How To Experience The Montreal That Leonard Cohen Immortalized In Poetry & Song
Cohen's life is inscribed within the city's landscape.
- Today marks the third year since Leonard Cohen, a beloved Montreal native, left this earth.
- Although gone, his spirit lives on in many parts of our city.
- See where you can find memories of Cohen around Montreal below!
Leonard Cohen loved Montreal, his home, for its versatility. The man may have lived a nomadic life, moving from city to city, but Montreal forever held a deep spot in his heart, which is why he returned time and time again. The Montreal that Cohen captures harbours many dualities: old and modern, religious and secular, French and English. His poetry and songs explored the topics people so rarely want to discuss. He took the darkness of life and brought it to light.
He was someone who believed identity could be multi-faceted. Take his religious identity, he was raised in a Jewish family, growing up in a Christian-influenced city that claimed to be secular, and then later became a Buddhist. To say the least, he was a man who believed in exploring the soul in everything. And luckily for us Montrealers, he immortalized the soul of our city through his writings.
Cohen grew up in Westmount on Belmont Ave. He did his undergrad at McGill University, where he became President of the debate union. During the 1970s Cohen became a Plateau local when he bought an apartment facing Parc du Portugal, where he resided whenever he visited Montreal. He was known to spend his time around Blvd. Saint-Laurent. Little do we realize, some of our days mirror the ones Cohen lived out during his youth. He got espresso and breakfast at Bagels Etc. whenever he came back to his hometown. We also know he'd love to have dinner at Moishes steakhouse, although he was a vegetarian for some time during the 60s. Little pieces of him exist all over the city.
One of the Plateau's best spots, Bar Suzanne, pays homage to Cohen. When you walk up the bar's stairs, it reads "takes you down," which is taken directly from his song Suzanne.
"Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river. You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever. And you know that she's half-crazy but that's why you want to be there."
In an interview, Suzanne Verdal says she became close with Cohen in the early 60s, in the midst of the Beat generation. She says the St. Lawrence River, which she lived right next to for some time, is what united the two of them. Suzanne's words during this interview also demonstrate the feeling Cohen left with people who meant something to him. She says:
"He was 'drinking me in' more than I even recognized if you know what I mean. I took all that moment for granted. I just would speak and I would move and I would encourage and he would just kind of like sit back and grin while soaking it all up and I wouldn't always get feedback, but I felt his presence really being with me... It's hard to describe. We'd almost hear each other thinking. It was very unique, very, very unique."
Our Lady Of The Harbour
The Montreal statue "Our Lady of the Harbour," which can be found on Rue St-Paul in the Old Port, is mentioned in his song Suzanne.
"And the sun pours down like honey on our Lady of the Harbour. And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers."
Yet again, Cohen brings religious imagery into his song and shows how we cannot deny the religious history within Montreal. Secular or not, the veins of our city have faith pumping through them.
Hallelujah is undoubtedly Cohen’s most famous song, having been covered by many artists since its release in 1984.
The foundation of the lyrics of Hallelujah aren't as tangible as other words of his. Many believe that Hallelujah describes the religious struggles that come for Montreal's history. Playing with many biblical references, Cohen writes of the broken and the holy in Hallelujah, of which Montreal has undoubtedly seen both. The Rolling Stone’s analysis of the song says Cohen is trying to remind us that "holy or broken, there is still hallelujah." This means that when facing both good and bad situations, there always remain reason to rejoice.
Montreal Murals Of Leonard Cohen
After his death on November 7, 2016, two murals of Cohen were painted in our city. One, by artist Kevin Ledo, can be found above St-Laurent.
The other, done by artists Gene Pendon and El Mac, is found on Rue Crescent. The mural is named the "Tower of Songs" and leaves Cohen's face looking over us while making our way around downtown.
A Crack In Everything
The exhibition "A Crack in Everything," which was first put on display at the MAC, had people from across the globe flocking to get a glimpse at others' interpretations of Cohen's life. The exhibit is now making its way from city to city. It's currently in Copenhagen. The title comes from a lyric in his song Anthem:
"There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in."
This is a glimpse at one of the pieces in the exhibit, by Kara Blake. In it, he recites a touching line: "sometimes you confuse yourself and try to make ashes instead of fire" — a confusion which we have all shared at some point in our lives. These simple words show the depth that existed in both Cohen and his writing, which will be immortalized forever thanks to his choice to share these thoughts with the rest of the world.
So Long, Marianne
Another one of Cohen's most loved songs So Long, Marianne, is written about one of his past lovers Marianne Ihlen, who came from Greece to live with him in Montreal during the 60s. After Cohen's passing, locals added these additions to the street sign for Rue Marie-Anne. Yet again, Cohen's lyrics make their way into our city's landscape.
Cohen On Montreal
A poem from The Book of Longing, 2006, where he mentions Rue St-Denis.
"In Montreal spring is like an autopsy. Everyone wants to see the inside of the frozen mammoth. Girls rip off their sleeves and the flesh is sweet and white, like wood under green bark. From the streets a sexual manifesto rises like an inflating tire, 'the winter has not killed us again!'" - From Beautiful Losers, 1966.
"I have to keep coming back to Montreal to renew my neurotic affiliations." - From The Spice-Box of Earth, 1961.
"I feel at home when I’m in Montreal — in a way that I don’t feel anywhere else. I don’t know what it is, but the feeling gets stronger as I get older," Cohen said in an interview in 2006.
"Thanks For The Dance" is coming out on November 22, 2019. It's being produced by his son Adam Cohen. It’s clear that although gone, Cohen lives on in so many forms. And thanks to him, the soul of Montreal has been immortalized through his poetry and songs.
Hope you're resting easy, Cohen.