Poet, author, singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen has had a profound effect on Montréal culture. Born in Montréal on September 21, 1934, he passed away nearly a year ago already on November 7, 2016. His texts, which are imbued with deep reflections on the human condition, love, mourning and death are forever etched in our memory.
Leonard Cohen was born into a well-to-do Jewish family from Westmount and pursued studies in literature at McGill University in the 1950s. He enjoyed a long literary career during which he wrote more or less intensively. He published several novels and collections of poems including The Spice-Box of Earth (1961), Flowers for Hitler (1964), The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). Alongside his literary career, he had a brilliant career in music.
In the 1960s, he made his debut onstage. He started off singing during his poetry recitals which, little by little, transformed into concerts. His even performed at Expo67. That same year, he released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen; 50,000 copies would be sold and it would be certified gold in Canada. This first album was followed up by more than a dozen other studio albums, several albums recorded live in concert and a few compilations, ending with You Want It Darker, his last studio album.
These albums produced some of the greatest hits out of anglophone Montréal: Bird on the Wire (1969, Songs From a Room), Suzanne (1967, Songs of Leonard Cohen), Famous Blue Raincoat (1971, Songs of Love and Hate) and, of course, Hallelujah (1984, Various Positions). Contrary to popular belief, Hallelujah did not rocket to the success it enjoys today. It took several years for the public to warm up to it, but it has since been covered by many famous artists including Bono and Rufus Wainwright, Cohen’s good friend. A number of muses inspired some of his greatest hits, including Marianne Ihlen (So Long, Marianne), Suzanne Verdal (Suzanne) and Dominique Issermann (I’m Your Man).
When he died, tributes came pouring in from far and wide, and they underscored the huge impact that this Order of Canada member and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee had on millions of people. He has been and will always be a great ambassador of Montréal culture.