Header Image Courtesy
ANYA LEIBOVITCH- Melbourne
On November 7, 2016, the world lost a bit of its magic. Leonard Cohen, brooding local legend and international luminary, passed away at his home in Southern California at the age of 82. For many, Cohen was as much a part of Montreal as the mountain itself, a fellow mécontent.
I have to credit my first real introduction to Leonard Cohen to Dr. David McGimpsey’s ‘Quebec and Montreal Writing in English’ course at Concordia University. We focused mainly on Stranger Music, a collection of Cohen’s poetry and lyrics. It was at this time that I came to understand Cohen as an integral part of the cultural landscape of the city, both as an instigator and an observer. He was talented in the way that most visionaries are, in that he possessed the ability to depict the world in perfect exactitude, in all its flaws and functionalities, and when you step back and look at the big picture what you see is nothing short of beautiful. Cohen is one of those truly timeless figures whose work spans decades, and whose words rings true as much today as the day he wrote them.
Cohen had the rare ability to transcend the linguistic barriers that exist within the city of Montreal, and was renowned by Francophones and Anglophones alike. His writing explored controversial themes such as sexuality and separatism, often simultaneously. In his second novel, Beautiful Losers, Cohen’s protagonist F. ruminates: “…the English did to us what we did to the Indians, and the Americans did to the English what the English did to us.” Speaking from the perspective of the French settlers of Quebec, F.’s observations are reflective of the systematic oppression of entire factions of society which have occurred throughout Canadian history. He refused to shy away from issues of contention, and his pragmatism proved to be a unique and refreshing approach.
After establishing himself as a poet and novelist in Canada, Cohen released his first album in 1967, hoping to secure for himself a more viable means of income. His poetry lent itself well to the music, and he proved himself to be a gifted songwriter. It was in this way that his art became popularized and praised by an international audience.
Aside from his talent, and in spite of his legendary status, Cohen has always been regarded as a man of the people. An unassuming figure you might pass on the street, or bump into in a café, he was respected for his unpretentious nature. He was more than a great artist, he served as a symbol for the people of Montreal and he was idolized as such. In a world of over seven billion people, Cohen set himself apart, and his passion and clarity will be sorely missed, especially given our current political and socioeconomic climate.
Cohen was a visionary, and the words he penned over two decades ago are every bit as poignant today:
It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
Considered a true Montréalais at heart, Cohen’s passing has brought out the best of the city of Montreal and inspired people to come together to honour his memory in the form of flower-laying on the steps of his Plateau home, sing-along vigils, and pilgrimages to his favourite haunts, including The Main on St. Laurent. Despite the many years Cohen spent living abroad, something about his art is so reflective of the city from whence he came.
So I sit here, a Montréalaise myself in the State Library of Victoria, some 17,000 km from the place I call home. As he wrote in The Favourite Game, “Some say that no one ever leaves Montreal, for that city, like Canada itself, is designed to preserve the past, a past that happened somewhere else”. Listening to Cohen’s familiar voice, I know that wherever I go I, too, will never truly leave my city.
Goodbye, Leonard, may you finally be free. I have no doubt that your words will continue to inspire future generations.