Back to the Show

Michael Cohen

debut album, 1973

back of debut album

The lyrics below were sent to me by the LP's producer, Charles Pitts (Thank you!)
They were never included in the original release.

Below, lyric booklet from "What Did You Expect?"

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

album 3

below, lyric booklet from "Some Of Us Had To Live"

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

lyric booklet

from back of 3rd album        Michael Cohen, 1976

Rare article about Michael Cohen and Steven Grossman

Alas, everyone was not a big fan....

December 2007. Sometimes people who have been moved by the music of the
artists I feature write me, with their own experiences and information. I love
this, and want to share (with his permission) an email from Mal Schoen (California):

In 1984, quite by accident, I discovered Michael Cohen's first album
in a used record store in Berkeley. I became obsessed with it, located
his other album (I didn't know there was a third till I read it in your column
this week!), and was determined to find out if he was still around. 
Believe it or  not, I tracked him down!  I called the record company, which
had no information on him (not even a current address, so they couldn't
send him his royalty checks). but they referred me to the musicians who
played on the albums.  This didn't pan out, but I was persistent - I noted
that someone named Warren Selinger had written a Queens-themed poem
on the lyrics page.  It was more than a decade later, but I took a chance -
in that pre-Internet age - and called Queens directory assistance. 
Selinger was still there! 

I called, and another man answered the phone -
he put Selinger on, and I gave him my spiel. He found it touching and
generously gave me Michael Cohen's phone number. I was shaking! 
His songs were so raw and romantic, I was sure that somehow we were
fated to meet and be together (note: I was in my 20s then!).  It took a few
times to get through - he had no answering machine - but eventually he
said hello, and there I was in my Berkeley apartment, talking with
Michael Cohen, gay troubadour of the 70s. 

We didn't talk long - he sounded very sad and it was awkward.  I told him
I'd just discovered his albums and how much I enjoyed them, and he said
he was glad to hear the music was still alive and touching people,
something like that.  I realized I couldn't delve deeper,  he just sounded
too sad, and I didn't want to intrude.  I've wondered over the years what
became of him, but I have no idea.  "Michael Cohen" is not an unusual
name and hard to track.

I know this isn't much....but I guess it's something. - Mal Schoen

Below, added April 2017. This 1999 article was sent to me in 2010, I think
from Charles Pitts, the author, and producer of his first LP.
I do not know the article's source.

The above article gives the only reference I have found as to the date of Cohen's death, November 1997

Also in 2010 I received the following remembrances of Michael Cohen by someone who knew him...

Dennis Westler November 29, 2010

Through a rather circuitous route i came upon your page on Michael Cohen. Quite coincidentally I had just exchanged
e-mail today with Warren Selinger (whose liner notes to Michael's album are on your page), about the difficulties of
dealing with elderly parents with dementia. We were part of a small intense circle of friends in the 60's and 70's torn
asunder by the sudden departure of a few of us to become "jesus freaks" in the thrall of Tony Alamo (Notably Bobby
Kitchener, whose picture is in the lyrics sheet, and who was one of Michael's and my first crushes, and who might well
have been gay, and Daniel Shapiro). I remained close to Michael until his death a number of years ago, as did Warren
(who lived in NYC, but is now in Philadelphia with his wife). He stopped recording, but we spent many nights playing
and singing together (I actually gave a small recital at his house on Horatio Street in the early 90's, him on piano, me
singing). He was a very talented, very tortured, very high maintenance friend. It was hard to maintain a relationship
with him, but I still miss him terribly and think of him often.

It is funny, he had not come out to anybody yet, but had entered aversion therapy to try to deal with his homosexuality
(which was in part the source of his drug addiction problems, as the quack who treated him prescribed Quaaludes).
I who had gone off to Cornell struggled with mine and came out while lead singer for a local blues band. When i came
out to him, it (as he put it later) undid years of therapy in a second.

I need to look through your website! there was so much music from those first years of Gay Liberation that has been lost,
if only in the switch from lp's and tape to cd's and mp-3's.

Dennis Westler, from J.D. Doyle November 29

Thank you SO much for writing, Dennis. You are the first person to give any clue as to what became of Michael Cohen, who
I kind of presume had died. Here I am already asking a favor...:) I would love love to post something to my site as an update,
could you write something up, from what you know....ie, what happened to him in the years after his recordings, when did he
die, any personal observations, etc. Any photos? That would be great service to folks wanting info on him, as I've been
contacted several times over the years asking if I knew any more, and I just didn't...


