During the height of summer, aided by gin martinis and Indonesian cigarettes, Believer contributor Caia Hagel arranged this fictional interview with Leonard Cohen. Even when imaginary, Cohen is a slippery subject, and what follows is entirely untrue. Catch up with Part I, Part III.
I was tempted to order tea and something to eat. But Simeon, James II’s best friend, who is very tall and has long, horse-like hair and is totally obsessed with Virgins, found out that I was waiting for Leonard. He was calling me going I heard you’re half naked at the Chelsea Hotel waiting for Leonard. Make sure you ask him about Virgins, Leonard knows so much about Virgins, Simeon was saying. He writes and dreams about them, even fictive ones, wanting to touch the untainted, longing for the purity of unruinedness. I was like, Simeon, you are such a nerd, and he was like, Whatever, I am totally into worshiping Virgins too. Virginity is like, the rarest thing, and the most precious thing, it’s like a Garden of Eden, it’s like the thing that gets lost and we can never find it again, no matter how hard we try, and it doesn’t even apply just to people and their hymens, it applies to everything, like a Virgin Island where we know it’s there but nobody can find the entry, or like a Virgin Mind that is clean and nobody can break through to it, or like a Virgin Nation that has unblemished values until a dictator comes along and rapes it all.
Maybe you should ask Leonard about Germans too, Simeon went on. He loves war you know, listen to this, he said War is wonderful, it’s one of the few times people can act their best, every single gesture is precise, nobody goofs off, there are opportunities to feel things, it’s like he’s the only one left in the first world who truly sees the romance of the soldier, and he’s Jewish, remember I’m the little Jew who wrote the Bible from that song “The Future” that we used to blast in our Jacuzzi days, where you would film us because you were too underage to even get in the water and where he also says Shove it up the hole in your culture? It’s kind of unexpected and distinguished to be a Jew and to love the Germans in our post-apocalyptic era, said Simeon. I studied A History of German Literature, he continued, and all the good ones are crazy, and they share the same interests as the Jewish interests, like high culture, and terrifying art, and mysticism, and erudite education, and mother complex, and long walks, and lust for power, and inventive logic, and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 6; it’s just some unexpected planet Pluto fate that they became separated into yin and yang in the 1940s. Its kind of Maybe there’s a God above but all I’ve ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya. Then Simeon sent the YouTube video of Jeff Buckley doing a cover of Leonard’s Hallelujah, and the Chelsea lounge filled with Hallelujah.
The boy came back and said, You’re waiting for Leonard aren’t you? He’ll be here in an hour.
Vania, our Slavic friend, who we call The Slayer, was now on iChat because Simeon had sent her the Jeff Buckley Hallelujah video too. She was saying, Jeff haunts me, he is completely overflowing with soul, so like, what a fruitcake-nutbar to go swimming in his boots! Like isn’t this a way too literal interpretation of Hallelujah? And now that he’s drowned and dead and everybody loves him even more, including me, and like that X Factor girl who tried to top him with her version of Hallelujah but then the Jeff-Infatuated cyber crowd totally put a stop to that and voted his version the best ever and so there was the cyber-duel in full force happening – where was Leonard in all of this? He wrote the song and it just grew and grew in other people’s voices and other people’s hearts and other people’s audiences, like KD Lang, who did a great version and was like, in love with Cindy Crawford once, and John Cale, who Jeff based his version on I think and so like, even though Leonard is the ghost behind it all, and his own version of Hallelujah was also in the charts but it was like way behind the others, not able to even compete with its own clones, how would it feel to be a ghost and you’re not even dead yet? Should you ask him that?
Now Henry and Courtney were back on Group Skype playing Pennyroyal Tea. Let’s do air guitar, said Henry – I know the chords, said Courtney, and from their separate locations, one public, one private, they were air strumming and lip synching to the lyrics, at first, and then totally screaming them when it came to Give me a Leonard Cohen afterlife so I can sigh eternally, which are nearly the first lyrics. Courtney’s face came up close to her phone because of her mosh pit moves and I could see tears on her skin. Henry was screen scrolling on his other phone and going, Pennyroyal is like the coolest herb, it’s been used since forever, since way before rubbers and artificial drugs, as a contraceptive and an abortifacient and it even tastes like mint! How deep is that! He sent us photos and then he replayed Pennyroyal Tea and sang Distill the life that’s inside of me, I’m anemic royalty, trying to get that raunchy animal voice sound that Kurt had, and then gave up and just stared at Kurt on his other screen, just stared at his perfect lips and perfect teeth going, He totally had braces when he was a kid, and then, Kurt is so completely Hot, he’s so It Forever. On her phone Courtney put a finger up and made a focused grimace, as if to repeat her favorite Jimi Hendrix lyric, Excuse me while I kiss the sky, and she started bouncing high on her bed in the background.
