On a snowy, dreary Montreal morning that looks the way his music sounds, Leonard Cohen is taking out the garbage. No one, however, does trash disposal like Leonard Cohen. For one thing, he’s wearing a sharply cut gray suit-at 10 a.m. For another, he ends the act with a flourish: After he dumps the trash into a can directly outside the cozy kitchen of his drab rowhouse in Montreal’s ethnic shopping district, he walks back in and takes from his jacket what appears to be a matchbook-size piece of wood. “You know what this is?” Cohen intones, the sound of the Lord on a bad day. “It’s old-fashioned French incense. You just light it and stand there.” So he lights it and stands there, and as a thin strand of smoke snakes its way around his hang-dog face, Cohen smiles ever so subtly. The image is the very essence of cool, and you start to understand not only why you want to be there (to paraphrase his song “Suzanne”) but why Cohen-singer, songwriter, poet, and patron saint of angst-is an underground hero revered by everyone from Bob Dylan to R.E.M. Cohen is an unlikely idol. At 58, he’s even older than most aging baby- boomer rock stars, whom he calls “mere boys.” For 25 years, he has recorded a series of intense, often lugubrious albums (the latest is The Future), singing of romantic bondage, spiritual conflict, oppression, and depression- hardly sunny pop sentiments. He’s also part intellectual (“I’m much too preoccupied with myself to notice changes in the commercial environment,” he says when asked about fellow CBS artist George Michael’s suit to get out of his contract with the label) and part schlumpy Jewish guy. “Have you had any of our famous Montreal bagels?” he asks, lighting the ancient stove that, along with a few wood tables and chairs, constitutes most of the furniture in his narrow three-floor home. Suddenly there are footsteps from upstairs, and into the kitchen pops actress Rebecca De Mornay, Cohen’s “very close” partner, wearing black jeans and a wintergreen sweatshirt. “Want some coffee?” Cohen asks her attentively. The two have been a rumored item for five years. It’s hard to imagine a stranger-looking couple – the elegant basset hound and the fresh-faced starlet 28 years his junior – but they seem happy. She coproduced one song on The Future, and he accompanied her to the Oscars telecast last year. After a while, Cohen looks at her and says, “That’s a nice shirt.” She giggles: “Well, it’s yours, actually.” With that, Cohen looks straight at the reporter in his home and, with a face so straight you could use it as a ruler, says, “I never laid a hand on her.” Not only is he a revered rock hero, not only is he worshiped by Rebecca De Mornay – but he can deliver a great line, too.
From “7 Reasons Leonard Cohen Is the Next-Best Thing to God” by David Browne. Entertainment Weekly, Jan 8, 1993. Photo of Leonard Cohen’s home in Montreal taken by and posted with the permission of Lilian Graziani.