Oct 14 2006
09:13 am

Steve Cohen is the guy who should take Harold Ford's place in the House if all goes as expected. Ford could become the first African American elected to represent Tennessee and Cohen could become the first Jew, White member of the Black Caucas, White guy to represent a predominately Black district, anything else?

 Checking Cohen's bio I see that he and I are the same age so I should have gone to school at the same time he did. I went to Snowden and Central in the 60's. Cohen seems to be brilliant, liberal, and honest. Does Tennessee elect honest people any more?

I hope so.

Tennessee Waltzer's picture

Democratic 9th District Candidate Steve Cohen

Senator Cohen was a close personal friend of Warren Zevon, a musical "genius" who left the building in 2003. Cohen delivered the eulogy below at Zevon's funeral, which, I think you will agree, says as much about the putatuve congressman as it does about the artist.
Apologies for the length, but trust me, it's worth it. Not many Tennessee state senators can write like this, I dare say, or care to quote W.H Auden in their remarks.


Warren lived, by his own accounting, two lives - the rock star years of excess and the sobriety years of family, books, movies and popsicles. That's seven lives less than cats are allowed, but one more than God grants most mere mortals. In rock star years he got 14 extra. Not being mere mortals, their years are measured by the life of "The King" with 42 years being normal life expectancy. That may be Memphis years. In California, Jerry Garcia is the measure more appropriate for Warren so he still had plus 3 years.

I knew Warren in his second life---the quiet, not quite normal, life. It was my good luck that I got to share in Warren World. Those whom he allowed in were blessed by knowing one of the most intelligent, understanding, supportive, caring, generous and thoughtful guys ever. Few people have had as much influence on my life. To me he was a rock, a confidant, a buddy - a rock, not just a rocker. He taught me a lot about literature, movies, authors, music, international events, and style.

He was extremely well read and that was apparent in his songwriting. Shelley, Lord Byron, Keats, The Envoy, Phillip Habibe, the Congolese, fluorocarbons (before Al Gore invented them!), Mombasa, brucellosis (BRUCELLOSIS!), Don Quixote, the seven deadly sins, Woodrow Wilson and the Vera Cruz, entropy, portier and on and on….. He was the Norman Mailer of songwriters. He'd put you in your dictionary quicker than your second grade teacher.

And style. Well, Memphis isn't exactly the sticks. But we're a lot more like Fresno than we are Beverly Hills. And once Warren taught me about Prada and I started to think I knew something, he'd already moved on to Jil Sander. The only time I think I trumped him was when I was wearing Oxxford. He didn't know Oxxford. But three weeks later he called back asking, "That's Oxxford with two x's isn't it?" Well, I didn't know but he'd learn about Oxxford. I finally thought I knew something about clothes that Warren didn’t.

Sam Phillips, the father of it all, said, "If you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything at all." Warren was different. He wrote about folks, events and social conditions that others wouldn't touch, either because they didn't understand or recognize them or their agents and managers steered them to more commercially attractive material. One of the things that brought Warren and me together was our rebellious attitudes - challenging the status quo and providing a forum otherwise not available for issues or people on the fringes. In Renegade Warren wrote, "I am a renegade, I've been a rebel all my days." When I heard him perform that song I knew he was my brother. He was my man. That's something Sam Phillips admired also. Sam said, "For God's sake let's don't become conformists, please. You can be a nonconformist and not be a rebel. And you can be a rebel and not be an outcast." Thank you, Sam!

