A few years ago, it was late and the party was winding down. In the background, whatever playlist we were using changed the tune and the first bars of Famous Blue Raincoat started playing. The volume was low and most people were focused on where they had to get to, then someone asked the room “What time is it?” And Leonard Cohen answered through our makeshift sound system:
After we all laughed, someone actually checked the time and, turns out Leonard Cohen was right. It was just after 4am. On the Plateau, a few blocks from where Cohen had written some of his most famous songs. Where he lived for many years with Marianne Ihlen. Yes, So Long, Marianne is named after her, not Marie-Anne street that borders Parc du Portugal.
The couple first lived on St-Laurent then moved to the other side of the park on Vallières Street. where Cohen still owned a home right up until his passing. No matter where his primary residence may have been, he always came back to Montreal for a visit. He also kept in touch with Ihlen for decades after the couple split, even writing a letter before she passed away herself last July which included the now prophetic line “I will follow you very soon.”
His doorway is now a makeshift memorial with Cohen music playing out of an old boombox as people continue to leave candles, pictures and other messages as a tribute to the man’s life and the poetry and music he left us. There was a large gathering of Cohen fans, friends and neighbours and a group singing of some of his biggest hits Saturday and another memorial gathering by the Portuguese community today.
A similar shrine has popped up outside the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, made famous in this Cohen tune:
While New York mourns him, a city where he lived and wrote for quite a while, and the rest of the world will surely miss him, too. Montreal was always a part of Cohen and he has been a part of our culture for decades and will be for decades more.
People have been floating ideas for a permanent memorial, like renaming a street, a part of a street or building some sort of monument. Some have even suggested renaming Parc du Portugal in his honour, which would take the approval of the Plateau Borough and the Portuguese Community, but seems the most likely to me along with possibly re-naming Vallières to honour him. Renaming Marie-Anne as some have suggested just wouldn’t make sense.
It was even suggested, by the new PQ leader of all people, to give Cohen a state funeral a la Rene Angelil, but then we found out that he had already been buried. Turns out Cohen passed away on Monday in Los Angeles and his body was flown to Montreal for a small family funeral on Thursday afternoon, after which he was interred in his family’s plot on the foot of Mount Royal.
Then, Thursday evening, Cohen’s official Facebook page notified the world that the man who was a legend had left us. No chance of a large, expensive and ostentatious affair paid for with public funds. Leonard Cohen saw to it that his funeral would be a low key affair, in perfect keeping with his style.
Over the past few days, quite a few of my fellow Montrealers have been posting about encounters they had with Cohen on social media and telling their anecdotes to reporters. While I never had the opportunity to run into him myself, I vicariously feel like I have.
All the stories paint a similar picture. That of a total gentleman who would hold the door for a stranger carrying too much stuff, would leave the house impeccably dressed no matter what time it was or what he was doing, would hang around as a member of the community without any pretension, respectful of his neighbours and pleasant to any random fan who happened to catch his eye.
Through his music and lyrics, we all got the chance to know him. He was a down-to-earth guy who had an uncanny ability to observe and understand human nature and the gift to be able to translate that understanding into brilliantly crafted lyrics. He also had the forethought to realize that if he set those lyrics to music and delivered them more like a poet with a backup band than a traditional singer it would work.
When it came to politics, he was a cynic, sure. But even at his most cynical, he was also optimistic:
but he always kept it real:
and was fierce fighter:
The impact this man had on the culture at large, the culture here in Montreal and millions of people, most who never met him, is immeasurable. I tried to include as many tunes as possible in this post, but it barely scratches the surface of even just my favourite Leonard Cohen songs, let alone what this legend had to offer over the decades.
Leonard Cohen, so long, sir, you will always be with us.