The Ghost Ship artist collective is not to blame for the fire. Oakland’s housing crisis is


Faces of the missing from the Oakland warehouse fire (L-R) Nex Iuguolo, Chelsea Faith, Ara Jo, Micah Danemayer

Everyone has been anxiously searching for answers about the cause of the horrifying fire that broke out on Friday, December 2, in an artist warehouse set to host the “Golden Donna 2016 Silk West Coast Tour.” As confirmed so far, the fire has claimed the lives of 30 people.

The death toll expected to reach as high as 40, according to authorities.

In between the need for locals to alert loved ones about their safety, health and well-being in light of what’s happened, there is a growing mainstream narrative that looks to pin the blame for this tragedy on the culture of the artists who inhabit the building.

Outlets such as CNN and DailyNews are making it a point to emphasize that residents were living in this warehouse illegally and making commercial use of it without a permit.

While mainstream media is intent on painting a portrait of irresponsible artists/ravers who should’ve never opted to reside inside the warehouse in the first place, no one is asking the larger question of why these artists are forced to work and make a living in these specific circumstances.

Related: 14 Ways Not To Act Like A Gentrifier (As Told By One)

Even some critics on social media have managed to find fault with the culture of tenants of this artist collective — which, in so many, they describe as pathological — blaming them for the incident:



Nowhere in their narrow-minded criticisms is a consideration of the shrinking opportunities to legally secure residential and commercial property in the city of Oakland. Breaching this issue of the ongoing property crisis in Oakland would point the finger toward systemic forces that exceed the so-called excesses and personal flaws of individual behavior.

Oakland has been ravaged by this property crisis — including gentrification — for years now. Artist collectives have been among the hardest hit by this issue. For example, the tenants of the artist collective known as the LoBot, which set up shop in industrial buildings within the lower income community of the Lower Bottoms, had its lights cut off in July, after thirteen years in operation.

As East Bay Express documents it, “The underground artist studio and venue’s landlord had discontinued its lease, and the newly doubled monthly rent was too high.”

In a curious fashion, mainstream reporters have queried aloud in their coverage about why the tenants of these warehouses do not seek permits that would allow them to legally stay in these buildings and hire the necessary services that would get the interior structures up to code. Looking closely at the problem, the answer is pretty simple: they can’t afford it. And while the responsibility of staying up to code rested upon Ghost Ship’s owner  Derick Ion, the artists living and working in the space had little to no choice but to choose between stable housing and their own safety.

According to the SFGate, the LoBot is symptomatic of a bigger concern: Oakland rests among the 4 cities with the highest rental market in the entire country:

“One bedrooms increased 19 percent in the past year to $2,190,” writes SFGate “while two bedrooms increased 13.3 percent to reach $2,550.”

In its lamentation of the Oakland housing crisis, The Guardian portrays a similar dismal predicament that is citywide in scope, writing, “For many, the only way they can stay in Oakland is to sleep in their cars or on the streets.”

But, you won’t find economic considerations of this caliber in mainstream reports, for capitalism is far more comfortable and content with catering to the lie of atomistic individualism over deadly malfunctions in the infrastructure of the system and blaming the human disasters that are consequential to these systemic calamities on the psychological shortcomings of people viewed as willingly isolated from one another to their own detriment.

For anyone interested in helping with this tragedy, you can donate to this YouCare campaign.

Insightful Nuggets from Leonard Cohen’s Songs

Wisdom for Troubled Times

Empathy, clear eyes, vision and more for troubled times.

Photo Credit:

Just before Donald Trump became our reality TV star president-elect, songwriter-bard Leonard Cohen died, leaving an incomparable legacy.

Releasing his last album weeks before his death at 82, Cohen charted courses for survival and redemption. And he pulled no punches. To the end, he deftly interwove themes of darkness and light that were political and personal, erotic and sacred. More than entertaining his listeners, Cohen intimately engaged them. He called on fellow travelers to take heart, make change, laugh, pray, dance, and act with courage, dignity and love.

Insights from a dozen Cohen songs are relevant to today’s unsettling realities.

1. Achieving democratic ideals is an ongoing challenge. Cohen’s prescient “Democracy” (1992) recounts the governmental system’s challenges and shortcomings. “It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and the worst…from the brave, the bold, the battered heart of Chevrolet…It’s coming from the sorrow in the streets, from the holy places where the races meet…Democracy is coming to the USA.”

Cohen told Paul Zollo in Songwriters on Songwriting in 1992: “It’s not an ironic song. It’s a song of deep intimacy and affirmation of the experiment of democracy in this country…This is really where the races confront one another, where the classes, where the genders, where even the sexual orientations confront one another.”

How to navigate all this complexity? The song admonishes: “The heart has got to open in a fundamental way.” Cohen sends godspeed for America’s precarious journey: “Sail on, sail on, O mighty ship of state! To the shores of need, past the reefs of greed, through the squalls of hate…”

2. Stare down desolation with grit and grace. In “Steer Your Way” (2016), released on his final album, Cohen’s sings: “Steer your way past the ruins of the altar and the mall…/Steer your way past the pain that is far more real than you/That’s smashed the Cosmic Model/That blinded every view.”

