We used to have a lot of parties, and Leonard would appear like a shadow, trolling. And then we’d all hang out at the Main deli. Leonard didn’t like [the famed Montreal deli] Schwartz’s—he said, ‘Oh, no, I eat at the Main,’ across the street. You’d go to the Main if you were hungry and at a certain stage of your intoxicants having kicked in. It had my favorite class of people: low-life criminals. People who were hired by political parties to intimidate voters, taxi drivers who had a baseball bat in an attache case. Leonard loved mutants; he loved extremes. I think that’s what makes his work so great; if he saw a dwarf, he became the dwarf—he knew there was a dwarf living inside him. If he saw a dictator, he knew he could be in a bad mood and with the stroke of a pen kill a million people. He was aware of the frailties of all of us at our worst. It was the celebration of that, rather than the denial or repression, that makes his work so long-lasting. And Montreal gives you those people. It’s a very unique place; there’s a church on every street corner, and right next door a tavern. Hence, you’ve got Leonard making a lot of Catholic references in his work. It was that bit of outlawness; you’ve got an authority above you, but it doesn’t interface with you completely, so stray strands start to exist independent of that authority. Leonard’s tone was Montreal.
From Remembering Leonard Cohen: Close Friends, Collaborators & Critics on How He Changed Music Forever by Sasha Frere-Jones (Billboard: November 17, 2016). Photo by Ros Pan.