Meet Catman Cohen – Out of the Shadows

Provocative Image from Video, “How I Want to Die,” by Catman Cohen
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 Publisher’s Note: I’ve been on a mailing list of shadow musician, Catman Cohen, and noticed that several of his songs have been appearing in numerous Best Songs Lists this past year.

I decided to contact him and see if he would step out of the shadows and provide an interview and I was impressed by his candor.

Thank you, Catman, for generously consenting to speak with me.

Catman Cohen Revealed

Keer:  So tell me…what made you decide to give me this interview when you have avoided them for so many years?

Cohen:   Barbara, I personally knew your late brother, Larry, who created Splash Magazines Worldwide, and so I have great respect for your decision to continue his legacy. 

Let’s begin at the beginning…can you tell us where you were born and how you got involved in music?

I was born, David Cohen, in Calgary, Canada.  My parents were both prominent figures and, frankly, I moved to the USA in order to escape  living under their shadows.

I first began composing music when I was 13 years old.  Somehow drawn to the piano to fashion my own creations.  I was a nerdy kid who preferred to exist within the world of my own imagination.

Provocative Image used in Video, “Zero,” by Catman Cohen

How did you end up living in America?

Under the influence of my late father, I attended Yale College and obtained a degree in Economics.

But much to my father’s dismay, my interest in the Arts took me down a different path.

In my early 20s, I entered the film world as a creative, writing and directing my first feature, “Hollywood Zap.”  It became a cult film, endorsed by John Waters, Paul Bartel, Mark Mothersbaugh, etc. and its main claim to fame is that it set a record for farts in a single film. By today’s standards, it is politically incorrect in the worst way.

Provocative Image used in Video, “London,” by Catman Cohen

So how did you transition from the film world into music?

Following my divorce, I felt devastated. Something inspired me to sit down at a piano again and compose new pieces.

How did you get from the piano to the production of four CDs?

I accidentally met the late Henry Iglesias at a showcase, heard him perform one of his songs on piano, and decided that anybody who could write such an emotionally powerful piece, should become the producer/arranger for my own compositions. 

Catman Cohen in shadow

Why did you opt to become a shadow musician named Catman Cohen?

It was Henry who persuaded me that “David Cohen” is a terrible name for a professional musician/composer.  He felt it to be common, the type of name better suited to an attorney or agent.  So it was Henry who gave me the name, “Catman Cohen.”  

The decision to become a mysterious shadow musician followed my meeting with several buddies who were very successful in the music biz. They advised that I was too old and too ugly to be involved in rock/pop. They were especially emphatic in stating, “Dead over 30.”  So becoming a shadow musician was designed to hide the fact that I was past my prime and not a hot boy toy who could excite teenie girls.

Also, I used to pal around with the late legendary actor, Tony Curtis. So I got a first-hand look at what fame is like.  It seemed very unappealing,  having total strangers constantly intrude into your life, so I resolved to ensure the spotlight only shone upon my songs, NOT myself.

Furthermore, since I planned to write several songs dealing with political issues, I wanted to focus upon things more important than personal trivia…everything from the resurrection of neglected heroes to fresh water activism.

Finally, I knew the American Big Media love to destroy artists whose ideas they oppose by exposing past skeletons that undermine their Art.  I figured if I were a mystery figure, it would make it much harder for them to “destroy” me.

How I Want to Die: the Catman Chronicles 1

Yes, I see you also have many published quotations about societal issues.  I especially like the one about the need for a resurrection of neglected heroes (e.g., nurses).

My entire approach made me an outcast in the music industry, right out of the gate. I still remember a fellow from ABC TV contacting me after my first CD, “How I Want to Die,” was released and indicating his interest in an interview. I told him I did not give out personal interviews. 

Instead, I compiled a list of 100 Social Activists, from Patch Adams to Peter Gleick, who had far more important things to say about the urgent state of the world.   This ABC fellow got very angry and scolded me, stating, “No personal interviews…who the hell do you think you are…Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones???”   I informed the man that I merely wished to be consistent in my approach, and start out from square one prioritizing what really matters.  He felt that, as a musical newbie, I was insufferably arrogant and, before he slammed the phone down, promised that ABC and all his journalist buddies would blacklist me for any future interviews.

How I Want to Live: the Catman Chronicles 2

What about the songs themselves?  What was the reaction? And why do you not perform live?

Frankly, I got mild respect from reviewers way back then….but few were enthusiastic.  I still remember my first producer, the late Henry Iglesias, constantly telling me that I was years ahead of my time, that my song themes were oft quite disturbing in their raw truthfulness, and that society in the early 2000s was not ready to embrace that.  Henry once told me that it would take an America in distress to really understand or relate to my songs. That might explain the latest wave of interest in my work.

As for live performance, first of all, as a shadow musician, I was compelled to hide my true identity. 

But frankly, although I am not shy in front of crowds, I am not a great performer. The really great stage entertainers often start in their teens, it’s a real talent that typically takes decades to perfect.  

How I Want to Dream: the Catman Chronicles 3

Hmmm, I do admire your honesty

Frankly, Barbara, my fantasy is to be a dedicated songwriter and have all my songs covered by much superior performers.  Something in the vein of Leonard Cohen. Although he performed live occasionally, like me, his vocal talents were limited and so his compositions were covered by top musical artists who admired his songs, yet knew they could improve them.

Which of your songs would you prefer to be covered? And by whom?

Difficult to choose since I have a 60 song library.

One of my most popular songs is, “This Song is for my Mother,” and if somebody like Adam Lambert covered that, I have no doubt he would sell millions of copies. 

Or another emotionally impacting song is, “Father, You Believed,” and likely would be amazing in the hands of somebody like Kelly Clarkson

Climb Aboard My Dream,” or “Rose Hips Lady” would be instant hits if they were sung by Alan Jackson.  

She’s My Hallelujah” would be a real chick killer if it were covered by Chris Stapleton…and if he ever sang, “There was a Boy,” no doubt that would reduce an audience to tears. 

All these songs require very raw powerful singers who send shivers down the spines of an audience, a talent that only a rare few have.

Confessions of a Shadow

Any other special projects coming up?

We are preparing my 5th CD….and I am promoting my first novel (under my legal name), “A Nerd Writes His Mission Statement,” an outrageous story about a dork striving to become an alpha male. 

Do you have anything further you would like to share with Splash Worldwide Readers?

Yes, Barbara, I have been criticized for writing largely depressing songs. But despite their oft gloomy nature, they typically resolve with much optimism. 

In my own case, although I had disappointments/failures in life, as so many do, I try to focus upon the blessings. 

I urge others to do so. 

So many good souls have lofty dreams and aspirations that do not pan out…unexpected obstacles arise…bad decisions and choices taken….and there are times you feel like jumping off a cliff, especially as our culture transitions in strange and alienating ways. 

But it is important to maintain a sense that “Anything is possible!” 

Miracles do happen and can change your life in an instant and there may be one coming your way any moment.  

I thank you very much for stepping out from the shadows. You are truly unlike anybody I’ve ever met in the music biz.

All photos are generously provided by Catman Cohen

Music & Lyrics by Catman Cohen

Produced & Arranged by Henry Iglesias

Produced & Arranged by James Lum

Produced & Arranged by Bruce Wangsanutr

Catman Cohen CONTROVERSY Page


1 Comment

  1. I know Catman and have always valued his mind, his approach to life and his choices greatly. He sees very clearly through the fog that has clouded our current culture. How can one not want to listen to his music after such an insightful interview?

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