NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.
Ten or so years ago I lent my copies of The Beautiful Losers and The Selected Poems of Leonard Cohen to a friend. When last I saw them a few years later they were on her bookshelf, which is as a good a place as any for them. I have so many books now that my living quarters are cramped and, no matter how hard I try, I really can’t stop new books from finding their way to me.
Still I would like to consult the Beautiful Losers every now and again. When I read it it seemed like all of Canada in a single book, and not in anyway that encouraged me to go there. If you have read the book you understand.
A few years after that I found myself at a New Year’s Eve party in Montreal with a Québécois Nationalist named Pierre, both of us literally moved to tears over the beauty and independent spirit of the province shackled to the brute and philistine Anglo-phonic world, while my much more sensible (and Canadian) friend calmly explained how independence would lead to social and economic ruin, not that we were listening — we were tipsily crying and calling out for freedom. That was, and will be, my last foray into foreign politics.
Whether the book is definitive or not, Cohen, more than anyone else, represents Montreal but we didn’t sing Cohen’s songs going up (we had to sing naturally it being a road trip and all)if for no other reason than his songs are too personal and there is something a little skeevy about other people singing many of them. For instance “Famous Blue Rain Coat” not only is the only song written as a heart-felt thank you note to the man that who seduced and lead away his wife but is signed “Sincerely L. Cohen.” For the most part his songs are his and we should be happy to keep them that way. Whenever I have heard other people sing them it sounds tactless and intrusive.
More sensibly, we drove about singing “Barrett’s Privateers” by the great Stan Rogers. It is a boisterous mock sea chantey. It is perfect for people (at least one of whom needs a flawless memory for lyrics as there are many of them), to sing in groups, as it was written to be sung.
It should be dumb and kitschy, after all it is a 70s faux-folk tune about privateers and sea battles, but it is neither. There is something in the darkness of the lyrics and the rowdiness of the tune that has always agreed with me, ven touched me. When I am listening to the album I sometimes have to skip the track because it can be too much, especially since it was written in the 70s and there is always the war in Viet Nam lurking behind it.
Our war for independence and freedom was just another imperial expedition for the boys on the other side, but we never really think about them.
We also never think of putting clams in our cocktails. But that is also a very Canadian thing. The same friend who was trying to talk sense to me at that house party introduced me to the pride of Canadian cocktails: the Bloody Caesar. Clam Juice, Tomato(nonsensically you can get these two disparate liquids bottled together), Celery Salt, Worcestershire Sauce, and pepper, with a glug or so of vodka. The last time I made it an acquaintance from New Hampshire demanded hot sauce be added, and he added quite a bit. I had half a glass and wasn’t sure that it improved the taste, but he had a pitcher-and-a-half and seemed quite pleased, so take it as an alternate recipe.
There is a bit more in common between “Barrett’s Privateers” and Bloody Caesars, than their pseudo-historical names. They are strong, bold, flavorful, and are the best remedies for those off-moments when the imagination strays north of the border and the body has to stay south for work the next day.
* One may imagine from this article that I can speak French, and, while I was there, I imagined it too.
* The version of Famous Blue Rain Coat that I linked to is signed “Sincerely, A Friend.” But what does it matter,if one were to write the same letter over and over one would certainly make a few changes. I pretty sure the audience knew who he was anyway.
* I didn’t give the measurements because I don’t measure ingredients — it’s bourgeois.
*I may also add that the song was released in ‘76 — the year of our bicentennial. Maybe that is just a coincidence.
* There was also the war in the Falklands ahead of it. Things didn’t seem like they were getting better and they weren’t, but we are still hoping.