there were links to Leonard's Facebook site and Rolling Stone. That's when I started thinking it might not be a hoax after all. Finally, CBC's Peter Mansbridge made the announcement and nothing could be more final for a Canadian. In my shock I received an email Inviting me to talk about him early the following morning on CTV Toronto. I was grateful for the chance to say goodbye. Over the next 24 hours, I got two more requests to talk about Leonard from the perspective of someone who had known him.

I knew parts of him. Death seemed to unify the parts and bring them closer. It was like being back at Zero, where birth and death are one. Or like the shock of our first meeting.

Later I learned he had died on Monday, November 7. I need to check my journal but I believe we met on that day, 39 years ago, 11/7/1977. If accurate, that would be eerie. Thirty-nine is three times thirteen, the number of years I lived next door to him. When I was 39, he took my photo and said "Now you look very much like yourself." That was 26 years ago, or 2 x 13. And I was 26 when I met him so that's lots of thirteens.

In fact I owe my life to Leonard Cohen. That is a fact he never mentioned, as it would have been too traumatic, but it ran in the background of our friendship even through the years when we were no longer on speaking terms. Like many things that are true, it can probably never be proven, but it seems appropriate to mention it here.

That plus the fact that I will miss him, although these days he's hard to miss, being everywhere. He was like no one else, and now that he's gone, there is even less chance that he can be replaced. Let alone captured.

So now we can go on missing him, forever.

*****

I've been shooting phone videos of the crowd at Leonard's house opposite the park. I used to live around the corner, for 13 years, so it seemed like the normal thing to do. It was my old neighbourhood too.

On Wednesday I ended up at the fresh grave on Mount Royal -- I hadnt intended to go there but all my appointments were mysteriously cancelled and I had nothing better to do than climb to the cemetery, a half hour walk in mist and drizzle. At the grave site, three people were standing looking down at a fresh patch of sod, two plastic-wrapped bunches of wilting flowers and a drooping white rose -- forbidden in Judaism and probably left there the day before by unsuspecting Catholics. The three visitors all spoke French. One said "This empty space is really in the image of Leonard."

Someone had pinned a poem to the sod with a rock, in what looked like Leonard's handwriting, describing a wonderful conversation they had and how he 'understood'. There were about two dozen small rocks on the headstone, which was blank, not yet inscribed with his name. I said I had known him personally. The taller man left, and the remaining couple started taking photos of each other beside the modest plot. They offered to take mine. I forgot to look sad -- in fact I look deliriously happy -- this is how farewells affect me. After the couple left I hung around in the fog for about an hour. Leonard's barely noticeable grave directly faces another belonging to someone named "FRAID." I sat on the base of FRAID's tombstone but couldn't think of much to say except "Sorry."

I can't understand why there was no actual funeral. When his friends Pierre Trudeau and Irving Layton died, Leonard became pallbearer. I think people were expecting a procession or motorcade, and a huge crowd at Paperman's funeral home. Instead, nothing happened. They say he wanted it that way. He died suddenly in his sleep after a fall before dawn on Tuesday morning (of the election). They shipped the body to Montreal. There was a report that he was already buried before his death was announced on Thursday evening, but his son Adam issued a statement the following Saturday in which he said they had just come from the cemetery. The Globe and Mail wrote that only 15 close friends and relatives attended.

If this all sounds a bit strange, it's because it is.

In lieu of any public ceremony or state funeral, Leonard's house has become an outdoor shrine with hundreds of flowers and candles filling the sidewalk opposite the little park where there was an impromptu concert last Saturday.

Death is not what it used to be. Death is exactly like birth and triggers a simultaneous expansion and contraction that erases conscious thought. We are back at the moment before anything has begun to be spoiled.

Followers of the way, don't be fooled. As Leonard once said, "Nothing is always happening."

Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.

