James’ Brand New Blog

In which my late mother welcomes Leonard Cohen to #ldnont

- December 11th, 2012

Caveat-Emptor

Images from the 1965 NFB film about Leonard Cohen (the bathtub one, for sure) downloaded via http://media.beta.photobucket.com

Leonard Cohen is in London today to play Budweiser Gardens — and somewhere my mom is smiling about that.

When Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and announced his first tour in his 15 years in March, 2008, it was a chance for my mom, London’s greatest poet Colleen Thibaudeau (1925-2012) to recall the 1964 day Cohen & two other Canadian poet superstars & entourage visited.

Well, it was really an excuse for me to talk to her about it. The feeling is the Reaney children were elsewhere when it all happened so, as usual, mom’s words are the word.

Some of JBNBlog’s 2008 story is repeated here . . . for some reason, it doesn’t mention something I’m sure mom relished in the course of our hilarious interview. She bought quite a bit of “deli food” thinking Montreal-born Cohen would be used to that.

It’s also likely Cohen’s “tippy tummy” (or tipsy, but I’m pretty sure mom liked the word “tippy”) kept him upstairs, resting or recovering, & away from the dining room which must have been crowded with poets, entourage & deli food.

In honour of Leonard Cohen’s return to London to play Budweiser Gardens, here’s my late mother remembering the day the poets came to dine:

Perhaps only London’s greatest poet — my mother, Colleen Thibaudeau — recalls where Cohen was early in the evening of Oct. 26, 1964. He was warily circling the dinner table at 276 Huron St. as he and other stellar Canadian poets — Phyllis (Bloom) Gotlieb and the late Earle Birney — visited my parents before reading at UWO’s old Convocation Hall.

“That’s why I was thinking about the critter. He’s on the radio every minute,” mom says of Cohen’s recent, richly deserved return to prominence.

“I’ll never forget him walking around the table and saying, ‘I can’t eat that, I can’t eat that,’ ” mom recalls the young bard as saying. “Poor Leonard Cohen, he had a tippy tummy.”

My father — James Crerar (Jamie) Reaney, London’s second greatest poet — had called earlier in the day. Dad’s news was that it was not only the four touring poets — family friend Gotlieb, Birney, Cohen and the late Irving Layton – who would be dining at Huron Street. An entourage, including “11 techies,” who might have been working on an NFB film on Cohen, was also arriving. Mom moved quickly. “I ran down to Gates (an old Broughdale grocery store) and augmented my supplies because I didn’t know about the techies,” she says.

As it turned out, Montreal’s Layton, who had old friends in London, visited elsewhere.

“Your father thoroughly enjoyed it and also your grandfather. Grampa Reaney was in seventh heaven. He thought he was going to be in a movie,” mom says. I can’t remember any of it.

The fab four’s tour of Canadian campuses had them rushing in from Waterloo that day. Mom thinks it was the brainchild of the late Jack McClelland, an innovative Canadian publisher. He began working for his father’s company, McClelland & Stewart, in 1946. McClelland became its president in 1961 and soon began to turn Canadian writers into stars. “Jack was great for fun and games,” mom says.

All four poets had M&S material in the mill. Birney had Near False Creek Mouth. Cohen had Flowers for Hitler. Layton’s book was The Laughing Rooster and Gotlieb’s was Within the Zodiac. “I didn’t know who Leonard was . . . Earle I knew mostly by letter . . . we had had a lively exchange of letters over the non-arrival of Turvey . . . he was so mad because of the (“four-foot” editions for advertising) Turveys not coming. They had been lost in the stock room,” mom says. She had toiled for M&S in the 1940s and so took those huge advertising copies of Birney’s 1949 award-winning novel Turvey to the Malton airport. It calmed Birney.

Gotlieb and mom had been friends since their days together at the University of Toronto, earlier in the 1940s. They have stayed in close touch and Gotlieb autographed MindWorlds, one of her marvellous science-fiction works, for my parents.

“Phyllis, of course,” mom says when asked to choose her favourite writer of the four. (I would agree). “I wouldn’t dare rate the others. Their ghosts would rise up and that Cohen is still raging about,” she says.

Back to 2o12 & JBNBlog . . . Cohen is indeed “raging about” — hooray — & here to finish the memory are details about the acclaimed NFB film about him. The synopsis makes it seem the filming was done in Montreal . . . so what were “the techies” doing in London? CBC? NFB? Anybody know?

A brief synopsis of Ladies and Gentlemen  . . .  Mr. Leonard Cohen (Donald Brittain & Don Owen, NFB, 1962, 44 min, 1 sec) from the nfb.ca site:

This informal black-and-white portrait of Leonard Cohen shows him at age 30 on a visit to his hometown of Montreal, where the poet, novelist and songwriter comes “to renew his neurotic affiliations.” He reads his poetry to an enthusiastic crowd, strolls the streets of the city, relaxes in this three-dollar-a-night hotel room and even takes a bath.

Categories: Entertainment

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