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Monday, November 13, 2017

Meet Leonard Cohen's Mystery Double

Just when I thought I'd reached the end of the trail in my quest for 'truth and closure", yesterday I stumbled on this LIFE Magazine image purporting to be of Leonard on Hydra in the fall of 1960. The caption states: "Leonard Cohen walking on a street near his vacation home in Hydra, Greece, October 1960. James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images."

In fact, I'm pretty sure that's the terrace of Leonard's house on Hydra - with the front door on the left and the library door on the right. However the man holding the keys is not Leonard. He looks like an actor hired to impersonate Cohen for the LIFE feature with the photo spread that was shot in October 1960, but never actually ran in the magazine. Longtime Hydra resident and Australian novelist George Johnston had written for LIFE, and allegedly was about to be interviewed, but for unknown reasons the feature was cancelled. Or so they say at the Leonard Cohen Forum where the photos were first unveiled in 2011.

Many photos were shot on Hydra, all dated October 1, 1960. Very few that I have seen are of George Johnston. Many, on the other hand, show Leonard playing his guitar, standing at the wharf in Kamini with Marianne and a group of friends, or riding a mule up the trail to the monastery of Prophitis Ilias. You might be forgiven for thinking LIFE travelled to Hydra to document the world of Leonard Cohen, who at the time was an obscure young poet with only one book to his credit, published by a small press at McGill - whereas George Johnston was an internationally acclaimed novelist and former war correspondent, who also happened to be a friend of Cohen's.
George Johnson on Hydra.

Marianne on mule-back, but that's not Leonard behind her.

The real Leonard Cohen, with Marianne, George, Charmian (R-L)

The real Leonard with Charmian Johnston.

That mule-back photo above is fake, but not very clear. So here's one that's even more fake, supposedly of Marianne and Leonard on that same outing in 1960. Absolutely fake. It's not either of them. Were they making a bio-pic with actors? What was going on?

The road to Prophitis Ilias. The Double rides ahead of an unknown woman.

Doesn't quite make sense, does it? Many of the LIFE photos of Leonard Cohen taken that day are of him, but others are of the unidentified Doppleganger who, to my knowledge, has never been outed until now. Just take a look and see for yourself. 

In the first place, this interloper is handsomer than Leonard. He's also slightly hairier, better built, with a less expressive face. His hands - particularly his thumbs - stand out as thicker and less elongated than Cohen's. He reminds me a bit of Keanu Reeves - in his facial blankness, that is. Taken altogether, he looks like an upgraded version more in line with standards of male perfection.

This raises lots of questions, but the biggest one is what's he doing on Hydra pretending to be Leonard Cohen in 1960? Why would a Canadian poet who isn't famous yet be gifted with a Double? What were they thinking and planning back then, that we've never been told about? What agenda had come into play?

More than anything I've come across so far, this Double demolishes the official Life Story that has built up around Leonard, as propagated by  biographers like Sylvie Simmons and Ira Nadel. That narrative goes that Leonard wrote and sang his way, slowly, step by step, to gradual fame that first blossomed in the mid-sixties and then, through a combination of lonely discipline, devotion to his craft and a winning personality, made it to the heights of the music world, becoming one of the great composers of the last century. All true, up to a point -- but some of it isn't.

No one who is not famous has a stand-in for photos in LIFE Magazine - and Leonard, definitely, was not famous in 1960. Who was this handsome mystery man holding the keys to Leonard's house? He appears to have come for the shoot, after which he is never seen again. Except on Leonard's Greek drivers' license (which according to Marianne Ihlen also served as a residence permit) where he appears in the characteristic military-style shirt and haircut we associate with our poet. And there's "Leonard Cohen - Kanadas" and the date of birth 1934 - for all to see.

Sorry, but that's not Leonard - that's the Man with Keys on the Terrace. His ears are too flat, his features too regular. Even in his most flattering photos, Leonard never looked like that. 

Leonard, early 1960s.
Let's call him "Flennard" - short for False Leonard. The real Leonard never needed a Greek driver's license because he lived on Hydra, which had no cars, only donkeys, horses and mules. When he travelled into Athens by boat, he took cheap local taxis to get around; buses or trains if he wanted to travel to places like Delphi or Epidaurus.