~ Rumi

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

John is Alive, Magic is Afoot


As we all know, Beatle John Lennon was shot in December 1980, at the entrance to the Dakota Apartments in Manhattan. So the man in the above photo, taken in 2008, cannot possibly be John Lennon. Can he? Officially, the Lennon lookalike is said to be a professional impersonator, Mark Staycer, of Travers City, Michigan. Above we see him performing on the set of Let Him Be -- a low budget Canadian mockumentary that went nowhere when it was released, back in 2009.

You can watch the full movie here, and I recommend you do. It opens awkwardly with a scene narrated by Tim Bennett, a young documentary filmmaker who just happens to stumble on a home video that his dad bought at a garage sale somewhere. The video was shot at a house party somewhere in rural Ontario, and features a short segment of a guitar-playing guest who -- to Tim's astonishment -- is a dead ringer for the late John Lennon. Of course, he has aged about twenty-five years since the last time we saw him, back in 1980 prior to getting shot.

If you can get past this opening premise -- or blatant narrative device -- Let Him Be is a watchable little movie that starts out as a quest to track down the lookalike glimpsed in the video. In fact, I'm surprised it seems to have been taken out of circulation soon after it premiered in Hamilton, Ontario and later at a film festival in Vancouver. Oh, and it also played in Liverpool, England - birthplace of John Lennon. Very little was written about it at the time, although the few reviews I've found were positive. Peter McNamee, the first-time director, set up a Facebook page for it, but otherwise seems to have done almost no promotion or distribution. And then wham, it disappeared.

Under normal circumstances, a film like this would have got more mileage, especially as books and movies about John Lennon's life and death tend to do quite well. Let Him Be had all the makings of low-key Canadian success. So why was it pulled from distribution before anyone got to see it, and not even available on YouTube until recently?

I got interested in the possibility that Lennon was still alive back in 2014 when someone alerted me to an article by the brilliant researcher and writer Miles Mathis. You can download it here and read all about how Mathis, with typical zeal and sarcastic flair, decoded the forensics and arrived at the conclusion that Lennon had faked his death, mostly based on his investigation of Mark Staycer, a Lennon impersonator, who plays "Noel Snow" in the movie. Snow, we are led to believe, has been hiding out on a rundown farm with his buddy Stanley Fields, played by the late Graham Wignall. In a memorable pub conversation, Stanley lists all the reasons Noel Snow cannot be John Lennon. Of course this only persuades young Tim that he is closing in on the fugitive rock star -- who only wants to be left alone to impersonate himself in peace.

The last thing Noel Snow needs is exposure -- if he's really John Lennon, that is. The film teases the audience with brief glimpses, culminating in another performance where Noel plays songs that really sound like Lennon could have written them. Mark Staycer just happens to look and sound like you might expect a 67-year-old Lennon to sound and look. What right does the nosy filmmaker have to reveal Noel's whereabouts, thus alerting the Powers That Be who may want Lennon to stay dead?

Let It Be plays with these possibilities, never really showing enough of Staycer to answer the obvious question: is this really John Lennon playing himself playing an impersonator? Seems like the kind of story only Lennon himself could have come up with. And obviously some people take this quite seriously.

Having watched it all the way through just once, so do I. Here is a list of all the reasons Let Him Be does not make sense as what it claims to be -- a quirky fiction. Like Miles Mathis, I think it was made by an undead John Lennon to send a message to his fans and play them his new songs. Several things about its pre-and post-production history are suspicious.

(1) If it's just whimsical fan fiction, why include the very serious assertion that Mark Chapman could not have shot Lennon, only to drop it, without either proving or disproving it?

(2) Why did it receive so little publicity when it came out? Although not a great film, its subject matter made it a likely candidate for interviews and journalistic articles, yet very little was written about it at the time, and almost no reviews.

(3) Why was it pulled from theatres and festivals soon after its release, even disappearing from the internet?

(4) Why do the professional actors involved not include it on their IMDb pages?

