August 7th 2011
IRA COHEN, who sadly passed away earlier this year, did many wondrous things in his life. (I am borrowing the word ‘wondrous’ from William Levy; he used it with reference to Ira’s works in an essay entitled “The Art of Hate,” which appeared in his book Natural Jewboy, Ins & Outs Press, 1981.) But one of the things Ira definitely did not do was write The Hashish Cookbook. Hence, contrary to popular but terribly misinformed belief, Ira was also not the pseudonymous author Panama Rose. That was instead Ira’s then-girlfriend Rosalind. We’re talking Tangier, Morocco, mid-1960s. Rosalind invented the recipes, Rosalind wrote and designed the book. At Brion Gysin’s suggestion. Meaning that it wasn’t even Ira’s idea. What Ira did do, in New York 1966, was publish the book under his Gnaoua Press imprint and sell it. 10, 000 copies in six weeks. Oh yes, and then over the years usurp authorship credit, by allowing everyone who wasn’t there at the time (and thus knew better) to believe that he was Panama Rose. This ruse, this historical lie, became such a cornerstone of Ira’s personal mythology that practically all the obituaries led with it: in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Independent, as well as a touch more coyly in the Guardian.
I’d known the truth for ages. Having been told it by Bill Levy years ago. Yet when Bill first blew the whistle on Ira, I obviously wasn’t paying close enough attention. Otherwise I might have asked Ira for an explanation, if not an outright confession. Or would I have? Given that by then Ira and I were no longer on speaking terms. And in any event, he most likely would’ve told me to shut up and mind my own business. It was only after Ira’s death, and I got to reading the obits and saw what a big deal was being made of the cookbook, that Bill’s words leapt out of my subconscious memory bank and into the forefront of my thinking mind. Huh? Like hell he was Panama Rose! I went to see Bill and we discussed the matter thoroughly. After which I did further research. The results were conclusive: Ira Cohen did not write The Hashish Cookbook, Rosalind did.
I cannot change the obituaries, they are unfortunately set in stone. Ditto various other articles etc that insist on perpetuating the myth. Although the reality is now finally reflected in Ira Cohen’s Wikipedia page. All I can do, and have done, is tell the full story. It’s on my website. As is a facsimile PDF of the original book, thereby making it available as a free download. So forget about buying reprints or bootleg knockoffs; or paying outrageous prices for first editions (there are a few out there), including those signed by…well, not by the real Panama Rose, that’s for sure. Those you won’t find, because the real Panama Rose never signed any! Only her erstwhile boyfriend did that. Alas.
But please listen. None of this calls into dispute any of Ira’s truly valuable contributions to literature and the arts. He wrote hundreds of fine poems; he took countless unique photographs; he made films and produced record albums (e.g., Jilila). His magazine Gnaoua was ground-breaking. He was a raconteur par excellence. In short, and as said above, he did wondrous things. Yet like so many artists, Ira Cohen had a dark side. A deeply troubled inner shadow that occasionally led him to…yeah, do ‘bad stuff.’ Take actions, make moves, that his higher self surely was not proud of. Stealing credit for The Hashish Cookbook was one of these. My Panama Rose story is at once an attempt to set the record straight and do justice to Ira’s legacy. Whether he’d want me to or not. I am presently in the process of writing more about Ira, an in-depth personal profile. So stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, you can read about Panama Rose here:
And from there you can get to the cookbook itself. To view, print out, and/or download.
Ah, a word of advice. The Hashish Cookbook was mainly written to amuse, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Depending on your metabolism and tolerance levels, most of the recipes are harmless. A couple or so are potentially not: in particular those with Datura stramonium or cantharides beetles among the ingredients. Avoid cantharides at all costs, it is a urinary tract irritant. So y’know, have fun, be careful and…
Bom Shankar, EDDIE