He calls for unflinching self-review and humility: “Steer your way past the Truth that you believed in yesterday/…And say the mea culpa which you gradually forgot/Year by year, month by month, day by day/Thought by thought.”

As Cohen prepared to bid farewell, he surveyed the natural world and a coarsened culture with trademark irony: “They whisper still, the struggling stones/The blunted mountains weep/As he died to make men holy/Let us die to make things cheap.”

3. Yes, the system is rigged—now what? Decades before Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren railed against oligarchs and plutocrats controlling America, Cohen pronounced, “Everybody knows the deal is rotten/Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton/For your ribbons and bows.”

“Everybody Knows” (1988, with Sharon Robinson) is a caustic litany: “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded/Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed/Everybody knows the war is over/Everybody knows the good guys lost/Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/That’s how it goes/Everybody knows.”

Both bleak and droll, it can be heard as a fatalistic accounting of corruption or an urgent plea to clean things up.

4. Hold onto an inner guiding compass. “In My Secret Life” (2001, with Sharon Robinson) celebrates quiet subversiveness. “I do what I have to do/to get by/But I know what is wrong/And I know what is right/And I’d die for the truth/in my secret life.”

The song recounts the strain of facing ever-present horrors: “Looked through the paper/Makes you want to cry/nobody cares if the people/live or die/And the dealer wants you thinking/That it’s either black or white/thank God it’s not that simple/ in my secret life.”

5. Take care of body and spirit. “Come Healing” (2012, with Patrick Leonard) is reverent, transcendent: “O see the darkness yielding/That tore the light apart/Come healing of the reason/Come healing of the heart.”

A devout Jew, Cohen also often referenced other spiritual traditions: “Behold the gates of mercy/In arbitrary space/And none of us deserving/The cruelty or the grace/O solitude of longing/Where love has been confined/Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind.”

6. Tough times call for clear-eyed vision and empathy. “The Future (1992) is prophetically stark: “Give me back the Berlin Wall/give me Stalin and St. Paul/Give me Christ/or give me Hiroshima…I’ve seen the future, baby: it is murder.”

Cohen explained to Rolling Stone in 2009 that “The Future” and “Democracy” were on his concert set list, “because their apocalyptic vision seems truer now than when they were recorded. People really thought I needed help back then,” Cohen told the reporter, laughing.

The song warns: “Things are going to slide, slide in all directions/…the blizzard of the world/has crossed the threshold/And it has overturned/the order of the soul.” Nevertheless, he offers a way out: “I’ve seen the nations rise and fall/I’ve heard their stories, heard them all/But love’s the only engine of survival.”

7. Embrace imperfection. “Anthem” (1992) starts as a solemn serenity prayer, “The birds, they sang/At the break of day/Start again/ I heard them say/Don’t dwell on what/Has passed away/Or what is yet to be.”

Then it urges action and acceptance, despite all: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

The narrator defiantly prepares for mythic battle: “I can’t run no more/With that lawless crowd/While the killers in high places/Say their prayers out loud/But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up/A thundercloud/And they’re going to hear from me.”

Rebecca De Mornay, who co-produced the song, told Uncut about the verse: “That ‘I’—that’s the soul of Leonard Cohen.”

8. Invoke a higher power. The incantatory tone of “If It Be Your Will” (1984) reflects Cohen’s fervent mysticism. “From this broken hill/All your praises they shall ring/If it be your will/To let me sing.”

It’s a plea for global as well as personal salvation: “If there is a choice/Let the rivers fill/Let the hills rejoice/Let your mercy spill/On all these burning hearts in Hell/If it be your will/To make us well.”

9. Comfort others and do what you can to sleep well. Cohen told Rolling Stone about a song he was working on in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession: “I thought that ‘Lullaby’ was just what everyone needs to get to sleep in these troubled times,” he said.

Released in 2012, it’s beautifully simple: “Sleep baby sleep/The day’s on the run/The wind in the trees/Is talking in tongues…If your heart is torn/I don’t wonder why/If the night is long/Here’s my lullaby.” Cohen reassures the listener: “There’s a morning to come.”

10. Live passionately. A popular standard, “Dance Me to the End of Love” (1992) honors deep love and the protection it can provide. “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin/Dance me through the panic ‘til I’m gathered safely in/Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove/And dance me to the end of love.” Even as passion gets spent, it shields: “Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn/Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn.”

Cohen told an interviewer the “burning violin” image “came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on.” He added that “It’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.”

11. Celebrate paradox (and cultivate patience). “Hallelujah” (1984), Cohen’s exultant and erotic anthem has been covered some 300 times. He drafted 80 verses over five years before its release, sometimes singing alternate lyrics in concert, such as: “There’s a blaze of light/In every word/It doesn’t matter which you heard/The holy or the broken Hallelujah.”