(5) How did the director Peter McNamee and lead actor Graham Wignall think up the concept that John Lennon was still alive, based on the 'conspiracy theory" (shown in the film) that Chapman was not the real shooter? That's quite a leap, when you think about it -- and raises questions like "So who really killed Lennon?" that never get answered. In writing and marketing such a far-fetched scenario you would need to present some rationale. Unless you just happen to KNOW Lennon is alive, because you are part of a network of cronies going back to Liverpool -- and you were handed this story on a platter, with instructions to go ahead and shoot it.

(6) What made the neophyte director choose this small town Ontario locale when he is from Liverpool, and practically grew up with the Beatles and Lennon.You would think if two Liverpudlians were making a fiction film about Lennon, their first thought would be to set the action back in their birthplace. "Write what you know."

(7) If Peter McNamee had no previous track record as a filmmaker, and Graham Wignall had never acted before, how did this project get Telefilm funding? Telefilm only works with established director/producers.

Everything seems to point to John Lennon having played a role in initiating this project. No easy feat to pull off from beyond the grave.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Saint George and the Dragon


I just dropped into Live Journal yesterday, in search of the journal of a friend who died last week. I wanted to find out what my departed friend shared with his online community over the years. I found this entry -- it's about me, dated a year ago.

http://saintgeorge.livejournal.com/522255.html

Ann is sleeping on the carpet of the meditation room. Before going to sleep tonight she insisted that she was going to sleep on the balcony again. It was because she claimed the air in my apartment was stagnant and suffocating. I told her that all the windows were wide-open and you can't get more air in here unless we move outside. Anyway she said she needed to breath fresh air all the time or she would die. So Ann set up the cot on the balcony. However there was rain during the night and she got wet and now she has decided that suffocating is better than being cold and wet.

Yesterday was our first full day together. First in the morning Ann decided I needed to more air in my apartment. I am okay with the air circulation here as it is, certainly the air circulation is superior to the situation I endured in the basement, but having screens on the windows impedes the flow of air. I know that already and I accept that the screens block the breezes but I prefer the air being hotter in exchange for keeping out with local flying insects. But Ann is accustomed to living the free life in Greece and she wants to continue living the free life here.

So Ann has taken to opening the kitchen door and leaving it open to catch any passing breezes. She doesn't mind flies buzzing in and not finding their way out. I object to sharing my apartment with flies so I keep the kitchen door shut, and I pursue an aggressive no-fly zone indoors. Ann claims that in Greece she can snatch the flies out of the air in mid-flight and release them safely outdoors. I am not so adept. Also, because I am a nudist and because my kitchen faces a busy bus stop and because the open kitchen door allows anyone waiting for their bus to see into the kitchen and because I want avoid being arrested for indecent exposure and because in consequence I have to wear clothes when I go into the kitchen when the door is open and because this is my apartment and because Ann is the guest, I feel Ann is imposing on me even though I am providing her with a free bed and free food and free beer and free wi-fi. You can imagine that I feel annoyed with her. And yesterday was the first day of a visit of unknown duration.

Patrick died a few days ago on August 31. We were friends for about 45 years. If he's reading this, maybe he already knows what I am about to say, even if I don't.

When my brother died in October, 2012, Patrick came to the gathering for him but stayed outside in the street for most of it. He was a very private and shy person, with a deep sense of irony and humour. He was also a great listener who spent hours just letting me talk about my problems when few others would.

As for the air in his apartment, and the question of flies, and the life of a solitary nudist living on the third floor of a building overlooking a train station and bus terminal -- it was often noisy on the balcony, but I had the best sleeps of my life during that week plus a view of the moon and stars, rare in Montreal --

I remember opening the balcony door and failing to close it, and that once a fly flew in, and Patrick became very upset. He said that people across the street could see into his place, although they couldn't -- the kitchen door was behind a large maple tree blocking anyone's view of the kitchen, and even a person standing on the balcony was basically invisible to passersby or peeping toms -- therefore I didn't fully grasp Patrick's fear of exposure and arrest for being nude in his own apartment, especially as every window was sealed and covered with opaque paper, blocking any view either in or out. And even then, his nearest neighbours were across the street, well out of peeping range --

I had just come back from Greece and was concerned about Patrick, that he so rarely went out, and that he seemed to be living in seclusion. The only phone calls he ever received were around suppertime, from telemarketers. He sat for hours at his computer -- I remember that rainy night when I slept on the carpet in the living room. Several times a night, from the next room, he would shout in his sleep: "No! Don't!" I asked him why did did that, nearly every night, often waking me from a deep sleep. He said it was Nothing. He said it was Entities. He didn't know what it was that was attacking him .It got too cool to sleep outside. Then I found work and left him alone for about a month.

