Leonard Cohen And Alexander Trocchi
Leonard Cohen was not only influenced by the literature and philosophy of Alexander Trocchi, a no holds barred, heroin-addicted, unrepentant beat poet, but also had a significant real life interaction with him. Both the influence and interaction are described in the video and the excerpts below:
The documentary, Alexander Trocchi – A Life in Pieces, features several artists, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (who called Trocchi “The most brilliant man I’ve ever met”), commenting on Trocchi’s life and work. this clip is cued to start at the point Leonard Cohen begins the story of his contact with Trocchi.
From Alexander Trocchi: An Introduction by Gill Tasker:1
Although Alexander Trocchi was “one of the main Scottish writers of the twentieth century” (ODNB), and a writer of “force and range and originality” (Morgan 58), he is largely unknown today. …
Trocchi’s New York years were punctuated, quite literally, by his heroin use; along with his wife Lynn, whom he had met in New York, and with whom he went on to have two sons, much of Trocchi’s time was spent lying around, high on heroin. Trocchi’s existence in the United States came to an alarming and abrupt end, after he was allegedly caught supplying drugs to an underage girl, a charge which he vehemently denied. However, with many important international connections, it did not prove difficult for Trocchi to go on the run; he escaped over the Canadian border with a false passport and was met by Leonard Cohen, whom he had never met before, but the men shared mutual acquaintances. Cohen allowed the fugitive to stay with him and upon arrival at the apartment, Trocchi “immediately took out… a chunk of opium” (Cohen qtd. in Campbell and Niel 131). This overwhelmingly ever-present heroin habit prompted the mystified Cohen to write a poem, entitled “Alexander Trocchi, Public Junkie, Prie Pour Nous”, in which he observed that “the spike flashes in your blood/permanent as a sliver lighthouse” (lines 8/9). From both the content and title of this poem, it is clear that Trocchi was inseparable from his addiction. Nevertheless, Cohen was later to describe Trocchi as “the Contemporary Christ” (qtd. in Scott 147), and both men maintained a life-long mutual respect, after their somewhat surreal initial meeting. Trocchi successfully escaped by boat back to Britain.
From Dangerous Minds by Marc Campbell:
Born in Glasgow in 1925 and reborn in the land of Morpheus sometime in the 1950s, Alexander Trocchi was the beatest of the beat, a self-described “cosmonaut of inner space” who Allen Ginsberg called “a major figure in cosmopolitan new-consciousness fifties’ and sixties’ literature.” Trocchi was a junkie, poet, writer of porn and author of one of the landmark books about being a rebel, drifter and drug addict, Cain’s Book. He wrote it while living in New York and even though it’s billed as a novel, Cain’s Book is based on Trocchi’s own life story. Though banned in the United Kingdom as pornography, it wasn’t the sex that upset the status quo as much as it was Trocchi’s unabashedly anarchic spirit and overall fuck you attitude.
Trocchi’s belief was that a writer should be a pioneer, venturing into areas that ordinary people either were too sane or too afraid to go. His explorations included heroin. Like DeQuincey, Crowley, Baudelaire and Burroughs, Trocchi found a muse in drugs. He was relentless in his pursuit of the next high. And while he might be accused of wearing his junkie status as a badge of honor, he never romanticized the life of the addict. He also never apologized for who he was and what he did, which included turning Marianne Faithfull onto heroin and letting his wife Lyn prostitute herself on the streets of the Lower East Side.
From Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel (Random House of Canada 1996):
Alexander Trocchi, Public Junkie, Prie Pour Nous
by Leonard Cohen2
Alexander Trocchi, Public Junkie,
Prie Pour Nous
Who is purer
more simple than you?
Priests play poker with the burghers,
police in underwear
leave crime at the office,
our poets work bankers’ hours
retire to wives and fame-reports.
The spike flashes in your blood
permanent as a silver lighthouse.
I’m apt to loaf
in a coma of newspapers,
avoid the second-hand bodies
which cry to be catalogued..
I dream I’m
a divine right Prime Minister,
I abandon plans for bloodshed in Canada,
I accept an O.B.E.
Under hard lights
with doctor’s instruments
you are at work
in the bathrooms of the City,
changing the Law.
I tend to get distracted
by hydrogen bombs,
by Uncle’s disapproval
of my treachery
to the men’s clothing industry.
I find myself
believing public clocks,
from the Dachau generation.
The spike hunts
constant as a compass
You smile like a Navajo
discovering American oil
on his official slum wilderness,
a surprise every half hour.
I’m afraid I sometimes forget
my lady’s pretty little blonde package
is an amateur time-bomb
set to fizzle in my middl-age.
I forget the Ice Cap, the pea-minds,
the heaps of expensive teeth.
You don a false nose
line up twice for the Demerol dole;
you set yourself on the steps of the White House
you try to shoot the big arms
of the Lincoln Memorial;
you spy on scientists,
stumble on a cure for scabies;
you drop pamphlets from a stolen jet:
“The Truth about Junk”;
you pirate a national tv commercial
shove your face against
the window of the living- room
insist that healthy skin is grey.
A little bood in the sink
shaken from your arm
like a road map showing cities
over 10,000 pop.
Your arms tell me
you have been reaching into the coke machine
you have been humping the thorny crucifix
you have been piloting Mickey Mouse balloons
through the briar patch,
you have been digging for grins in the tooth-pile.
Bonnie Queen Alex Eludes Montreal Hounds
Famous Local Love Scribe Implicated
You purity drives me to work.
I must get back to lust and microscopes,
experiments in embalming,
resume the census of my address book.
You leave behind you a fanatic
to answer R.C.M.P. questions.
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Dec 20, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com.
- Update: No longer online
- From Flowers For Hitler, Leonard Cohen (McClellan and Stewart, Toronto 1964)