It took 15 years for “Hallelujah” to become a massive hit. Cohen told the CBC radio show Q in 2009 that after it was released on Various Positions in 1984 in Canada and Europe, Sony decided not to release the album in the U.S.: “The only person who seemed to recognize the song was Dylan. He was doing it in concert,” Cohen said.

More than a decade later, “Hallelujah” recordings by John Cale and Jeff Buckley began building an audience. Rufus Wainwright’s version in the 2001 film Shrekbrought it into the mainstream.

12. Take positive action, however you can. In “You Got Me Singing” (2014, with Patrick Leonard) Cohen’s deep-throated delivery conveys triumphant optimism (accompanied by a violin and country-tinged vocals). He makes a winking nod to his signature song: “You got me singing/Even tho’ the news is bad/You got me singing/The only song I ever had…You got me singing/Even tho’ it all looks grim/You got me singing/The Hallelujah hymn.”

His tone is matter-of-fact and resilient, even lighthearted: “Even though the world is gone/You got me thinking/I’d like to carry on.”

Virginia Small is a freelance journalist in Milwaukee who has followed the work of Leonard Cohen since his first album was released in 1967.

“The Last Waltz” at 40

The Band and their classic movie speak beyond boomer nostalgia

Scorsese’s 1978 movie with Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Muddy Waters appeals powerfully to younger musicians too

"The Last Waltz" at 40: The Band and their classic movie speak beyond boomer nostalgia
(Credit: United Artists)

The consummate musical cliché of the baby boomer era is the big, guitar-wielding encore where a bunch of white men in long hair and casual clothes take turns singing one verse after another of a really long, usually blues-based, song. Sometimes it is followed by a boomer-iffic group hug among presumably straight men.

In its crudest form, this describes the enormous, multi-band, marathon concert that came to be known as “The Last Waltz”: a rock-till-dawn gathering assembled by The Band, a quintet of roots musicians who had once backed up Bob Dylan, to play a farewell show alongside their old boss. Old friends and inspirations like Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John and Muddy Waters joined in as well (and, for some reason, Neil Diamond showed up).

As humble as The Band’s identity was — this was a group without a lead singer, after all, and which saw itself as channeling the spirit of the American past even though most of them came from Canada — the concert itself was like the final stand of rock’s royalty. It was a celebration of a legendary group, of the fellowship of the road, of the passing of an era.

But what’s funny about “The Last Waltz,” which was filmed on Thanksgiving 1976 in San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom and released as a Martin Scorsese film two years later, is that it didn’t just engage nostalgic boomers. It spoke to music and film fans — some of whom would go on to become important players in a country-derived tradition The Band had helped inaugurate. Forty years later, it’s still a milestone. 

“Oh, man, it really blew my mind!” said the normally dry Gillian Welch, the pioneering new-acoustic musician, born in 1967, who didn’t hear the original three-LP album or see the film until she was in college. “So much of the music I loved — all in one show. I was unprepared for what it looked like when you played music that sounded like that. They were moving more than I thought. Oh man! They just looked like gods to me. I think it honestly went into me at a cellular level.”

The musician James Felice says he and his fellow Felice Brothers — an upstate New York roots band mostly in their early 30s — saw the film only about a decade ago. “I just remember feeling a palpable sense of awe at The Band’s musicianship,” he said by email. “Each guy was so damn good, and had such unique style and personality, but they made it work perfectly together. They were basically rock and roll superheroes, like ‘The Avengers’ or something.”

What’s surprising about this boomer milestone, made and released before most Xers were out of elementary school — some, because the birth range typically goes from 1964 to 1981, were not born yet — is how the movie connects across generations.

Part of it is just that this concert saw a collection of some of the greatest and deepest musicians of any generation. Some of it is Mojo-magazine-style nostalgia for a more authentic age. “We all romanticize that period so much,” says Taylor Goldsmith, the 31-year-old lead singer of the band Dawes, whose first few albums grew right out of the ground The Band plowed. Some members of Wilco, including bassist John Stirratt, are also major fans of the film and the group.

But part of it may be that “The Last Waltz” and the story of The Band — especially for those who know the whole tale — signified both boomer utopia and Gen X disillusionment at the same time. Nobody was killed, and no one OD’ed on the brown acid. But with one movie, Scorsese and The Band produced Woodstock and Altamont simultaneously. On its 40th anniversary, which sees Rhino reissuing the recording and film in various versions, it’s as ambiguous as ever.

* * *

Around the time of The Band’s Thanksgiving concert (which involved a turkey dinner served to thousands of audience members), the course of rock history was changing in a profound way. The group was retiring partly because its members were worn out from the road, but they also recognized that they were the final gasp of something — of a rock ’n’ roll tradition that was grounded in the Chicago blues, gospel and the rockabilly of the South. (The movie’s inclusion of Muddy Waters, the Staples Singers and their old boss Ronnie Hawkins was in some ways a nod to this.)

So it was not just vainglory to dub the concert “The Last Waltz”: This really was the end of something. Some of these musicians would have late-career renaissances years later — Neil Young and Dylan most notably — but most of them had already peaked artistically by 1976, and even their best work would seem out of place in the new world.

