‘Dance Me to the End of Love’: Joan Juliet Buck on Her Platonic Friendship with Almost-Lover Leonard Cohen

At Harper’s Bazaar, Joan Juliet Buck, a past editor of Paris Vogue and author of the new memoir, The Price of Illusion, has an essay about how her grandmother’s regrets affected Buck’s own romantic choices. As she was approaching her 70s, her grandmother admitted that if she had it to do all over again, she’d have been “fast,” which is to say “loose,” as opposed to being married to one man her whole life. Buck, who came of age in the 60s, considered her grandmother’s regrets and decided she didn’t want to be tied down — a choice that was much more radical then than it might be now.

While Buck was married for a few years, mostly she wasn’t — creating space not only for many love affairs, but also close friendships with men. In her early twenties, Buck met singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen and almost accepted his invitation to join him on a Greek isle. Ultimately she turned him down; years later, the two became close friends. In the essay, Buck admits regretting turning down the initial invitation, and recalls spending time with Cohen, who passed away last November.

I married a fellow journalist, a fine writer named John Heilpern. A script took him to Los Angeles in 1978, and I joined him at the Chateau Marmont, where Leonard Cohen came back into my life. The man whose voice sang what I couldn’t say became a close friend; when John was away, and he was away often, I lay on the bed in Leonard’s room a few floors below ours, chastely discussing the mysteries of love through the night. I found my voice with him. We traded stories and smoked cigarettes; he called it “gossiping about the moral universe.”

After John and I divorced, Leonard became an even closer friend. It had been 10 years since we’d met, and by then we knew each other too well for mutual seduction to work. It was richer to examine love together than to play at it; this was the complicity I’d been waiting for. I did my game of being fast with other men; Leonard fell in love with other women, most deeply with the photographer Dominique Issermann. Now we could stay up all night talking: in New York, on the floor of his suite at the still-shabby Royalton Hotel while his children slept next door; in Paris, where I lived in a garret to finish my second novel. Sometimes we discussed his broken heart, sometimes mine. He’d consider all the evidence, and conclude, a little too often for my taste, “He doesn’t love you, sweetheart.” He’d leaven the verdict with a cheery, “It’s all a vale of tears,” and off we’d go somewhere dark to eat something Japanese.

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