Friday, October 14, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Hallelujah!

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Finally Friday! — Leonard Cohen ... Shirley Jackson ... Justin Bieber ... Shawn Mendes and Haters Go on Hating Kim Kardashian.

“NOBODY GOES to a Zen monastery as a tourist.  There are people who do, but they leave in ten minutes because the life is very rigorous.  You are getting up at two-thirty in the morning; the camp wakes up at three ... the cabins are only heated a few hours a day.  There’s snow coming in under the badly carpentered doors.  You’re shoveling snow half the day ... so in a certain sense you toughen up.

“Whether it has a spiritual aspect is debatable. It helps you endure, and it makes whining the least appropriate response to suffering. Just on that level, it’s very valuable.”
Cohen (center) at the Mt. Baldy monastery, in California, in 1995. PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC MULET / AGENCE VU / REDUX
That is Leonard Cohen, the fabled, 83-year-old singer/songwriter/novelist/object of female desire, talking to David Remnick; part of a massive profile, in the current New Yorker magazine.  (Cohen spent about six years at a Zen monastery!)

How much did I know about Leonard Cohen or his music prior to reading this?  Not a lot, although of course I knew he was the creator of the complex, much-recorded “Hallelujah.”  (The song was so “covered” by other artists that Cohen put a temporary moratorium on its use!) 

Whether it is writer Remnick’s knowledge and admiration for his subject, or Cohen’s own words about his long journey — many lives, songs, women, religious experiences, excess, earning money, losing money, touring, facing death, being at peace — I am now something of a Cohen fan, a “newbie.”
Titled “How The Light Gets In” this is captivating and moving journalism.

How captivating?  I have ordered Cohen’s latest album, “You Want It Darker” and the best “essential” collection I could find.  I have been warned a lot of his work is dark, on the melancholy slit-your-wrists side. 

Please.  You’ve see the news, yes?  If I haven’t moved the needle to the self-destructive track at this point, Mr. Cohen’s songs are unlikely to be my undoing.
Leonard Cohen at home, Los Angeles, September, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH BY GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORKER.
P.S. Two other New Yorker articles captured my imagination in this issue. One was Zoe Heller’s review of a new Shirley Jackson biography “A Rather Haunted Life” by Ruth Franklin. (Jackson is probably most famous for her novel “The Haunting of Hill House.”)  The other piece was Leo Robson’s examination of the work of British writer Henry Green, whose novels were once highly regarded — although often received quizzically. (“His work stubbornly resisted every label” writes Robson.) 

I am now much interested in tackling the Jackson bio, and looking into the best of Henry Green — “Living,” “Party Going” and “Loving.”

One of the great joys of my life is that reading always leads to ... more reading. 
THE DEATH of Hank Williams, on January 1st 1953, was one of the great shocks of the early music industry. He was only 29. Williams had swiftly established himself as an extraordinarily prolific and evocative singer/songwriter.  He had already contributed classics such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy,” ”Cold, Cold Heart,” “Take These Chains From My Heart,” “I Can’t Help it If I’m Still in Love with You,” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” (In 2010 Williams was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his “craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity.”)
Now, Mercury Nashville/Ume has re-released a terrific album, “20 of Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits.” And it’s back on vinyl, too, where everything sounds better, warmer, more “solid.” Go to Amazon or take a listen here.
For all the romantic ache of his songs, I was always amused and encouraged by these Williams lyrics — youthful and randy: “Hey, good lookin’ what ya got cookin’/How’s about cookin’ something up with me?”

That’s the way to live, before you get so lonesome, you can cry.
IT MADE me feel so young, to have received a press release urging me to “Congratulate Justin Bieber on his Five American Music Award Nominations!!!” (Yes, there were three exclamation points.)  Drake has more AMA nods, but he’s been around longer. Remember he started out as the guy in the wheelchair on the Canadian TV soap, “Degrassi?”  (Drake himself doesn’t care to remember that!)  I was also urged to vote for Justin.  We must pass.  Although I have heard his big hit, “Sorry,” I’m not up enough on the work of his competitors to fairly contribute.  Still, good luck kid.
IN THE same youthful vein, the remarkable rise of 18-year-old Shawn Mendes certainly gives hope to everybody who thinks to start their career making videos on YouTube.  That’s how Mendes began a couple of years back.  Now he’s just scored his second Number One album, “Illuminate.”  His first was called “Handwritten.”  Shawn is a big heartthrob now, and L’Uomo Vogue  just spread him out over several sexy fashion pages.  Most of the fashion requires him to be shirtless.  However, one shot shows him desperately working a voluminous, body-hiding poncho.  I don’t think he instructed his people or the L’Uomo minions to pack that up for him as the shoot ended. 
Shawn Mendes in L’Uomo Vogue.
My favorite story of a star blithely assuming what they wore in a photo shoot was naturally and automatically theirs comes from — who else? — Elizabeth Taylor.  Posing for Vanity Fair back in the 1980’s, La Liz was readying herself to leave, and as she calmly reapplied lipstick said, “I want that one.”  “The Ungaro?” one VF staffer asked. “No” replied ET, clicking her compact shut, “the Valentino.”  Somehow, the mass of velvet was stuffed into her car. (Well, you recall how big and poofy everything was in the '80s — hair, sleeves, shoulder pads.)
La Liz — her favorite four letter word was "gift."
MORE INFO on the November 17 Theater Hall of Fame gala, which will induct, among others, Glenn Close, Phylicia Rashad, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Tim Rice.

Presenters will be Hal Prince, Jordan Roth, Roger Berlind, Chris Durang and Debbie Allen. Susan Stroman emcees.

The late James M. Nederlander will be saluted by the co-founder of the Theater Hall of Fame, Emanuel Azenberg. He also owns the Gershwin Theater, where all the honoring will happen.
ENDQUOTE: “WAIT a minute. People have an all out hatred for someone like Kim Kardashian who has never hurt or publicly made fun other races of people and has never been mean/nasty about marginalized groups of people in this country. Yet millions worship the ground Donald Trump walks on? Someone please explain that to me. I get if you don't like her lifestyle or even why she became famous, but that is not enough reason to HATE her or anyone else like her. If you are that upset over someone else's fame and that jealous, then become famous yourself. It's not that hard these days.”
That is another one of the very few examples of online defense for Kim Kardashian, victim of that now-infamous Paris robbery. Not even the lawsuit Mrs. Kanye West has filed against a very low-level gossip site has cooled the bile. (The site, apparently out-and-out stated in its headline that Kim was somehow “involved” in the violent event.)

Kim has been laying low since her return from France.  Her sister Khloe told Ellen DeGeneres that Kim is “not doing well” in her recovery.  This has been the only family statement or appearance but, alas, it sparked another frenzy of social media name-calling.  The best thing, probably, is for everybody, no matter how well-intentioned, to lay low, at least until there’s solid news on the bicycle-escaping robbers.

Contact Liz here.