Glam musicians like David Bowie and Roxy Music had electrified young music fans, and made the denim-and-fringed-vest crowd look like backwoods day laborers. The year before the concert, a New York City poet named Patti Smith had released a volcanic debut album called “Horses” that went so deep into feminism and contemporary politics that even Joni Mitchell seemed positively medieval.

By Thanksgiving, history was bending. CBGBs was now more important than the Fillmore West: Its denizens, the band Television, had recorded punk rock’s most poetic LP — “Marquee Moon” — a few months before, and the gawky geniuses of Talking Heads had just signed to Sire. Britain was burning: The Clash and The Sex Pistols had just played a show together in Sheffield. If this new generation had its way, this would be a last waltz indeed. By the time the concert film was released, two years later, punk bands were moving into mid-career (the Clash was dreaming up “London Calling”), and “New Wave” showed a second, more pop-savvy vanguard led by a lanky, bespectacled Liverpudlian who had cheekily named himself for the king of rock ’n’ roll. The Sugarhill Gang would score hip-hop’s first hit with “Rapper’s Delight” just a year later.

This kind of irreverence, aggression and sonic experimentation was most decidedly not what The Band or “Last Waltz” fellow travelers like Eric Clapton or Emmylou Harris or Ringo Starr were about.

Gen Xers and their younger compatriots, though, grew up in a world shaped by punk and hip-hop, and the moussed-out glitz of MTV. And somehow, this earnest, often blues née country née folk-based music, so different from what this younger crowd heard on the radio and saw on television, would make profound sense to some of them. 

* * *

As celebratory as the concert was, as sincere its treatment of the music’s old guard, there was a darkness to “The Last Waltz” that was different from what the group may have intended. Some of the band members were wasted from drugs. The Band’s guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson told a backstage anecdote — the film was full of moments where the musicians spun stories from the road — that involved playing with legendary bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson, who would alternate playing harmonica with spitting blood into a can.

Most seriously, perhaps, the members of The Band — after 16 years on the road — hated each other. At least some of the time. Robertson was the only one dedicated to a retirement from touring; the others weren’t as sure. And it didn’t get better when the movie came out. Levon Helm, the band’s drummer and sometime singer, was particularly upset. “For two hours we watched as the camera focused almost exclusively on Robbie Robertson, long and loving close-ups of his heavily made-up face and expensive haircut,” he wrote in his memoir, “This Wheel’s on Fire.” “The film was edited so it looked like Robbie was conducting the band with expansive waves of his guitar neck.”

Robertson was most outgoing member of the group, and an engaging and charismatic storyteller, but at times it seemed like pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson, who both sang as well, were barely part of the group. (Helm and bassist Rick Danko fared a bit better.)

The reality cut against the image of the band, memorialized in part by a bravura chapter in Greil Marcus’ “Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘N’ Roll Music,” as a group of ego-less, passionate friends, singing vocal harmonies that could help the nation heal after the divisions of the Vietnam war.

When Goldsmith saw the movie in 2008, around the time Dawes was recording its debut album, “North Hills,” he saw, mostly, the dream. “You heard that there’s a whole philosophy to the group’s name: The guy who wrote the songs didn’t sing them, and there was no lead singer. It was so democratic. That’s what created the romance. You think of partnerships like Keith and Mick, or Lennon and McCartney. This was like a five-way relationship — that rock ’n’ roll band romance — epitomized in American rock.”

Perhaps appropriately for younger generations that inherited a less innocent nation after the reveries of the boomers, some Gen X and millennial fans responded to the film not in spite of, but because of the pain and tension.

“It made you want to see more of it, because it sounded like so much had been left out,” says Michael Trent of the Americana duo Shovels & Rope. “As much as I hated to take sides,” says his wife and bandmate Cary Ann Hearst, who was won over by Helm’s description of being an Arkansas country boy visiting New York City, “it’s hard not to. But it didn’t change my mind about the movie, or its sweetness.” Shovels & Rope sing a song about Hudson, “The Last Hawk,” on their new album.

As a first viewing of the movie became an obsession for young musicians, their point of view grew more complex. Some learned, for instance, that they were not really hearing what was played that night: Much of the parts were later overdubbed in the studio because the playing was so sloppy. “The more you get to know about ‘The Last Waltz,’ or get to know about Richard Manuel — in the film he’s pretty tweaked out… It was a pretty tragic story,” says Goldsmith. “They seem upset with each other. But it doesn’t make you love them any less.”

The hard tales from the road, the stories of personal tension, and the rigors of the touring life only excited Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings even more. “It means there was all this life behind this one concert,” she said. “You’d drive around for 20 years — yeah, that’s what you’d do. I honestly think it’s altered decisions Dave and I have made. We drive around in a Cadillac, and have been doing that for 20 years. You don’t take a shuttle to the airport.”

The Band — most of whom played with Dylan on his tumultuous 1966 world tour (as “The Hawks), on his epochal “Blonde on Blonde” album, and on the rough home recordings later released as “The Basement Tapes” — certainly had some great years before things all went bad.