JD, from Dennis Westler November 30

I think you can kind of get something together from what i have already written for you.
After he stopped recording he eventually got into the porn business (straight porn, it was entirely for the easy money, as he was
never really a fan of porn)! First as a distributor to theaters, and then as a producer. He had an easy way with business, was a
handsome and physically imposing man, and was very engaging when he needed to be. He did quite well, but was sucked into
the 80's drug scene first with cocaine and then with speed. Interestingly throughout that period he was a strong financial
supporter of gay rights causes and gay politicians. Because he was in the porn business he kept a low profile but contributed
nonetheless.

He finally got sober through NA and AA, and maintained sobriety for the rest of his life. But it was already too late in terms of HIV,
and Hep-C, and the hep-c was to be his undoing, destroying his liver. After he got sober he really got into going to the gym and
considering his height, and his looks, it was hard to be around him. He got all the attention. He managed to have two long term
relationships with wonderful men, the first died of HIV disease, the second survived him, though we have lost contact. It has to
be about 10 years since he died, but quite honestly that is not the sort of thing I remember well. Given how many people in my life
died through the 80's, I don't hold onto those dates. The pictures I have of him are all personal, and I wouldn't want to see them
published, he never liked being in the public eye really, I think it was just something he had to do for a while.

When I think of Michael it is not really as the singer-songwriter, as his songs were always too tortured and inner directed for my tastes.
But music was a big part of both our early lives. He often said I had a better singing voice, but i disliked performing for large groups,
and gave that up after college. I felt kind of guilty that I never learned to sing any of his songs. But we shared a love for Joni Mitchell,
Leonard Cohen, Dylan, and a number of other artists and spent lots of time playing and singing together. To me he is the Michael I
came of age with, we went through a lot together in the 60's and early 70's, and that cemented out friendship and love for each other.

Towards the end he became very difficult, and pushed a lot of people away, part of it was bitterness, part of it was the disease.
I managed to get back into his good graces, and had some nice times with him in the months before he died. It was around
Thanksgiving actually that he passed away. As I said before he was not easy to be friends with, but it was worth the effort and he
was loved (and is missed) by many people. He'd be amused and gratified that his music is still being listened to. And if it makes life
easier for anyone than it was for him as a young man, he'd be very happy.

Another email on Michael

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2005
Subject: Michael Cohen

I also happen to have known Michael Cohen. I knew Michael from
childhood. We went to the same elementary school and
crossed paths in both public school and at after-school Jewish religious
instruction.

Later on I heard a local Pacifica broadcaster featuring Michael as a
guest (Charles Pitts at WBAI). Pitts also recorded Michael at the
station (back then it was in a decommissioned church on the east side of
Manhattan).

I ran into Michael at the Continental Baths. (What sluts we all were
before The Plague!) And that was when I learned the back story. He
apologized to me for never having come to my defense when the bullies
attacked me in our childhood. It turns out that even before his
adolescence his parents had sensed-- or Michael had revealed-- an
attraction for men. His parents sent him to one of the most notorious
anti-homosexual psychiatrists in the United States. (It was either
Lawrence Hatterer or Bieber-- I believe it was the former but this
discussion was thirty years ago.)

Michael came away badly scarred from the sadist's "therapeutic" torture.
And sad to say, that trauma haunted Michael even after he came out.
Looking back, I'd say his albums were a way for him to strike back.
Michael loved the work of Leonard Cohen. And it was a transcendent
experience sitting on a bed in some crashpad in Flushing , NY. Michael
played acoustic guitar and we ran through the various songs from Leonard
Cohen's first album. I sang tenor harmonies to Michael's melody line.
Michael had the same melancholy that Leonard Cohen built into his songs
and writings. (By the way, I have no reason to believe that they were
related in any way; Cohen is a pretty common surname.)

Time fades what happened from there. But mutual friends told me that
after releasing a couple albums and making a vociferous representation
of himself as a gay troubadour, he married a female friend and retreated
from the previous phase. One can only imagine the many layers of pain
Michael was struggling with. There's the tendency in the US for people
to see such behavior as a betrayal. So I must imagine that Michael felt
he was going into exile. And then there was the submerged self-loathing
implanted from childhood by Hatterer. (I really think it was Hatterer.)

I don't know what's become of Michael and I sure would love to know.

Marc