Flennard, on the other hand, seems to have needed a car in the autumn of 1960 - if only to drive Marianne back to Norway where her 9-month-old son was parked with his grandmother. Marianne recounts this long trip north, through Yugoslavia and across the Alps and over to Paris, ending on the boat to Oslo, in her memoir So Long, Marianne. It's one of those chapters that makes you go hmmm -- it's quite cloyingly written, like a scene from a movie, with the lovers traipsing around Paris, on the cusp of a long goodbye. So, personally, I'm guessing Leonard didn't do the driving - Flennard, who had the Greek license, did. Which could explain why, on arrival at Marianne's mother's house, he did the "gentlemanly" thing by checking himself into a hotel for the night. 

Where was Leonard? I'm guessing he took off sometime after the hootenanny photos were shot, and spent time in the CIA training camps where members of Allen Dulles' CIA Cuban invasion team were training for the Bay of Pigs fiasco the following April.

And I'm also guessing the unwanted publicity Leonard received in April 1961 may have had something to do with why the LIFE feature and photo spread never saw the light of day.
Same impostor? Note the 'hidden hand." 

Leonard told a friend, "I have a double who does all the bad things." I'd go on to speculate that a Double was created in 1960 for at least two reasons. 

One, because someone at LIFE headquarters had decided to invest in Leonard's future career as a pop star and they wanted a better-looking image for their pages. Two, because he was heading off on a dangerous mission and, in case he was killed during the failed coup, arrangements had to be made to deposit his pay in some offshore bank account and compensate his loved ones.

Maybe good looks were never his strong suit, as Marianne admits in her memoir. There's that famous line from his song"Chelsea Hotel" about Janis Joplin, who preferred 'handsome men' but consented to a quickie with Leonard. "We are ugly, but we have the music."





Ann Diamond said...

Just a note re: the face on the driver's permit i residence permit. If it's a residence permit, it seems strange that it has no entry/exit date, but Greece often seemed to make its own rules.

Since the 'double' seems to have arrived on Hydra for the LIFE shoot (October 1960) - which is likely when he was issued this permit, which ended up in Cohen's archives, I guess. Or was it in Marianne's possession and is that why it seems to have surfaced only recently?

Either way, it's the wrong face in the photo. Another odd thing: until I read Marianne's memoir, SO LONG, MARIANNE (2013) I had never heard that she and Leonard drove to Norway from Hydra in the fall of 1960. It seems he would have mentioned that trip to his biographers, but as far as I know it has never come up.

Could it be that Marianne's chauffeur on that long trip home was the man whose face appears on the driver's permit? Could it be that Leonard left Hydra for America right after the LIFE photos were taken, while Marianne headed north with the Double? That makes her some kind of accomplice in covering up Leonard's true whereabouts: I would guess a CIA training camp somewhere in Florida as a likely location.

Could that be where he met Marita Lorenz?

Ann Diamond said...

Makes sense, that the driver's license would end up in Marianne's files - since it was no longer needed once she reached Oslo. Certainly the impersonator would not have kept it --

Ann Diamond said...

More and more images are now turning up of Leonard - this modest soul certainly posed for hundreds of photographs! Some of the new ones feature doubles while others seem to have been airbrushed or otherwise doctored at the time. Others might be photoshopped to subtly change our memories of what he really looked like.

A woman who knew him well has publicly stated he told her he had a "double" who did the bad things, and that he had no control over that.

We know the intelligence agencies are very involved in all kinds of fakery, including the deployment of doubles. John Lennon had one, so does Mick Jagger. Leonard apparently had one before he was famous. Remember the story of folksinger Phil Ochs, who hanged himself at the Chelsea Hotel -- he appeared to have been replaced by someone whose personality and political views were totally opposed to the original.

There's a huge effort going on to whitewash Leonard's past. Leonard was often an unwilling slave to the people who controlled him -- and continue to try to package his posthumous legacy, even going so far as to vandalize his archives.

The process of sanctification is something he would have strongly opposed.

isdisasystem said...

He might've been referring not to a literal other physical self but to another personality within himself. Reference to a doppelgänger (dybbuk ? double ?) would seem appropriate for a Jewish seeker/poet. Also, the Chelsea Hotel was well known as an artist junkie hideout which might very well have been the reason they we're spending time together in the first place. Both we're known for occasioning the opiate. Hence ", We are ugly but we still have the music."