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Now they're coming for Leonard Cohen

 A Facebook friend who teaches at university recently received a cancel-culture email after he included Leonard Cohen in a syllabus. Yup. He spared us several "marvelous rhetorical peaks" but quoted the conclusion, which urged him to "please re-evaluate your life choices before spreading these opinions in the name of education." When I read this, I chanced to be relishing LEONARD COHEN: Untold Stories/ The Early Years, a remarkable oral biography by Michael Posner. Once you get used to the approach, all these short fragments, different voices, diverse opinions, the book is a can't-put-it-down page-turner. As an ex-Montrealer, I've been reading and listening to Cohen and his chroniclers since The Favorite Game. Even so, I learned a lot from this new book. I didn't realize, for example, how close Cohen came to abandoning his incipient music career to become a television host. And, ridiculous as it sounds, I thrilled to discover that on February 20, 1966, when I caught Bob Dylan in concert at Montreal's Place des Arts, Leonard and Irving Layton were somewhere in the audience. Sure, Cohen came from a privileged background -- but he recognized that and was remarkably generous. OK, he lived an extreme life -- lots of women, lots of drugs. But he came of age in the 1960s. The Sixties, people! You can't rightly separate any individual from his or her times -- not to moralize and judge.  Beautiful Losers? As Dennis Lee observes, "A non-Indigenous who wrote (Kateri Tekakwitha) as Leonard did would get torched today." Right. And fair enough. But today is not the yesterday of fifty-five years ago. No Beautiful Losers, no Buffy Ste. Marie doing Magic is Alive. And Ste. Marie herself notes that in 1966, "Nobody knew who who Kateri was. Indigenous people didn't know who she was . . . . So Leonard shone a light on her for a huge audience."  With this first of three volumes, Posner has done Cohen aficionados a terrific service. While thinking about volume two, I find myself harking back to the night Leonard Cohen taught me that Magic Is Alive.

Ken McGoogan
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Celtic Canada goes international


Gearing up to give a presentation at the Scottish North American Community Conference in New York City. It's all zooming . . . but it features some heavyweight speakers and on December 5, I aim to give a dazzling presentation on The Making of Celtic Canada. Word on the street is that speakers will include Lord Charles Bruce and the Rt. Hon. Henry McLeish, former first minister of
Scotland. Word on the street is that you can learn more about this three-day extravaganza -- and even register to attend -- by
going here. Hope to see you on the 5th!

Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.