There was something about the rich, literate lyrics and the distinctive deep voice singing them that intrigued Dick Straub ’62 when he watched the Oliver Stone film "Natural Born Killers" for the first time on video in 1995.
"Literally the first thing I did at the end of the movie was to
freeze-frame it to see who did the music," Straub recalls. "I saw the name Leonard Cohen, and nothing came to mind."
Today, there aren’t many people who know more about Cohen-the critically acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, writer, andmonk-than Straub.
It wasn’t easy. After hearing Cohen’s contributions to the movie soundtrack, Straub combed record stores and bookstores searching for the artist’s albums, poetry, and novels. But Straub truly struck paydirt when he went on the Internet and stumbled across the Finnish site www.leonardcohenfiles.com. Online, he met fellow Cohen enthusiasts from around the world. In the years since, they have come together for international gatherings in Paris, Montreal, and Hydra, an island off Greece. Straub organized the Montreal event, and has helped with the other gatherings.
He has met Cohen’s sister, Esther ("an absolutely wonderful, delightful, effervescent lady") and son, Adam, a recording artist in his own right.
This June, some 200 Cohen fans from all over the world descended on New York City for "Next We Take Manhattan," an event that took its name from a Cohen song and included a concert at the Knitting Factory in TriBeCa featuring Cohen band members Perla Battala, Julie Christensen, and Paul Ostermeyer. Discussion sessions were held at Columbia University. (Cohen connection: The artist attended grad school there in 1958 and lived at the adjacent International House.)
It’s not surprising that once Straub became interested in Cohen, he devoted himself to the cause with gusto. He is also on the executive committee of the board of the Lehigh Wrestling Club (www.lehighwrestling.com), which boasts more than 700 members who passionately follow and support the team.
Wrestling, Straub says, shares at least one thing in common with the music of Leonard Cohen: "It’s underappreciated."
"It really is an intellectual sport, as well as physical. It’s like a chess match," he says. Watching Lehigh wrestling has given Straub the opportunity to see some truly virtuoso performers. "You don’t see a Jon Trenge or Troy Letters that often in life," he says.
Straub jokes that when he tells people he likes wrestling, the response is usually, "Why?" or an incredulous, "What?" And when he tells them he likes Leonard Cohen, he’s usually greeted with, "Who?"
But meeting people who know who Leonard Cohen is has been the best part of getting to know his music. "The enjoyment is getting to meet other people," he says. "There’s a stronger connection and bond than you think there would be."