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Shock at Laughing Len's life of sex and drugs...

I can usually filter out the weight loss, hair gain and broadband enhancement ads that clog my Facebook sidebar. I mean, I still know they're there. Desperately trying every trick to make me click. Waving frantically during the day. Whispering seductively at night. Much, I'd imagine, as the One Ring must have done to poor old Frodo. Although, in fairness to the One Ring, it wasn't primarily trying to interest him in penile augmentation.

What's proving harder to ignore is Ed Sheeran's face. A face that's now dominating my sidebar. A face that wants me to know that its owner is, inexplicably, playing three sold-out nights in the O2 this weekend. A face that is slowly leading me (honest!) toward some kind of a point.


As I gazed at Ed's clickable face I asked myself: "Is there no end to the Irish obsession with warbly and maudlin acoustic troubadours?" It's like an unstoppable national virus. I blame David Gray.

It's not, admittedly, all bad news. While said obsession can lead to the dark side (eg, three nights of Ed Sheeran) it's also capable of directing big love toward those deserving of big love. Monday's Arts Tonight devoted a full hour to one such beloved worthy, with Vincent Woods interviewing Sylvie Simmons about her new biography of Leonard Cohen (I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen).

Cohen's stock, always high on these shores, has skyrocketed in recent years, with financial ruin forcing him into a happily triumphant return to touring. Those who speak of his Kilmainham gigs do so in awed tones. Reverential tones. Evangelical tones. Tones that make those of us who missed the gigs feel grubby and unenlightened.

Discussions of Cohen often tread a fine line between elevating him to near-mythical status and reducing him to a cliche or caricature. He's always been a sobriquet magnet. "Laughing Len", the "Master Of Erotic Des- pair", the "Bard Of The Boud- oir"... take your pick. All fun and chucklesome, of course, but hardly revelatory. So how did Woods and Simmons get on? Any fresh insight?

Well, nothing earth-shattering, but there were (happily) one or two surprises. I hadn't realised quite how voracious a consumer of drugs he once was. "At one stage," said Woods, "he seems to have taken just about every drug going... becoming known as 'Captain Mandrax'" (named, apparently, after a well-known "downer" of the time).

Simmons described how the revelations about his drug intake shocked even her, joking that she couldn't get her head around "the thought of Leonard Cohen on speed". Leonard, she said, responded to her shock by dryly drawling: "Darling, you should hear me when I'm not on speed."


And what of his well-publicised fondness for the opposite sex? "Leonard loved women," said Simmons. "He didn't just love them horizontally. He loved them vertically. And every other angle in between." An enjoyable hour and one that did justice to a subject who's far more fun than he's often given credit for.

Sunday morning's Bowman featured a lovely tribute to the late Dennis O'Driscoll ("poet, writer and critic"). We heard O'Driscoll chatting to Myles Dungan, in an old Rattlebag interview, about growing up in Thurles as a "total poetry nerd". At the age of 14, he said, he was blown away by a local production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Aghast, however, that only 10 people were in attendance he wrote to Beckett (who he assumed was some young, struggling up-and-comer) and tried to console him.

Attempting to pass himself off as "some kind of well-informed, tremendously insightful, local critic", O'Driscoll wrote, "I know this is very discouraging, but you really are a good playwright... keep up the good work".

An obviously amused Beckett, then well into his sixties, wrote back, sending O'Driscoll "a limited edition of one of his plays".

"He took the Nobel Prize later that year," quipped O'Driscoll, "so even I realised, at that stage, that my encouragement couldn't quite have brought that about."