Leonard Cohen, downtown poet
A born and bred Montrealer, Leonard Cohen spent much of his youth in the downtown area. A true fan (she even went as far as naming her son Léonard!), our writer wandered through the city and followed in the footsteps of our most urban of poets.
Leonard, look! Look from the Belvedere at the top of Mont-Royal and there you are, in a colossal mural inspired by a photo taken by your daughter, Lorca. Do you also wonder how those fabulous muralists managed to reproduce, with such skill and on such a large scale, your compassionate regard?
Now come, let’s walk down from the mountain and wander through McGill University, where you studied for six years, where you met important friends like Irving Layton and Louis Dudek and where you even started the western music band The Buskin Boys! It’s one of your most mighty charms, Leonard: this absolute love you have for all music, music that is used as an outlet to express a little of what’s in our souls, be it country or cha-cha.
Would you like us to keep going till we reach the corner of Metcalfe and de Maisonneuve, and give a little nod to the well-loved and long-gone deli, Ben’s Restaurant? All those nights you spent there talking poetry, shooting the breeze and eating fragrant smoked meat into the wee hours... Just a few blocks from your grand-father Leon’s clothes factory, on Mayor, the same place where, as a young man, you developed a deep love for well-tailored suits.
No, it hasn’t all been destroyed, Leonard, but it is slowly changing. Look again! On Metcalfe, Dunn’s Famous is still there after 90 years! But do you still remember Dunn’s Birdland, a jazz bar that once stood just upstairs? The same jazz bar where, in 1958, you sang and recited a poem in public for the very first time?
Do you realize, Leonard, almost 60 years later, not far from here, at the Bell Centre, your songs were performed by Sting, k.d. lang, Lana del Rey, Patrick Watson and many more? All of them brought together by your son, Adam, for the magnificent commemorative show, Tower of Song. Oh, you should have heard Damien Rice, Courtney Love, your dear choir from the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue and all of those who came to sing their love for you, your words, your melodies, your humour, your sense of the sacred and the profane, all intimately intertwined…
Now it’s time to walk along Sainte-Catherine and head east, don’t you think? When we get to University you’ll smile when you see the Bank of Montreal—that’s right, the one from the 1965 documentary Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen! The same bank that you walk by, in your famous blue raincoat—well, I always saw it as blue, though the film is in black and white—Oh the infinite power of words.
With this image of you happily walking along Sainte-Catherine still fresh in our minds, we arrive at the Musée d’art contemporain. Okay, now wait till you see the exhibition they’ve dedicated to you: A Crack in Everything. You will surely be surprised, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from smiling when you stand before the 20 unedited works created by close to 40 artists to celebrate your imagination and your influence. The shows, the archives, and so many other things, spread over six rooms at the MAC, can you believe it?!
How about we look south, down Saint-Urbain, where, right at the bottom, we’ll find the Saint Lawrence. We’ll turn our heads east to take in the bell tower of the Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours chapel, bathed in sunlight like a coat of honey—that’s right, the chapel that you so wonderfully refer to in Suzanne.
Now Leonard, I beg you, take my hand and lead me down to the river…
Text: Marie-Christine Blais