“The reality of my life is that I’m connected to a lot of serious communities in the world.”
Excerpt from Leonard Cohen of Montreal: Interview by Michael Benazon. Matrix: Fall, 1986.
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.
Introduction: I spent a few days recently being ravished by the MAC Leonard Cohen exhibition and by the sights and sounds of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal. This is my account of that experience.
September 2016 is marked on The calendar on the wall.
Leonard can be seen on his LA veranda through the window. Everything in his room is frozen in time.
A pair of spectacles on the top of the synthesizer, a stained cup of coffee just to the right side one of Leonard’s self-portraits stands like a mirror in the middle of the table, a childhood photograph of him and Esther commemorates the passing of time, in the floor his slippers.
A book of Ramesh Balsekar, “Consciousness Speaks,” catches my eye on the small bookcase across the room, where he kept among other things, a pair of small silver candle sticks. By the floor is his guitar case emblazoned with “Stranger Music Leonard Cohen”.
It’s a small room where everything seems to be in the right place, in extreme simplicity. Welcome to the other side of intimacy.
Everything at the MAC exhibition was made to involve the visitor, to bring peace and solace to his admirers.
After an experience like that even those most skeptical about Leonard’s work may reconsider the power and the beauty of his music and poetry. The visitor is simply touched by his everlasting presence walking from room to room, eager to discover what’s next, where another vision of him can be had and where his voice can be heard. It is a loving tribute, as John Zeppetelli, the Director and Chief Curator, wrote in the editorial of the magazine of the MAC, but is more than that to me, it’s the place that confirms that there’s no way to say goodbye to Leonard Cohen.
Passing Through is the first room that invites you to stay, find your seat, and let the show begin. An extraordinarily emotive fifty-six minute journey featuring 360º panoramic screens embraces you, transports you into the experience, as though you were back in London’s 02 or at the crowded Coachella or reliving Leonard’s extraordinary version of Memories in 1979.
Much of the song [Suzanne] had been written, but the focus was missing until Suzanne brought me to this warehouse where she was living, then a lot of the imagery came together. I found a focus for it because I love that part of the city. There’s the Sailors’ Church, that’s a Montreal feeling, a Montreal landscape, and when I got the fact that it was she who brought me down there, I was able to find a spine for the song. Then the second verse — ‘Jesus was a sailor’ — people feel Montreal is the Jerusalem of the north. People who were brought up there have this sense of a holy city, a city that means a lot to us. So, I was able to find a place for that second verse between those two verses about Suzanne and to give it that religious quality that the song has, which is the quality of Montreal.
From The Stranger Music of Leonard Cohen by William Ruhlmann. Goldmine: Feb 19, 1993.
Credit Due Department: Photo of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, known as the Sailors’ Church, by Sally Hunter.
Montreal has a real case of Leonard Cohen mania. More than a year after this poet, novelist and singer-songwriter died at the age of 82, he has become something of an urban prophet here. A new generation is memorizing his lyrics. There is the museum exhibition, “Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything,” inspired by his life and work. And Cohen-obsessed residents are making trips to Moishes, a storied steakhouse, to sample his favorite lamb chops.
In the pantheon of Montreal cultural figures, the soulful, self-effacing singer occupies exalted space. But befitting a deeply spiritual man whose art was nourished by Judaism, Catholicism and Buddhism, Cohen attracts a form of devotion here that can border on the messianic.
From Is Leonard Cohen the New Secular Saint of Montreal? by Dan Bilefsky (New York Times: Mmrch 6, 2018). The complete article is available at the link.
Credit Due Department: Photo by Michael Loftus
Quote from Songs Sacred and Profane by Ira Mothner. Look: June 10, 1969. Originally posted Feb 17, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric