When you grow up in Montreal, Quebec, it is hard to not be inspired and moved by the great Leonard Cohen, and feel a strong sense of pride that he was born in your beloved city, and knowing that just like you, he walked the streets of Saint-Laurent, St-Denis, played in the “ruelles” (alley ways) of Montreal, and that he even ate at and visited the same Saint-Viateur bagel shop as he strolled Park Avenue. But one doesn’t need to be from Montreal to feel the power of his music, and the impact of his words. Leonard had wanted to be a poet, but decided to become a songwriter because he wasn’t bringing enough money from his poetry. And in a way, we are grateful for this, because his choice to go into music is the choice that led him to create and place in the world some of the most beautiful and powerful songs ever written.
The night I find out about Leonard Cohen’s passing, I found myself in the most interesting of places. I had recently finished performing my set in the International Music Festival being held in the largely beautiful auditorium of West Park in Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC. The festival was filled with a large variety of singers and songwriters from all over the world, sharing their heart and music. The room was already beaming with love. So, in a way, I could not have been in a more optimal place, with more optimal people to find out about Leonard Cohen’s passing. The MC of the night made the announcement of Leonard’s passing, and as I felt my heart drop with sadness, I simultaneously looked into my friend’s eyes to see the same pain on their faces. This was a man who had not just written lyrics, and music, this was a man who had touched other humans on a deep level, as most of the greatest of artists do.
Despite the bad news, we continued the music festival, and at the end of the night, after all the speeches and thanks had been made, we sang a song for Leonard in this beautiful church full of love, support, and magic.
I had heard this song done, and overdone a million times, but this time it was fresh, it was the first time I had heard this tune done after his passing, and there was no way tears were not going to erupt. I realized he had gone, but hoped that he could hear us somehow as we sang his tune in the church, and take it as our goodbye to him.
Thank you Leonard for your music, your words, and your heart. We love you. You really are our man!
Montreal’s reaction to Leonard Cohen (some words from my mother who is a Montreal native herself):
Leonard Cohen was born and raised in Montreal and still had a house there, in the Plateau Mont-Royal area. He apparently often came back to Montreal, although he had a home in Los Angeles. He liked to spend time on St-Laurent, Montreal’s main boulevard and was a regular at a couple of delis there. I read many testimonies of people saying how nice Leonard was. After his death, some Montreal radio stations paid tribute to Cohen and the population paid homage to him and brought flowers, candles, tea and oranges outside his home. Mourners also wrote condolence messages in a register at Montreal’s main library. Leonard Cohen rests in a cemetery at the base of Mount-Royal in Montreal and was given a discreet memorial before the world knew he had died at an Orthodox synagogue close to his childhood home where he was a “beloved and revered member”. Government flags were also lowered half-way in great honor of Leonard Cohen.
Below are the most beautiful testaments of love for Leonard Cohen from a few wonderful songwriters and musicians who have been impacted and influenced by Leonard.
Some thoughts from NYC based singer and songwriters Carrie and Joel McGlynn (from band Hot Glue and the Gun):
“My mother was a Cohen, which pretty much makes me one if you follow the Jewish tradition, but I did not grow up knowing about Leonard.
I met Leonard Cohen in a sacred hall of what I most call church: the theatre. A ragamuffin company of wayward saints in the hills near Trenton and Princeton, NJ gave solace and practice to my damaged and wandering twenty-something self.
Rarely and often, we meet people in our life who hold a deep rope in our soul. One such actor named Barbara was that for me in this theater, and she gave me a copy of “Tower of Song” – a collection of L. Cohen covers from a wide range of artists. Tori Amos’ version of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ still undoes me, and Peter Gabriel gets ‘Suzanne’ just about right.
Until meeting the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, my worldview remained comfortably and broadly drawn. But his gentle, abyss dredging honesty cracked me open in a way from which I have thankfully never healed.
Give a listen to “Anthem” – his perspective at the fall of the Berlin Wall – and “Treaty” – from the album he released just before his passing. I dare anyone to be able to reduce our current political climate to denigrating sound bites in the face of them.
And if those don’t get you, try “The Story of Isaac”.”
Over at Hot Glue & The Gun (www.hotglueandthegun.com), Carrie & I find his influence in so much of what we create that it’s ridiculous. At the heart, we share his idea that when we gather together together to share story and song, we co-create infinite love and spirit. That’s quite a thing.
2016 has taken many sage songsmiths from us in this plane. So let’s take up the mantle and offer this world what it needs most: a cold and a broken hallelujah.
