by Antti Vanhanen
Newsletter of The Finnish-Canadian Society
Jarkko Arjatsalo, a 52-year-old auditor from Finland, is the hobbyist webmaster of the Leonard Cohen Files. The site has been viewed by approximately 1.500.000 visitors to date. Currently, the site gets about 500 daily visits. Visitors have access to over 1000 pages, a forum and a chat area where opinions are exchanged. (Volumes updated in October 2005)
How did a Finn become the webmaster of a Canadian cultural icon?
"I had listened to Cohen since the '70s. After the Helsinki concerts of 1988 and 1993, I began collecting rare recording material from Cohen and subsequently found the Cohen Newsletter, which was published in England. When the newsletter was discontinued in 1994, we had just gotten an Internet connection in our home and were excited about the possibilities it presented.
"Together with my then teenage son we searched for a topic on which to create a website, and my interest in Cohen made him a natural choice. The website was designed for an international audience from the start, and we opened the site in the fall of 1995. I supplied the content for the pages while Rauli took care of all technical issues. Since then I have learned to code and have acquired the skills necessary to create the web pages myself.
"We did not intend to make the pages as vast as they turned out, but we soon realized that Cohen's art had a global fan base that had lacked a channel for communication. Soon we started receiving all kinds of material regarding Cohen for the website and several friendships have been formed with some of the contributors since."
What form of cooperation do you have with Leonard Cohen?
"Our cooperation began in 1997 when—to my surprise—Cohen contacted me. At the time he was living at a Zen monastery, on Mount Baldy near Los Angeles, which had just gotten an Internet connection. He offered to contribute unpublished poems, drawings and computer graphics for the website from there.
"The administration of the website has resulted in a continuing contact with Cohen and his office. Leonard has recognized the Internet as a useful channel and is currently also cooperating with some non-English speaking websites as well.
"In 1999 Cohen invited me and my family to visit him at his home in Los Angeles, and we spent an enjoyable weekend as his guests, meeting both his children, Lorca and Adam. Cohen turned out to be a very caring and sympathetic person who lacked many of the negative qualities often found in stars of his magnitude."
What does Cohen's work mean to you?
"I was introduced to his work through his music and only later began immersing myself in his literature. However, the two have to be seen as parts of the whole: many of his songs are based on previously written poems that have evolved over the years.
"Cohen has widely been regarded as a performer of dark and melancholy songs. His material, however, has several dimensions and plenty of hidden humour. The songs of his latest album (Ten New Songs, 2001) are characterized by the tranquility of his meditation sessions at the Zen monastery. His texts have several layers and give possibilities of various interpretations—which is probably the reason why there are exceptionally many academic studies on his work.
"In my opinion Leonard Cohen is an artist whose material carries over centuries: his listeners and readers can return to him at various points in their life and always find something new in his work."
Where is Cohen at the moment and what is he up to?
"In 1999, after five years at Mount Baldy, Cohen decided to leave the Zen monastery and return to a normal life. He has a house in Los Angeles in which he has built a complete recording studio. The 2001 record "Ten New Songs" was completely recorded and mastered in that studio.
"Cohen stills follows the daily rhythm practiced at the Zen monastery: he gets up at three in the morning and then works on his music and poetry until the evening. In his notebooks and on his computer he has thousands of poems and an almost infinite number of incomplete songs that are all waiting to be finished and possibly published. His new book, "Book of Longing", written on Mount Baldy, is ready, but Cohen has not turned it over to the publisher yet. As example of his very slow working pace is the fact that some of his songs have been under development for a decade or two before he considers them ready.
"Though Cohen has left the Zen monastery, he still supports its activities and the spiritual leader of the monastery, Joshua Sasaki Roshi, is a close friend of his. In the last few years Cohen has made several trips to Mumbai, India to study the local religions. Despite his profound experiences of different religions over the years, Cohen is still first and foremost a Canadian Jew to whom roots and traditions are important."
Has your relationship to Canada changed in any way over the years?
"My interest in Cohen's work has also introduced me to his home country. Canada is often overshadowed by the United States in the European media, but it has been great to notice how many-sided a country Canada is, both in terms of its geographical size and its multicultural society. While attending the 2000 Leonard Cohen gathering in Montreal, I had the chance to familiarize myself with the cities of Montreal and Toronto, and based on these experiences we will visit Canada again."
© 2002, 2005 Antti Vanhanen