But the albums after their first two — “Music from Big Pink” and “The Band” — only occasionally approached the old magic. And post-“Last Waltz,” their solo careers mostly faltered.

Things went from bad to worse. In 1986, Manuel hanged himself after ingesting liquor and cocaine. A heart attack after decades of drink and drugs killed Danko in 1999. Helm ran a series of “midnight rambles” at his farmhouse in Woodstock and made several celebrated albums in his 60s. But cancer took him in 2012. Hudson and Robertson are still alive.

But that’s not entirely all.

My interest in this group, album and film are not entirely archival. As a kid, I was dragged, partly against my will, to see the movie at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. It was a double feature with “Singin’ in the Rain,” which I knew and loved, but I was, at 10, not the least bit interested in waltzing. At the time I was a pure British Invasion-and-Dylan zealot — the idea that country rock even existed or could be any good had never crossed my mind. My father insisted.

But from the first scenes of backstage pool-playing and the one-two-three punch of Band songs “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In,” and “It Makes No Difference,” my life changed. It took me years to get deeply into alt-country and the blues and Van Morrison, but I was launched on a journey. My dad wasn’t always right, but he often was. I dedicate this story to his memory.


Scott Timberg is a staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He’s the author of the new book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class.”

Leonard Cohen’s impact: From the ’60s to indie rockers and beyond

The late, great songwriter was admired by folkies, noise-rockers and multiple generations for his sardonic work

Leonard Cohen's impact: From the '60s to indie rockers and beyond
Leonard Cohen (Credit: Getty/Evening Standard)

When Leonard Cohen died last week, at the age of 82, he became the latest in a cast of major figures — David Bowie, Prince and George Martin — who have made 2016 an annus horribilis for many music fans. Cohen never sold that many records, despite the recent ubiquity — in soundtracks or TV shows or high school glee clubs — of his song “Hallelujah.” But he provoked a deep love from listeners and exerted a powerful and wide-ranging influence on other musicians.

Appropriately, the impact of Cohen’s work predates his recording a single note of music. Judy Collins recorded “Suzanne,” his folk song about a deep but platonic relationship with a woman in Montreal, on her 1966 album. It took Cohen another year to record it for his debut, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” a darkly luminous album from 1967.

Later that year, Collins asked Cohen, who saw himself as just a poet, and was ashamed of his voice and acoustic guitar skills, to play a fund-raiser with her. “He’d never sung [in front of a large audience] before then,” she told The Globe and Mail. “He got out on stage and started singing. Everybody was going crazy — they loved it. And he stopped about halfway through and walked off the stage. Everybody went nuts,” Collins recalled. “They demanded that he come back. And I demanded; I said, ‘I’ll go out with you.’ So we went out, and we sang it. And of course, that was the beginning.”

As shy and abashed as Cohen could be, other artists were finding his music and feeling much more enthusiastic about it. In London, where he was still unknown, a group of long-haired teenagers working to mix the style of Chuck Berry with centuries-old British ballads and Celtic reels, heard “Suzanne” and the crystalline “Bird on a Wire.” Fairport Convention’s electrified covers of these songs may have been the first in the U.K., where he would eventually become revered. “In Fairport, we just responded to the quality of his work,” Richard Thompson, the group’s former guitarist, told Salon via email. “He seemed to be writing as an adult, which wasn’t always a given in the ’60s!”

And while the very best rock songwriters in the 1960s — Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed — were using irony and metaphor and other literary devices at a pretty high level, Cohen’s lyrics brought a new intensity and clarity to the field. “The idea of great songwriters as ‘poets’ is a cliché that gets tossed around all the time,” said Alan Light, the author of “The Holy and the Broken,” a book about the improbable success of “Hallelujah.”

“But here you’re dealing with an actual poet — and a writer with the sort of precision and control and mastery of language that is a different degree of difficulty than people who can just, you know, write great songs,” Light said. “A lot of people found an ideal in that, but it didn’t mean they could go and do it.”

Cohen’s appeal, especially as time went on, had to do with his melodies as well: He was more than just a versifier who picked up a guitar, though he was that, too. In a New Yorker profile of Cohen that ran a few weeks before his death, Dylan himself broke down what made Cohen’s melodic lines so indelible. “Even the counterpoint lines — they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs,” Dylan told David Remnick in a detailed assessment of Cohen’s style. “As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.”

Cohen, of course, was older than nearly all of the great figures in ’60s music: He was born the year before Elvis and spent his early career as a writer of poetry and prose. His original plan was to move to Nashville, Tennessee— he was an admirer of the concision of the tradition that country songwriter Harlan Howard described as “three chords and the truth” — but he got caught up in the New York folk scene. Cohen loved the great poets. Some ideas of John Donne, like his tendency to rhapsodize about sex and spirituality at the same time, are central to Cohen’s work. He remained a major fan of the more distilled style of Chuck Berry as well.

There was a hippie or folkie appeal to Cohen’s gentle, fingerpicked acoustic songs. But his music, especially the grim, sardonic, keyboard-driven songs that became more prominent in the ’80s, put a stamp on musicians in alternative and indie-rock movements.