Now, how did we become buddies? A poet and a Tennessee Senator? A real Senator. Polly and the fans would like to know if I was a real Senator. A Senator who walked with the Queen while doing the Werewolves of London and who has sold t-shirts and provided security on tour on occasion. Well, back in '93, the Young Democrats were having a convention in Memphis and I was running for Governor. A friend of mine had booked Warren into a club in Memphis and told me the Young Democrats could be my guests at the concert and I could introduce Warren if he would allow me. The club manager warned me that Zevon was a little temperamental. I went back in the green room and we shared some time and we learned we had similar passions - uncompromising attitudes, the search for the truth in our respective fields, and a Russian/Jewish heritage. Warren told me he was not quite Jewish enough to know the holidays, but Jewish enough not to get into the country clubs. Well, I must have had good luck that day because Warren asked me to go ahead and do the intro. After the show he informed he was going to Nashville in two days and I told him I'd be there also. And I went there and I introduced him for the second act, "Ladies and Gentleman, Warren Zevon." Well, the eyes of the folks in Nashville were bugging out------Senator Cohen up on the stage with Warren Zevon! They couldn't make the connection either! We became friends after that and it was a friendship that I was privileged to enjoy. It was only recently that I learned that he had told Dr. Babyhead that night back in Memphis, "We'll never see that guy again. He's a politician." Well, here I am.

He later gave me the sobriquet "Senator Steve." Like his Dad he handed out nicknames: Disney, Schoolmarm, Hugh, Smelly Boy, Pretty Neighbor, Porny Neighbor. He was a fabulous friend, but as Ryan (who's been his angel for a year or more) knows, not necessarily easy. Warren set high standards for friendship and there was a certain amount of luck involved in getting beyond his rope line. Being a friend meant lots of phone hours and high phone bills, late at night, on the road, whenever, wherever. We talked about careers, boxing matches, women, movies, books, women at the tanning parlor, critics, editorials, tours, vote counts, women at the golf course, agents, campaign managers, diets, chicken, popsicles, women, Aqua Di Parma, Bob Dylan, anything gray but Spalding, and, of course Kristen, and his beloved children - Jordan and Ariel. He loved you and you and you. And then his grandsons. He couldn't have been prouder. He was happy to see them born and to hold them in his arms.

We talked trips, exotic trips. Borneo and Tibet. Those were Warren's ideas. Amsterdam, Havana, Iceland, Prague. Those were my ideas. But we never got around to doing any of them. It wasn't easy to get Warren out of his world. Be it Kings Road, Book Soup, Hugos, Tower Video or, in New York, Morgans or Lawrences or any Borders or Mall in America. Those were Warren's worlds. It took a big event, like this one, to get Warren out.

One event is when he finished a tour and he wanted to travel up highway 61 from New Orleans through Memphis to Nashville where I was having Thanksgiving and he would share it with me. That was a fun trip. It was an interesting excursion. We ate all kinds of Cajun food outside of Baton Rouge, visited Huey Long at the State Capitol, got lost in coon ass country, then got lost in the Bayou and found out we'd missed the last ferry across the Mississippi River. We went to the police station there and found some cops. They kind of laughed at us because we had missed the last ferry and said we had to go back about 10 miles and over about 20 and up some more and they said we needed to go to Ferriday. That's where Jerry Lee Lewis is from. You'll understand how appropriate that is. There was a place there, where we were supposed to make a turn, called "T-Roys." The cops said, "You boys need to go to T-Roys. At T-Roys you can get beer, you can get Mountain Dew, you can get chicken, you can get food, you can gamble, you can get cocaine. You can get anything you want at T-Roys." Well, that was pretty wild, T-Roys. T-Roys had a real impact on Warren and me. Some folks always have Paris; Warren and I will always have T-Roys. We often reminisced about T-Roys and a few months later Warren sent me this framed picture of T-Roys. Typical of Warren, it came with a Barney's tag on the back. I guess that's a little Tennessee Minnie Pearl of me to keep it on there. Sterling silver frame. Warren always had class and was very generous with his friends. We traveled up from Louisiana and the next day we were in Vicksburg and that's when we had a little talk before Life'll Kill You came out. And Warren told me that he felt his music would be better known after he died; that his music was a microcosm of the last part of the 20th century and like so many artists, his work would be recognized later. Right again.