I was concerned because opening a kitchen door on a hot August day did not seem like such a serious infraction to me -- and the fly also left of its own accord, leaving no trace of itself, bothering no one. I remember cooking Greek food and bringing wine for dinner, and conversations -- I had not seen Patrick in several months and there were always things to talk about. He made the best dahl, which he ate every day, so my cooking had to be a novelty. After he complained (bitterly, repeatedly) about the fly, I got a bit worried. I remember going out with a friend who knew P├Ątrick and describing these strange dynamics to him to make sure I wasnt crazy. Patrick was alone, most of the time, for those last years of his life and my being there for a few days, with all its annoyances and unwanted air-circulation, seemed like the best thing I could offer him. He needed company. Alone, he became depressed and somewhat obsessive. His behaviour in the kitchen, when I cooked, was sometimes unnerving -- he would seize things from my hands, e.g. a pot or a wooden spoon, as if he couldn't bear anyone handling his things.

In return for my being there, I bought him a new frying pan, a hand mixer, a coffee thermos, and a few other things that he said he appreciated. The last time, I brought him an espresso maker. He liked espresso in the morning. And rhubarb scones. And Spanakopita.

Now he's gone, and I can't quite believe it yet. I keep expecting him to message me on Facebook. I keep waiting for his next sardonic remark -- and in a few days I'll be arriving in Montreal to get a few things I left behind at his place. I was expecting to see him in September --

People, don't let your friends spend too much time alone. It can ruin and distort a life, and a friendship. Remember the good stuff, along with the irritating stuff -- the ways friends can challenge and bring out the best in one another.

And never stop loving them. Friends are so precious.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Failed Sex Slave


Not long ago I did this podcast interview with Jasun Horsley of "Liminalist" fame. We were sitting in his kitchen, talking face to face. We were talking about our "alters" : subconscious personalities, or fragments of ourselves, that we think may have been programmed into us as children. Jasun spoke of his "sociopath" alter, which had surfaced in a dream that same week, and asked if I felt I had any experience with alters. I talked about the fact that as a child, I had conscious memories (although at the time they appeared to be complex fantasies) of being sexually tortured with hundreds of other children in an underground facility. The torturers were dressed as witches, and used electric cattle prods on the children who were immobilized on a conveyor belt. This same bizarre scenario, which I tried (at age 4 or 5) to describe to my mother, turned up nearly 50 years later in accounts I found online by MKULTRA survivors. The details were too similar to overlook: scientists dressed as "witches and clowns" ... children strapped to a conveyor belt in an underground facility, which some suggest was at China Lake military base in California, in the 1950s. Here is the interview with Jasun Horsley, from last April. Part of me thinks I only scratched the surface.

We know -- or at least some of us know -- that children are being "sexualized" early on. We haven't been told that this programming has been going on for decades, and was something the scientists who ran the MKULTRA program were interested in. The purpose: fragmenting the human personality in early childhood to create alters -- unconscious parts -- that can be programmed in useful ways. For girls: prostitution was always a primary option. We're seeing the results of this in fashion and media.