On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Car Seat Headrest’s 24-year-old lead singer, Will Toledo opened his set with the late artist’s song “Field Commander Cohen” and called the Canadian poet his favorite songwriter of all time. (Toledo also sang a fragment of “Sweet Jane,” presumably in honor of Reed who died in 2013 and encored with Bowie’s apocalyptic “Five Years.”)

For Gen Xers — a group born into high divorce rates, frequent recessions, a sense of musical aftermath and a suspicion that the prosperity and confidence of the postwar boom would not last much longer — Cohen was a natural fit. In the early ’90s, tribute albums and cover versions by much younger, off-the-mainstream musicians became frequent. Cohen became a kind of cool, older uncle who told Xers dark bedtime stories in an impassive baritone. They responded to songs that blended devotional seriousness with gallows humor and spiritual aspirations with sexuality.

The title of Cohen’s final album, “You Want it Darker,” could have come from an unreleased B-side from Xer heroes like The Smiths or Husker Dü. And it didn’t hurt that, like Johnny Cash, another often-troubled major musician who became an Xer hero during his own Indian summer, Cohen was a cool, charismatic guy who wore a lot of black.

Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was one of many indie rockers to fall for Cohen. On the band’s lovely and despairing 1993 song “Pennyroyal Tea,” Cobain sang “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/ So I can sigh eternally.” (The song became a kind of anthem of Cobain’s suicide a year later, and Cohen said that he wished he had been able to meet the Nirvana frontman and talk him out of it.)

But while Nirvana was inspired by Cohen, the Seattle group didn’t sound terribly much like him. (He was covered by everyone from noise-rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain to ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.) Other alt and indie artists — Nick Cave, Suzanne Vega, Tindersticks, PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse, Smog, Madeleine Peyroux, Jeff Buckley, Bright Eyes, perhaps even R.E.M. — have borne his mark more clearly. (In some cases, this resemblance includes a deep, deadpan male voice.)

Of musicians working today, the English-born, Western Massachusetts-dwelling singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole may be the most directly indebted to Cohen. His Cohen covers — like his bleak 1971 song “Famous Blue Raincoat,” for instance — are quite close to the originals, and his bittersweet body of work translates the Canadian’s virtues into a post-’60s, alt-rock style.

“If you want to write songs that are not throwaway songs,” Cole said via email, “then you should spend some time studying LC’s songs.” Cohen had a matchless attention to deal and an almost total allergy to lazy writing, Cole said, adding that “‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ doesn’t have a single imperfect syllable.”

Looking closely at Cohen’s songs, Cole said, made him a more taught, more rigorous songwriter. As for interpreting a song like “Raincoat,” he said, it didn’t take much. “I just do it straight,” Cole wrote. “I don’t add anything. It’s so strong it just needs singing.”

* * *

The problem with Cohen as an influence, of course, is that it’s not that tough to sing in a low voice or to combine sacred and profane imagery. But it is really hard to be brilliant and genuinely deep. As Light said, just because you admire it, doesn’t mean you can do it.

Cohen was a notoriously slow songwriter and talked about the pain and effort each song caused him. After 1992’s “The Future,” he didn’t release another album of new material until “Ten New Songs” in 2001. There was a similar gap between 2004’s “Dear Heather” and 2012’s “Old Ideas.”

This was not a guy who just churned it out. It may be why prose writers and intellectuals as different as Pico Iyer, Michael Ondaatje and Henry Louis Gates all admired Cohen: The good ones are all-too-familiar with how strenuous real thinking and writing usually are. He also inspired a kind of devotion in his friends.

What people who saw him onstage might not have fathomed was that he was even more down-to-earth, humble and unimpressed by himself in real life, and even more committed to tending to everyone around him,” Iyer shared via email. “The striking thing about him was that he never took short-cuts, in life or in art, and he gave himself with such amused seriousness to everything that mattered that others were inspired to attempt the same.”

One of the great lost possibilities in contemporary music is that Cohen and Richard Thompson, who would have had a lot to say each other, never met. “I think one of Leonard’s abilities was to write deceptively simple songs,” Thompson said. “As a poet, he could save the complex stuff for a poem, and work the simpler ideas for song, whereas some of us try to shove too much into the song format. But they are deceptively simple — by his own account, worked over and over until they’re polished.”

It’s symbolic of his complicate talent that Cohen’s most famous song, “Hallelujah” — which will be hard to escape for the new few weeks — took him five years to write and first appeared on an album (“Various Positions”) rejected by his record company as being noncommercial.

One of Cohen’s best songs, despite its annoying, synthed-out production, is a number called “Tower of Song,” from 1988’s “I’m Your Man.” In it Cohen sings about a sort of musical monument where the greats dwell: Hank Williams, he tells us, is there. “Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back,” he says near the end.

It’s hard to figure out where Cohen — raised Jewish, steeped in Buddhist teachings and in some ways a questioning believer — imagined himself ending up after death. But the song may give us as good a hint as we’ll ever get: 

They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track.

