While Kanye West was playing court jester in the Oval Office last Thursday, bragging about having an IQ in the 98th percentile and revealing that wearing a Make America Great Again cap made him “feel like Superman,” Sylvie Simmons, author of “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen,” was discussing her favorite subject’s recent act: trolling the Trump-loving rapper from beyond the grave.
Cohen, the deep-voiced troubadour who wrote some of rock’s most widely admired lyrics —“Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire” and “Hallelujah”— died November 7, 2016, at age 82. But his new book, “The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings,” debuted last week, powered by a poem that roasts the rapper—”Kanye West Is Not Picasso.”
The 21-line poem begins with this throw-down from Cohen:
Kanye West is not Picasso
I am Picasso
Kanye West is not Edison
I am Edison
Then it heats up from there. Jay-Z gets cut down in the Canadian bard’s cross-fire, as Cohen writes:
Jay-Z is not the Dylan of Anything
I am the Dylan of anything
“When I got an advanced copy of ‘The Flame,’ I certainly laughed out loud,” said Simmons.
Asked if she’d considered the poem a form of trolling, Simmons said, “That may be a little drastic, but there’s a line in there about ‘the great bogus shift of bullshit culture,’ and it’s funny because this isn’t really a high-brow dis. This is, you know, sleeves-up, ‘get in the ring, motherfucker.’ He’s taking Kanye on. It’s rap-talk, in a way, but done Leonard Cohen style.
That Cohen style comes across like this:
I am the Kanye West Kanye West thinks he is
When he shoves your ass off the stage
Noting the date of the poem—March 15, 2015—Simmons said Cohen was inflamed by West's self-aggrandizing words uttered weeks earlier at an appearance at Oxford. "My goal," Kanye said, "if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater."
Simmons laughed at West’s audacious remark. “Basically he was Trump before Trump,” she said about the rapper, scoffing: “He’s the best at everything.”
By evoking Picasso, Kanye tread on sacred ground, said Simmons. “You don’t mess with Leonard when it comes to any Spaniard. Leonard was nuts about Spain and all of its great artists, be they fine artists, poets or musical artists.”
The biographer, who is also a noted singer and ukulelist, says she “didn’t get the impression Leonard hated Kanye’s music whatsoever, but he was not going to like someone coming up and saying, “Hey, I would have been better than Picasso.’”
As for the combative new poem, Simmons says the often humble, self-effacing song-writer did have an edge at times, adding his classic album “I’m Your Man,” has moments of self-aggrandizement.
“A lot of people have said that Leonard Cohen had a prophetic quality to his work,” said Simmons. “I do remember that Leonard was talking to some friends about Trump and how he actually feared that Trump would win. He actually, deep inside, thought that would be a big possibility. And he left us just two days before Trump was elected and the whole world was turned upside down. So there really was a feeling of that bogus bullshit culture which is definitely coming into being.
"He did think that Trump might get in. As far as I can tell, the way that Kanye has been behaving, you know it was obvious that he and Trump would become best buddies as they share a kind of language and form of expression."
When Simmons—who had taken time out from celebrating her birthday to discuss “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” —was asked if she knew the sneaker-selling rapper had, just moments earlier, met with Trump in the Oval Office and gave the President advice on improving life for African-Americans in inner cities and replacing Air Force One with a hydrogen-powered plane, she let out a choked laugh of disbelief. Then she paused for a moment, adding:
“I wish that Leonard was there to write a poem about that.”