As for me, I didn't end up acting on my programming -- as far as I know. But I believe it's in there, somewhere, and has influenced my life at times. It's a subject too strange and personal, maybe, to delve into here. But I hope to, elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I notice there are TED TALKS on "transgenderism" but none on MKULTRA. That's something that needs to be addressed. It is now okay, in fact fashionable, to come out as a transgendered person. But it remains taboo to talk about secret experiments on children that happened right here, in our lifetime, that continue to change our world in mainly unconscious ways.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lucifer's Return


I met the man in this mug shot twice in Montreal in the summer of 1969 or 1970 on a downtown street where he sometimes stood in a black cape, hawking copies of the glossy Process Church magazine, with its feature article on the recently arrested serial killer Charles Manson. In fact, both times I saw John Roland Stahl that summer, I stopped to chat. I was 18 or 19, he was 22 or 23 — flamboyant, androgynous, charming, handsome, articulate — as he spoke of the unity of God and the Devil. I had the sense he was recruiting young people who stopped to talk to him, with inspired revolutionary zeal and Luciferian appeal. In those days he had rock star looks -- his dark shoulder length hair pulled back in a pony tail, his smile wide and generous. Still, I knew to stay away from people like 'King John' which was what he called himself back then.

Recently I heard he also ran a bar called The Image, on Park Avenue, around the corner from where I lived as a student. So we were neighbours and probably knew people in common. He oozed counter-cultural refinement that set him apart, and I had a soft spot for that kind of fallen angel. Later I wondered what became of him and who he really was -- Now I know.

Among other things, he became an artisanal paper maker in Mendocino County, California, and a known sexual predator. The hippie movement had plenty of charlatans like him and he played the part with flair. In the early 2000s, he moved to southeast Asia and when arrested in 2013, he was running another hip cafe, the Cafe Noir, on the beach in Sihanoukville, known as a hangout for foreigners and a place where young local boys came to play chess. Stahl was teaching some of these kids -- many of whom lived from collecting trash at the dump -- the art of papermaking. On his blog he sometimes expounded on "intergenerational relationships" -- making no secret of his pedophilia. Eventually the authorities caught up with him and he was deported back to California in 2013 for failure to register as a sex offender. In January 2016, he was reincarcerated for violating his parole conditions and remains in prison.

Married twice and the father of two children(his second wife died of cancer), he worked with youth, spreading his ‘gospel.’ Back in the sixties in Montreal he was a draft dodger, one of hundreds who crossed into Canada so they would not have to go to Vietnam. So it makes sense, maybe, that he would end up in Cambodia where another veteran of Montreal's downtown scene, Oscar Sanchez, turned up later. Sanchez died recently of "swollen feet" and was found by police keeled over on the toilet at his rented house in Sihanoukville, a seaside town known as a magnet for men looking for child sex. In the 1990s, Sanchez had worked with youth in Vancouver's Portage program,, and friends describe in stellar terms as 'an unforgettable man' and 'a comet in my life.' A photo shows several boys seated outside a lit-up front door at Sanchez' cement residence.

I didn't know Sanchez, but I knew some of his friends, e.g. painter Stephen Lack and filmmaker Alan Moyle, who acted in the 1974 movie Montreal Main, about drugs and pedophilia. It's a lifestyle that has been introduced since the 1950s, by intelligence cults like the Process Church. The trend is obvious when you look at how the counterculture was not just infiltrated, but set up and promoted, by mainstream media including the CBC and National Film Board of Canada.

John Stahl is also hard to forget. Young boys, his victims of choice, and their clueless parents, had a way of getting lured into his charmed circle and he was seen by some as 'a great guy'. It feels eerie to find him again after all these years. He stands out in my memory like a street corner mime, or possibly an unwitting front man for something sinister that keeps expanding. The photo below, which I can't get to stand upright for some reason, appears to have been taken years ago in his cafe on the beach, with a young boy seated behind him. Viewing it on my phone, I mistook the foot resting yogically on his thigh for an erect penis. I think this is intentional: a way to insinuate sex and rise above it at the same time. So it was, back in 1969, when we flirted on Ste Catherine Street. Maybe I felt sorry for the black-cloaked elf hawking a glossy Satanic magazine that nobody wanted. That could be why I stopped to talk to him: to demonstrate my nonchalance, or sympathy for the devil. I inquired about the Baphomet symbol, combined with a cross, dangling from his neck and he delivered an inspired and enthusiastic response, suggesting I read Hermann Hesse's novel Demian to find out more about the God, Abraxas. We bantered back and forth for several minutes. I flirted with a 22 year old future child molester dressed up in a devil costume in broad daylight on a busy street corner and never saw him again. -- And here he is, 45 years older, sending emails from prison.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Victorians in our Midst