But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone. 

I’ll be speaking to you sweetly

From a window in the Tower of Song

Rest in peace, Leonard Cohen.

Everything I know about sex I learned from Bob Dylan

Purity culture slut-shame blues: 

Christian abstinence teachings wanted me to fear sex and be ashamed of my sexuality. Dylan showed me another way

Purity culture slut-shame blues: Everything I know about sex I learned from Bob Dylan

I was 10 years old when I sat through my first abstinence series at church. My parents had discussed its age-appropriateness, but had decided that my relative youth was a good thing. It meant my first introduction to sex would come within the safe, godly confines of our church. So I sat in the church sanctuary dutifully every week as various pastors took turns stressing the dangers of things like necking. I didn’t have any idea what necking was, but I made a mental note to avoid it.

Those first lessons in abstinence were downright confusing. I wondered why the French apparently kissed differently than Americans, and why their methods would be so much more provocative and potentially sin-inducing. To a 10-year-old, or at least to a 10-year-old who hadn’t even been allowed to watch kissing scenes in movies, kissing just seemed like slamming your face against someone else’s mouth; I couldn’t imagine there was a whole lot of technique involved.

Once I hit middle school, as others preteens were taking sex ed, beginning to learn about their developing bodies and eventually how to stick a condom on a banana, my mother assigned me to read books with titles like “The Bride Wore White,” “Passion and Purity” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” My home school sex ed curriculum sounded like one of the D.A.R.E. commercials I’d seen while watching Saturday morning cartoons: Just say no.

Even masturbation could lead to your virginity (AKA your worth as a person) being devalued. So when I was much older than I care to admit, I asked my mother: “How do women even have orgasms? How is that possible? What’s happening?” and “Why do people move around so much when they have sex? Can people have sex without all that moving?” Her reply: “You’ll find out when you’re married.” Even learning about my own anatomy was off limits, apparently, until I’d signed my name on a marriage license.

Meanwhile in church, my youth pastor, after pulling a slimy pink glob of bubble gum out of his mouth, asked: “Does anyone want this piece of gum?” The teens all gagged. “That’s what it’s like to marry someone who has already had sex,” he warned.

Other classy youth group metaphors involved comparing teens who’d already cashed in their V-cards to soiled snow, a licked candy bar, a white sheet dropped in mud, duct tape that could no longer stick, and a glass of water a bunch of boys had spit in that no one in their right mind would drink. Eventually, I would learn to recognize this kind of talk as slut-shaming, but at that point I just called it “God’s design for sex.”

Sex outside of marriage was dirty, depraved and sinful. Words like “perversion” were applied to sex out of wedlock. But what was worst of all was the attitude that if you went to bed before you were legally wed you’d become dirty, unwanted, a disgrace. As my youth pastor and the purity books my mother gave me liked to say, “There’s nothing more valuable than a girl’s virginity.” Sex was a dangerous force; it had the life-ruining power to snatch your very worth as a person right out from under your nose.

The message was clear: No Nice Christian Boy would want to marry a girl who had already done the nasty.

Throughout high school I wore a purity ring my mother had bought for me at the local Christian bookstore. I did this partly out of a desire to fit in (everyone else at youth group was doing it) and partly with the hopes that it might scare away any ill-intended men. Losing my virginity was one of my biggest fears, so I wanted to keep anyone who might pose a threat to it at bay.

However, once I graduated from high school all the silver band reading “True love waits” really did was bring up my lack of a sex life in awkward settings with strangers. “Are you married?” a guy would ask. Or, “What does your ring say?” I felt like with that neon I’ve-Never-Had-Sex sign strapped to my hand I was announcing that I was really just a child.

“I’ve decided not to wear my purity ring anymore,” I told my mother one day when I was 18. I’d gone swing dancing and in the course of one night had had two guys ask what my ring said, and I’d had enough. I didn’t want to talk about my lack of a sex life anymore. I didn’t want it on display. I took my ring off and shoved it in a box in my closet.

Mom tried to talk me out of it. “Maybe you could get a different ring if you don’t like that one anymore,” she’d suggested. She was worried. Maybe she feared this marked the beginning of a change. But taking off my purity ring wasn’t the beginning of my sexual revolution.

That started with Bob Dylan.

The same year I took off my purity ring I discovered Jack Johnson. But the fact that I’d mostly traded in my Christian praise-pop for “secular music” was no sign that I was now the wild tart I’d been warned against becoming. I mean, I still deleted all of the more blatantly sex-themed songs by Johnson so that they wouldn’t even accidentally show up if I was listening to my music on shuffle.

Jack Johnson was a gateway. I began to investigate more singer-songwriters, working backwards through music history until finally, luckily, I found my way to Bob Dylan. “Lay, Lady Lay” was one of his first Dylan songs I heard, and the sensuality of the song was far from subtle: “Lay, lady lay / lay across my big brass bed.” But I didn’t delete this one. Instead, I hit repeat.