James II was coming through on call waiting:
In Perfect Drowsy Battalions We Moved Through the Moonlight
I Didn’t Want You to Burn Yourself To Suicide
Simeon broke in with Oh My God, I was Googling and just found out that Leonard’s Virgin, the over-300-year-old Mohawk girl called Kateri Tekakwitha, the one he undresses and redresses and undresses and redresses all throughout his literary life, has just been made an official Saint, the first Native in North America ever to be made into a Saint! She used to walk barefoot through the snow and pierce herself with thorns. That is so Jesus and self-cruel and somehow also contemporary, it’s like what is a Saint? Leonard says, A saint is someone who has achieved a remote possibility. I was like, Simeon, that’s also a Virgin.
Then Courtney was back on, this time on Facetime. I adjusted my phone so it was close to my head but held out by one arm so she could see more than my nostrils. Kurt was really smart you know, she was saying through her phone screen. Her chest was still heaving from all the bed jumping. Her heavy mascara was clumping. Kurt was into so many things, she said. Like he loved drawing, he used to make doodles of me and stick them all over the walls and say he loved me so much it made him sick, and he actually threw up once. He was really political too, he followed the rules of anarchy, like reject their moral standards, and pretend to be gay, and he knew everything about living under a bridge, he was like Huckleberry Finn, he could walk forever and gather things to eat, like good stuff from the garbage can plus berries and leaves, and he could steal anything. He loved graffiti. We got busted once spraying a small town with God is Gay in pink. When we were waiting for bail he was like, telling me all about Buddhism and Jainism, everything that makes them similar, and sometimes he would draw invisible Stars of David on my thighs. He had dirty nails but they had the best shape, I can’t describe it, he was just beautiful. He was really gentle too. He could totally sing a bear to sleep, he even called me bear sometimes, not Sugar Bear, just bear or bear-bear or cuddle-bear or grizzly-bear or psycho-bear and he’d pet me and stroke me, just as if I had fur, and he would curl up inside our spoon, and weep. He loved Aquaman, he loved justice, he loved Atlantis and sunken worlds with magic and history, he didn’t wear deodorant but he always smelled sweet, just like teen spirit, not the old deodorant flavor Teen Spirit, like the song was named after, sort of, but really the real teen spirit, which has a smell of wild wind and bubble gum and saltwater and everything the opposite of turtles, and he could do anything with a match, he could fix a broken down car, he could cook amazing casseroles, he was really funny, he was really shy, he was scared of a lot of things and also not scared of a lot of other things, like death, he had these crazy eyes, he could see something in everything, like sometimes, even when he wasn’t high, he would stare at the most nothing thing, like ashes in an ashtray, and he would get totally into it and say long things about them as if they were really alive, and one time he was totally like, Ash is not just burned cigarette, not just burned up tobacco and paper, not just burned up dried leaves and trees and the spirit of the Pipe Circle, it’s the burned down remnants that all came from somewhere sacred, ash is the reduction of that sacred mixture, it’s the most humble thing in the world, it doesn’t posture as anything but an unsung reduction, he used the best words, reduction of sacred mixture, I can’t believe I even remembered that, I’m such a crazy bitch! I wish Frances was listening, for some reason I can never be serious around her, we named her Frances Bean and ever since I always think Silly Bean, Bouncing Bean, Bean Bag, Jelly Bean, Jack and the Beanstalk every time I see her, and we used to bounce her way up high and throw her back and forth and tickle her so she made the cutest sounds, I always think about those things when I see her and she makes me laugh every time, without even saying anything, and sometimes I laugh so hard that I cry because she has Kurt’s crazy eyes, those pools into the underworld, those saddest swimming pools ever, and I just laugh and laugh like a fucking hyena and I can’t stop and I just get like, total amnesia and I totally forget all these serious things I’ve always wanted to tell her about her father.
Caia Hagel interviews artists, celebrities, demi-gods and monsters, in search of the sublime. Her personality profiles, travelogues, art talks and fictions appear here and there in magazines, on social media and TV networks internationally. She’ll be reading her story, Pilgrims in Nirvana, this Sunday (9/29) as a part of Red Light Lit at Viracocha in San Francisco.
Illustration by Olivia M. Judge