Friday, November 11, 2016

Saying goodbye to two dear friends I never actually met face-to-face


Last night I learned about Monday’s death of Leonard Cohen and then I discovered Robert Vaughn died this morning. Both were 83.

I’m not sure of the cause of Cohen’s death or why his family waited until yesterday to let the rest of the world know about this tragic loss. I do know his son Adam said "My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records [his latest and recently released album is called You Want It Darker). He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor."

I have too many favorite Leonard Cohen songs to single out a single one as a No. 1 favorite: Dance Me to the End of Love, Ain’t No Cure for Love, Bird on the Wire, Everybody Knows, Suzanne, Hallelujah, Democracy, I’m Your Man, So Long Marianne, First We Take Manhattan, Closing Time. But I’m going to single one song out because it contained a line that could only be delivered effectively by Cohen himself and a line that always made me laugh out loud each time I heard it. The song is Tower of Song and the line is "I was born like this/I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice." The first time I heard him perform this song live a strange thing happened. The audience didn’t laugh, they cheered. It was if they were rising up in unison to let Cohen know "We know your voice has deteriorated from what it was, that it now sounds course and perhaps scratchy, but we don’t care. Not one bit. We love you anyway and we’re with you all the way." See for yourself in the clip below and also listen to it through the very end so that you can learn from him the secret to the mysteries of life. There’s another great verse in this song that, to me, perfectly combines Cohen’s fascination with actual politics, sexual politics, religiously-influenced prophecy and self-doubt as well as his self-induced paranoia: "Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure/The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor/And there’s a mighty judgment coming but I may be wrong/You see, you hear these funny voices/In the tower of song."

Vaughan, unfortunately, will probably be remembered by most as the star of the popular 1960s television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. To me his best performance was as war veteran Chester A. Gwynn in the movie The Young Philadelphians and my favorite Vaughn performance came with his expertly crafted villain Walter Chalmers in Bullitt.

What may not be known by many about Vaughn was that he had a doctorate in communications from the University of Southern California. His PhD dissertation, which he later transferred into book form, bore the title Only Victims; A Study of Show Business Blacklisting.

Vaughn was an active progressive liberal and became the first popular American actor in the 1960s to come out publicly against the war in Vietnam. Along with Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner, he founded an organization in 1968 called Dissenting Democrats to promote the presidential candidacy of Eugene McCarthy.

Vaughn died of "acute leukemia" in his Connecticut home just 11 days before his 84th birthday.

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