In church and at home, sex outside of marriage had always been chalked up to rampant hormones, a lack of self-control, and lust. “Don’t be friends with non-Christian boys,” my youth pastor had once informed the girls at church. “All they want out of you is sex.” Unless a guy offered a ring and his last name, his desire for you was deplorable. But even if marriage was part of the package, sex wasn’t seen as all that important. “People put too much emphasis on attraction. Just don’t marry anyone who makes you go ‘ew,’” had been my mother’s advice.

One line in particular from “Lay, Lady Lay” I wanted to hear again and again, until it began to echo in my brain: “I long to see you in the morning light / I long to reach for you in the night.” It took my breath away. I’d always imagined a guy expressing his desire to sleep with me sounding more like: “Hey, baby, I want in your pants,” like random strangers rolling down their car windows to call me a bitch or a whore and yell that they wanted to fuck me as I walked down the sidewalk.

But Dylan inviting a woman to come lie down next to him so that he could see her in the morning light wasn’t harassment and it wasn’t crass; it was art.

To my surprise, I realized that if a significant other ever said something similar, I’d be flattered.

I privately continued to listen to Dylan in college, keeping my ear buds in to prevent my mother from hearing. I created a special playlist called “sexy songs.” It was the first time in my life I’d written the word “sexy” and meant it positively.

Every time I listened to “I’ll be Your Baby Tonight” I’d close my eyes, imagining the scene and taking in every word.

Close your eyes, close the door
You don’t have to worry anymore
I’ll be your baby tonight
Shut your eyes, shut the shade
You don’t have to be afraid
I’ll be your baby tonight

One by one Dylan’s songs taught me about sex. While he might not have given me IKEA-style instructions, complete with stick figure illustrations regarding the mechanics of sex or how to properly use a condom or when to apply lube, Dylan taught me the thing I needed to know more than anything else about sex. He showed me sex was something I’d never known it could be before: beautiful.

In “Tangled Up in Blue,” Dylan sings about how a woman opened up a book of poems “And handed it to me / Written by an Italian poet / From the thirteenth century / And every one of them words rang true / And glowed like burnin’ coal / Pourin’ off of every page / Like it was written in my soul.” Every time I replayed my scandalous, secret playlist I felt like every word Dylan sang was being written in my soul, healing the broken parts of me and slowly eroding the negative, shaming things that I’d internalized about my sexuality.

I was 23 when I finally got the chance to see Dylan perform live at Seattle’s Bumbershoot music festival. It was originally going to be a date, but my mother had invited herself along because as she’d put it, “Seeing Dylan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” And I hadn’t had the heart to deprive her of such an opportunity by pushing back.

At one point during the show I leaned against my boyfriend Ian and he slid his arm around my waist, pulling me in closer as we watched what looked like a miniature Bob Dylan performing up on stage. In response, my mother stood up dramatically to go watch the show from somewhere else. She was clearly angry — the dagger eyes were a dead giveaway — and the next day she locked herself in her bedroom for hours to sob about how her daughter had gone astray. “I don’t even want to think about what you’re doing when I’m not around!”

Seeing Dylan live was one of the most romantic moments of my life. After my mother stormed off, Ian wrapped his other arm around me and we swayed together among a sea of humanity and the glare of stage lights. The guy I’d fallen in love with was holding me close as I sang along with every word of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

Eventually Ian would tell me in his own way that he longed to see me in the morning light, to reach for me in the night. And eventually he would. Dylan may have won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions,” but I would give it to him for showing me the beauty in one of the oldest poetic expressions of all.

Nobel Prize for Literature winner Bob Dylan is too cool to respond to the committee

He’s just kinda wasting their precious time


Nobel Prize for Literature winner Bob Dylan is too cool to respond to the committee
FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2012, file photo, Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles. Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, (Credit: AP)

The internet may have gone crazy when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but it seems like Dylan himself can’t be bothered to return the Nobel Prize committee’s calls.

At least, that’s what the Swedish Academy, the organization responsible for awarding Dylan the prize, is currently claiming. As The Guardian reports, there have been multiple efforts to contact Dylan to formally notify him of his victory, but the famously individualistic singer has been chronically unavailable. He didn’t even mention his Nobel Prize at a Las Vegas concert on Friday night, even though it had already been publicly announced at that time.

“Right now we are doing nothing. I have called and sent emails to his closest collaborator and received very friendly replies. For now, that is certainly enough,”explained Sara Danius, the committee’s permanent secretary, on state radio. Danius made it clear that she wasn’t worried and thinks Dylan will ultimately show up to accept his award.

Because he is the first musician to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the decision to give Dylan the award was met with some controversy. Novelist Jodi Picoult tweeted, “I’m happy for Bob Dylan, #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?” while author Rabih Alameddine wrote “Bob Dylan winning a Nobel in Literature is like Mrs. Fields being awarded 3 Michelin stars. This is almost as silly as Winston Churchill.”

Matthew Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University and a political columnist. His editorials have been published on Salon, The Good Men Project, Mic, MSNBC, and various college newspapers and blogs. For a full review of all his published work,