Opening Speech by Geoff Gompers
So in keeping with my time restrictions I thought that Iíd start off by reading a short poem about Greece. Itís called Homerís Iliad.
Actually, itís called Days of Kindness and it was written by Leonard Cohen in Hydra in 1985.
Greece is a good placeMany may also recognize that as a poem that Leonard wrote here in Hydra.
You know that there are some women who say that Leonard Cohen has a commitment problem.
But Leonard has been committed to music, poetry, and art for about 50 years. And for over 40 years Leonard has had a home here in Hydra that has been a constant also-- his home in Hydra. Many of you will have the opportunity to visit his home this weekend.
Ira Nadel, wrote a chapter in his book about Leonard Cohen ďVarious PositionsĒ and it contains a chapter on Leonardís decision to move to Hydra and I may refer to portions of his text over the next few minutes.
I know that it may be difficult for many of you to believe, but in March of 1960, Leonard Cohen was feeling depressedóin a Zen Buddhist kind of way. Leonard was living in the East End of London and it was raining. He hadnít ďbeen so happy since the end of World War II.Ē Leonard just had a wisdom tooth pulled. This is true! As he walked along he noticed a Bank of Greece sign on Bank Street. He entered and saw a teller with a suntan wearing sunglasses. Cohen asked the teller what the weather was like in Greece. ďSpringtimeĒ was the reply. Within a day Leonard was in Athens. Within a short time, Leonard was in an artistís colony on the Island of Hydra.
Hydra had a small community of writers and artists. Allen Ginsberg stayed with Cohen for several nights in Hydra. Visitors to the island that Cohen may have seen visiting the island included Aristotle Onasis, Brigitte Bardot, Jackie Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, Tony Perkins, and Peter Finch. Cohen complained in his letters about the influx of movie crews, which would upset the tranquility of the island.
On September 27, 1960, just after his 26th birthday, Leonard bought a house in Hydra for $1500.00 using a bequest from his recently deceased grandmother. He described the home in a note to his mother.
It has a huge terrace with a view of a dramatic mountain and shining white houses. The rooms are large and cool with deep windows set in thick walls. I suppose itís about 200 years old and many generations of seamen must have lived here. I will do a little work on it every year and in a few years it will be a mansion . . . I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. . . . I get up around 7 generally and work till about noon. Early morning is coolest and therefore best for work, but I love the heat anyhow, especially when the Aegean Sea is 10 minutes from my door.It was on this Island of Greece that Leonard wrote Beautiful Losers and met Marianne Jensen about whom he later wrote, ďSo long Marianne. In his home on Hydra, Cohen also wrote Bird on the Wire. When Cohen first arrived in Hydra there were no wires on the island, no telephones, and non-regular electricity. When the telephone wires arrived outside his home Cohen wrote:
I would stare out the window at these telephone wires and think how civilization had caught up with me and I wasnít going to be able to escape after all. Then he noticed that the birds came to the wires. And life went on undisturbed.Now for a couple of important matters.
First, I want to thank a number of people that made this weekend possible. First and foremost, thanks to Leonard Cohen. He has been very kind in supporting this meeting and he prepared special artistic items for the booklet and gave us permission to reprint many of the poems he wrote on Hydra as well as photos from his archives. Many items are published here for the first time.
Now I need to have your attention for the next several minutes. Many of you are here in Hydra for the first time. And the management asked me to warn you of certain matters.
First, I need to warn the single women that there are certain Leonard Cohen imitators walking around the island this weekend. These men are counterfeit. They are not real. Do not go with them to look at their etchings.
Second, during this weekend there are only two times that you are permitted by Hydra law to sing Leonard Cohen music. Daytime and nighttime.
There are only two times that you will be permitted to eat, drink, sing and make love. Day time and night time.
So letís kick up our heels, sing, dance and celebrate the art of Leonard Cohen. Welcome to Hydra.