Thoughts from Warren Malone, NYC based singer-songwriter:
I first listened to Leonard Cohen in my bedsit apartment above Dr Salvis practice in Farnworth Bolton Manchester, I was 16 or 17 I was lost I was looking for hope. I walked into town EVERY day to play music on the streets of Bolton, I wasn’t very good but I was punctual reliable resilient.
His first album was one that hit me hard but there is no denying that his “best of” is possibly the greatest introduction to any artist ever!
I’ve listened to almost every song he’s recorded,I’ve tired of him occasionally only to be filled with new appreciation for him over and over again.
I haven’t really listened to the last couple of albums but I’m almost glad that’s the case because now I get more Leonard where some get less.
As a teenage wannabe songwriter i stole lines from him naively thinking I was getting away with something, like I really believed I had discovered him, he was mine, not believing he’d been around forever already. “Tonight will be fine”is a great busking song by the way!!!!
I’m right now back in that bedsit where the bus would pass every 20 minutes and stop right outside my upstairs window! Oh the lack of dignity between the riders on the upper deck and me in my teen antics! God bless my neighbors and god bless Phil Hayes who accidentally gave me an entire LC collection on vinyl, he was a great room mate, never ever around but when he was he was an inspiration.
Im thinking of Bianca Powell I’m thinking of Sally-Ann Winder and her brother Phil who I hope is not on social network because I remember even then he was too genuine for all this, I’m thinking of Steve Robinson I’m thinking of Stephen Dunbar and the Dylan/Cohen battle that we both knew was pointless I’m thinking of Gary Hilton and the band Sisters of Mercy and realizing nothing is new and everything is new all at the same time, I’m remembering every time I shushed a room and forced someone to LISTEN to “So long Marianne “only to be rewarded with what can only be described as wonder !
I’m thinking of Niall Connolly who I know Is in shock right now and is my closest degree to anything Leonard in this new life I found for myself a million miles from the 524 bus to Bolton town center.
My son heard the latest single from the new LC album a few weeks ago and said ” what’s up with his voice?………it’s awesome”
If you never got it, it’s ok, you still have a chance to go get it, it’s real and it’s been missed by better people than you. 2016 was cruel but history remembers and the library never closes.
Thoughts from NYC singer-songwriter Robert Brashear:
I discovered Leonard Cohen through Judy Collins..I always l wanted to know who wrote songs I liked. Of course everyone was listening to Suzanne. But then there was this strange Dress Rehearsal Rag and Story of Isaac…
But I really met Leonard Cohen through my poet friend Bob Kaven, or as he was known, the Druid..(I can’t remember whether the liked that name or not)…he was a bit wild-haired and bear like, and as a Jewish guy from Montreal, a bit unique at the white bread College Of Wooster, in the heart of Wayne (“leading corn and swine producing” )County, Ohio. He was older and a mentor. He critiqued my poetry, taught me how to make a croque monsieur sandwich, to move up from Annie Green Springs and Ripple to real wine, George Dickel bourbon, coffee with bourbon. And Leonard Cohen.
I devoured Leonard Cohen’s poetry…Let Us Compare Mytholoiges, Spice Box of the Earth and Flowers for Hitler . His novels, Beautiful Losers and Favourite Game. I was simply amazed at his use of language. Magic and mystery in words.
And of course, his spare, haunting songs. So Long Marianne, Sisters of Mercy, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye…My folk duo partner Bobby and I did all of these and my specialties were Bird on a Wire and Tonight Will be Fine from his “country” album “Songs from a Room..”
One of my favorite nights was when my friend Druid persuaded Bobby and I to accompany him in a concert of (mainly) Leonard Cohen songs…(That made a trio of Bob, Bob and Bobby) He described his voice like that of a “wounded water buffalo…I had also written music for lyrics he had written (of which I can only remember about half, sadly…I’d love to perform it now…). It was actually a pretty good concert.
Later, there was Leonard Cohen’s music woven through Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller….one of my all time favorite movies.
We kind of drifted apart over the years, I missed a few albums. On several occasions, I’d sing Bird… or Tonight…( I loved the fact that a singer-songwriter friend thought I wrote Tonight…and that he knew which relationship I was singing about…).
Leonard Cohen was one of the primary influences on my early music life, a life that would be set aside for 30 years or more..so thank you Judy Collins, thank you Robert Kaven and especially thank you Leonard Cohen. RIP.
A video from Robert Brashear:
A video of Leonard Cohen’s “My Oh My” recorded a few years ago by yours truly 🙂
What did Leonard Cohen mean to me? Please share your thoughts with us below!