Photo of the week: homage to Leonard Cohen

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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.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

4 Comments

  1. Paul, Leonard Cohen is one of my all-time favorite songwriters, he always got it right. I was at one of those last tour concerts. Seeing / hearing Cohen in person was long on my bucket list. He sold out Madison Square Garden. I was on the floor a few meters in front of the stage. Cohen was gracious, understated, at times playful, at times serious. He was connected firmly to the audience, his band and his back-up singers. There were no flashing lights or pyrotechnics, just Leonard Cohen, with that magnificent gravely voice, in his suit and hat, a few instruments and a few ladies, singing our lives. I will never forget it. Hallelujah.

    • What a great memory, Roberta. Leonard Cohen was a great performer as well as a song writer (and poet and prose writer, for that mater). I saw him a couple of times, once long ago at Massey Hall in Toronto and again at an outdoor performance when he came to Toronto for a book signing. Watching and listening to him was always a great experience, even for the other musicians; at the outdoor concert, the guys accompanying him couldn’t stop smiling at their luck.

  2. Hi Paul. I was surprised that in your post about Leonard Cohen you didn’t mention the huge tribute concert in Montreal at the Bell Centre on Nov. 6, or the exhibition about him and his work, music and art, opening at the Musee d’Art Contemorain on Thursday Nov. 9. I hope you get to one or both of these wonderful Cohen events.

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