On the way home from my recent trip to New York City, I spent a pleasant few hours in Montreal. On a beautiful fall day, I took the opportunity to walk the streets, buy some authentic Montreal bagels, and photograph whatever I found. And as I strolled down the venerable Boulevard Saint-Laurent (aka The Main), I found something wonderful: a poignant homage to Leonard Cohen, the city’s favourite son.
In case you don’t listen to music, Leonard Cohen was one of the finest song writers the world has seen in the past century; songs like Suzanne and Halleluja have been recorded and sung all around the globe. Each of his songs is the outpouring of a poetic soul that was born and nurtured here, on the streets of old Montreal. And when he died last November, the city began a year-long homage that will culminate next month with a memorial concert featuring the likes of Elvis Costello and Sting.
I wasn’t thinking of Leonard Cohen as I walked down Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Rather, I was looking in wonder at the amazing gallery of street art that has appeared there in the past couple of years. Everywhere I looked, there was another wall covered with a huge, fanciful painting — everything from giant portraits to political works to mythical figures and cartoons.
But I might have missed the most important work of all, if I hadn’t turned my head at the right moment and seen that unmistakable face looking out at me. I ducked around the corner and there it was, the homage to Leonard Cohen, looming over a nondescript parking lot. It was a faithful rendering of the older Cohen — perhaps from his last concert tour, which saw him play to adoring audiences all over the continent.
Always dapper, he looks out from under the ever-present felt hat, with a gaze that perfectly portrays his unmistakable character — a mix of Montreal savvy and Buddhist serenity, with just the hint of a smile to acknowledge that it’s all a celestial joke. Even the new-age swirls of colour and the windows cutting into the wall can’t detract from his quiet dignity.
As I write this, Cohen is singing in the background, and once again I’m struck by one of his great lines: “And even though it all went wrong / I’ll stand before the lord of song / with nothing on my lips but Halleluja.” Looking out from this wall on The Main, in his native Montreal, he may be singing it now.