Author: Helen Cox

Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.

New Year, New York: Leonard Cohen and Clinton Street

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The first time I heard the name ‘Clinton Street’ was in a song by Leonard Cohen called Famous Blue Raincoat. Cohen lived on Clinton Street, New York City during the 1970s and wrote the following lyrics:

New York is cold
but I like where I’m living
there’s music on Clinton Street
all through the evening.

Something about the haunting quality of Cohen’s voice in this record caught my imagination. That, and the fact I’m rather obsessed with New York City. I listened to that song many times over and started researching the meaning behind the lyrics.

Most would understand on a first listen that this is a song about a love triangle of sorts, but the surprising element is that the third party was, in Cohen’s eyes, a mythical, invisible figure. In an interview with the BBC in 1994, Cohen revealed that he often envisioned an invisible man seducing his partners. Or that perhaps he was that figure in the relationships of other people he knew.

The more I thought about that idea, the more it seemed to me there was scope for a thought-provoking story. But what if the invisible man wasn’t seducing the woman? What if he was an object of fear in her life. A presence she wanted to escape?

All of these thoughts were fragments when they first came to me. I had no idea I’d actually do anything with them. That when I began writing my first novel, about a waitress in a fictional diner situated where East Houston Street meets Clinton, it quickly became apparent that this was the story where that seed of inspiration was going to blossom.

As a way of acknowledging Cohen’s influence, I included the following conversation between Jack and Esther in chapter three of Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner:

‘So whereabouts do you live?’ Jack asked, edging towards me with the same caution an animal control officer might exhibit whilst entrapping a mad dog.

‘If you must know, on Clinton Street.’ I took off my apron and folded it up on the counter. ‘The rent is so pricey I live largely on leftovers from this place but I wanted to be on that street. It’s mentioned in this Leonard Cohen record I’ve always loved.’

‘Oh. Famous Blue Raincoat.’

At this, I looked at him and now it was my turn to frown. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘That’s right.’

‘It’s a powerful song,’ he smiled. Not his charming, glitzy smile but a softer, subtler version that was somehow more appealing.

‘Yes. It, it is. I went through this phase when I was a teenager of listening to it every day. It’s sort of hauntingly beautiful for reasons I’ve never been able to articulate.’

He nodded as though he understood.

***

This was a song so close to my heart, I wanted to use it in a way that helped my characters to connect. I wanted the song to somehow draw them closer. Songs are after all, stories and those who like the same stories as us often have similar experiences and perspectives. Anyone who has ever made somebody a mix tape knows what I’m talking about. Whether or not they like it is a bit of a deal breaker. This is the first time Esther suspects that she might have something in common with Jack. That perhaps there is a connection there worth exploring, if only she can overcome what has happened to her in the past.

Of course, when I wrote this I had no idea that Cohen would pass away within the year. That what was meant as a grateful nod would also become my own personal tribute to the inspirational nature of his songs.

In addition to Cohen, so many people have passed on this year who have personally inspired me. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Victoria Wood, Prince, Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, George Michael and Carrie Fisher. And there are probably yet others I could add. Although the temptation is to be sad about the fact they cannot give us anything ‘new’, I choose instead to be grateful to have been alive at the same time they were. To witness the incredible offerings they made to the world while they were with us, which live on as their legacy every time we return to them and take something away from them.

We may have lost a lot of people who were special to us in 2016, but they had already made us rich with all they’d given us.

The second book in the Starlight Diner series: Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner, takes place over the new year period and is out now.

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This entry was posted on December 28, 2016 by in Author Blog and tagged , , , .
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