When we got to Memphis, I took Warren to Graceland. There were two things he really got stoked about that weren't typical, which is not surprising that Warren would find atypical things to appreciate. One was the TV room and when he saw the porcelain monkeys, he got on his cell phone immediately, called Jorge and with the biggest smile on his face said, "Guess where I am? I'm in Elvis's TV room looking at the porcelain monkeys." And the other was the pistol range. Only ten feet from gun to target. Even Warren couldn't imagine the high of shooting a glock on dilaudid at ten feet.

Warren being at Graceland was kind of a collision of musical styles, a contrast and a parallel. The porcelain monkey - hip shaking shouting in gold lame - that was how Elvis earned his regal sobriquet. But he traded it in for a night in Las Vegas, eating fried chicken with his regicidal friends. That was Elvis, it wasn't Warren. Warren stayed true to his art and that's why his work will endure. He was born to rock the boat where some may sink, but he will float.

In 2000, I came out to Los Angeles to go to the Democratic Convention and it was typical Senator Steve and Z occurrence. Warren took me by the studio and introduced me to Peter Asher where he was working on Back in the High Life. And I took him to the Staples Center for the Democratic Convention. We went two days and all kind of people were really thrilled to meet Warren. George Stephanopolous exclaimed, "My gosh, that's Warren Zevon. I can't believe it." And there were other politicians and journalists surprised to see him there. Warren had a great time. He even wore a tie.

And in June of 2002, I think we had the ultimate big event. Memphis attracted the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight (or nobody else wanted it and it ended up in Memphis). It was my opportunity to treat some of my friends to a big event. And Warren and I had talked about going to fights together, but just never had done it. Tyson and I convinced Warren to come to Memphis. Our friend, Michael Wolff, came from New York. Julian Bond came from Washington. And we were together with my good friend, lawyer Irvin Salky. The five of us were kind of like a mini Rat Pack. We traveled around the Pyramid and everybody knew Julian. It was like being with a Kennedy in the Back Bay. And there were a lot of people who recognized Warren and wanted to meet him and get his autograph. Of course, Michael, with his Arsenio Hall background, was recognized by his share, too. And the locals and the low life politicians, of course, they gravitated to me. Being with Warren, Michael, and Julian definitely increased my stock. So we all had our crowd and had a great time. Even saw Gregory Hines who had worked with Michael and Polly in the Tic Code. But we almost didn’t make it on time. It was a big event in Memphis and people were concerned about security. Michael was ready. Julian was ready. Irvin was ready. I was ready. But Warren was still in his room. We waited. He had to get dressed right. We waited. Warren was very particular about his dress and he had to get his hair in order. We waited. And when he finally came out so we could go to the fight…. I need a little help here from you folks….. his hair was. . . . . . . . . . PERFECT!

After the fight Warren ran into Scott Rosenberg, the screenwriter of THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD at Isaac Hayes' club. That was a special occasion for Warren. They'd kind of had a thing for years and there they were meeting near Beale Street at 1 o'clock in the morning.

We had some great times. When I first learned of Warren's illness and we were talking, I guess I got a little maudlin. Talking about how good our friendship was and how much he meant to me. And I guess he could tell I was about to lose it. Warren cautioned me, "Don’t get bluesy." Well, I remembered that and tried not to get bluesy again. A couple of weeks ago I came out and visited and Kristen and Warren and I watched the VH1 Special. He was pleased to see it. But what he was most proud of was of having seen his children on CBS the previous morning and how well they'd done talking about him and representing him. That meant a lot to him. His last message to me was about a week ago and he told me, "It's really not quite so harrowing as it sounds. Don't worry." Warren was concerned about us while we were concerned about him.

I'd like to read an excerpt from a poem by W.H. Auden:

From "In memory of W.B. Yeats"

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

Wow. Thank you for posting

Wow. Thank you for posting this.

--Socialist With A Gold Card

"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler


WhitesCreek's picture

In the prison of his

In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Got the final Zevon on as I type...Great stuff!

I'm looking to find out if Cohen was at one of the Schools I went to in Memphis and if we knew each other then. He seems somehow familiar to me, but maybe it's the similarity in positions and interests.

Steve S.

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