Reprinted from Canadian Content:

I first discovered that Margaret Atwood and George Eliot are identical twins while visiting UCLA'S William F. Clark Library, in Los Angeles. Headed by an old acquaintance from Montreal, Bruce Whiteman, who used to be curator of Rare Books at McGill University, the Clark Library houses the world's largest private collection of Oscar Wilde manuscripts. While taking me on a tour of the building, Bruce showed me a room filled with portraits of Wilde's contemporaries and predecessors, including Dryden, Pope and Milton. Dwarfed by these likenesses of male literary giants hangs a tiny pen and ink sketch of Mary Ann Evans, known to the world as George Eliot. To my astonishment, I saw that it was the face of Margaret Atwood.

I motioned Bruce over to have a look. He said, "My God -- you're right!" Apart from the hairstyle (Eliot wore her dark unruly curls in the Puritan style, pulled back from a centre part to cover her ears), the resemblance was staggering. The same wide- apart, slightly crossed eyes, the aquiline nose, the full lipped Mona Lisa smile, the cheekbones, the rounded chin... Young George Eliot was Atwood in Victorian dress.

I recalled an interview I'd read a year or two before, in which Atwood confided that the only novelist she would claim as a major influence (apart from Dickens) is George Eliot.

Could Atwood be a continuation of George Eliot who -- after death -- chose Toronto as the best environment to continue her career? Canadian poet and novelist Robert Kroetsch once pointed out that Canadian Literature went from its Victorian stage into post- modernism with no intervening period of modernism. Atwood's career is emblematic. She attended the University of Toronto's Victoria College and got her first teaching job in Montreal in 1967, teaching Victorian and American Literature. In the 70's she rose to fame as Canada's premier woman writer.

Hot on the heels of discovering that Margaret Atwood was George Eliot in a past life, I stumbled across a portrait of Eliot's friend and mentor, John Chapman, in Frederick R. Karl's biography of George Eliot, Voice of a Century.

Bearded, handsome, sexy in a patrician kind of way, Chapman ran a lodging house cum publishing operation on the Strand in central London. Chapman was editor of the Westminster Review and a dead ringer for the late Robertson Davies.

Like Davies in his varied career as a journalist, playwright, editor and university man, Chapman was known for his egotistical manner and way with the ladies. Separated by an ocean and a century, he and Robertson Davies look as much alike as Eliot and Atwood.

Chapman introduced the young Eliot to British intellectual life in the early 1850s. In Toronto during the 1980's and '90s, Davies and Atwood teamed up in public, sometimes appearing as a neo-Victorian literary duo, and even going so far as to sing a duet of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" at a PEN gala in 1992.

Flipping through Karl's biography, I found an 1859 photo of Eliot's long time companion, George Henry Lewes, whose reputation as a novelist has been overshadowed by that of his famous life partner. There's no mistaking his resemblance to Graeme Gibson, Atwood's husband in this lifetime, whose most recent novel was err, ah...

Eliot and Lewes socialized with Robert Browning, and frequently dropped in at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's studio on fashionable Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. After Lewes' death, Eliot married James Walter Cross and the couple moved in to number 4 Cheyne Walk, almost next door to Rossetti -- which made them, in a way, neighbours of Henry VIII (whose 16th century manor house stood at the corner).

If, during the 1970s, Atwood and Gibson had decided to love back to their former Thames-side digs, they would have had to put up with the new kid on the block, Mick Jagger.

Jagger bears a haunting likeness to a second-millennium BC pharaoh, Amenhotep IV -- but that's another story.

parts of this work have appeared in Geist and Matrix magazines