TV Ontario, Studio 1
June 20, 2000
Transcript by Marie Mazur
Paula Todd, Studio 2 host, with Steve Paikin:
Leonard Cohen has said that living in Los Angeles is like being in the French
foreign legion, "no one here has a last name." He is Lennie to his friends,
Leonard to his fans. Leonard Cohen has not released an album in seven years.
He's a poet who hasn't published a new collection in 16 years and a novelist
who hasn't written a new novel in 34 years. Yet, his work continues to exert
a powerful hold on his fans. About 150 of them gathered in Leonard Cohen's
hometown of Montreal to pay tribute to the man who has been dubbed the prince
Suzanne Holland sings a portion of "So Long Marianne" on the steps of McGill.
Kelley Lynch on stage (with Leanne Unger at her side) speaking to audience:
I wanted to thank you all for coming and bring Leonard's greetings. He's
very appreciative of all your interest in his work and he's very happy that
you are in Montreal enjoying his hometown.
Shirley Spencer outside McGill:
I was 17. I was a counselor at a summer camp. I had 14 seven-year olds and
they were doing arts and crafts, very noisy, very loud. From a corner of the
room I heard this soft, soothing, I guess that's how it comes through, sound
in the distance. I stopped in my tracks and I thought, what is that?. All
the sounds of the children just disappeared and I sat quietly and I listened
to the sound coming from that radio. It was "Suzanne" and then I was hooked.
Calvin Van Eek on steps of McGill:
My earliest memory of Leonard Cohen was as a recent high school graduate
driving with another friend across Canada. The prairies in the middle of the
night, a beautiful starry, starry night, listening to Leonard Cohen, the
windows rolled down, the summer breeze blowing through the car. To me,
that's Leonard Cohen and that was about 30 years ago.
Justin Tensen on stairwell steps:
Reads a portion of "For Anne."
I was 12 years old when I first read this poem in English class in grade 8.
It made me realize that there's this world that can be brought to life
through the written word.
A clip of Nancy White on stage singing one of her Leonard Cohen songs, "Get
Down Offa That!"
Stephanie Nolen (The Globe and Mail) interviewing
Patricia Darling, center, and Sally Michalski, right
I came to Leonard Cohen rather late in my life. It was 1993 and my daughter
had married a boy from Poland. We had gone to visit her in-laws. I was in
Krakow in the market square with him and I heard this beautiful music coming
from the other end of the square. (Zembaty song plays in background) I
said, "Tomek, what is that?" He said, "That's Mr. Zembaty. He's a popular
Polish singer." I said, "What is Mr. Zembaty singing?" and he said, "Leonard
Cohen." I said, "Who is Leonard Cohen?"
Nancy White on stage:
I was blue and I thought I'd cheer myself up. I had just bought the latest
Leonard Cohen album. I see that you don't think it's odd to cheer yourself
up by listening to a Leonard Cohen album. But many people think it is.
Peter Choyce on stairwell steps:
I said I was 16, I might have been a little younger then that but I was
having probably the hardest time of my life. It lasted about a year and a
half and I thought I would either die or become possessed like the girl in
the movie "The Exorcist." I was painting my comic book paintings and the
record fell and I heard this voice. It wasn't so much the lyrics, "Is this
what you wanted, to live in a house that is haunted." I just became for lack
of a better word, transfixed. I actually listened to the music all the way
through and became more and more astounded especially as the record ended.
There was a conclusion to that side where the singer was obviously cracking
up. He was having his own problems and he was going "la de da, la da da da."
It would start to echo through the halls of some institution, some place
really bad, but he was retaining his sense of humor. "La la da da, la da da,
Dick Straub in stairwell:
I discovered Cohen in 1995 basically from the soundtrack of "Natural Born
Killers." I had a new TV set and I wanted to see what the sound would be on
a really dynamite movie. When I got to the end of that one I found myself
freeze framing the credits to see who was doing the singing. "The Future" in
the opening sequence just hit me harder than almost anything I'd seen in a
long time and I wasn't recognizing who it was. I didn't know so I looked and
found out it was Leonard Cohen. Then I began to realize that I probably had
known who Leonard Cohen was from earlier times. "Suzanne" of course, that
was something I made out to in the 60s and early 70s.
A clip of fans examining memorabilia. (Robert Bower with Stephen Scobie and Ira B Nadel on
other side of table.)
Alex Dillon and Lester Hirsch
A clip of fans singing "Passing Through" lead by Alex Dillon on the steps of
Brian Trehearne (McGill English Professor) at podium:
One of the things I see in Cohen's writing is the difficulty of staying
connected whether to others, or the self or even sometimes as a body. All
those monstrous images that his writing gives us. He really does show us
both the incredible difficulty of being whole in the second half of the
twentieth century and I think a constant yearning for that wholeness. If
there is a single word I had to use about Cohen's work I think yearning would
be the one I keep coming back to. For me, it is a yearning for a kind of
Ira S. Murphin (the narrator, and author/playwright/adaptor of Beautiful
Losers) outside McGill:
Reads an excerpt from Beautiful Losers.
Natalie Fuhr on steps of McGill:
Reads a portion of "As the Mist Leaves No Scar."
Reads a portion of "Who By Fire."
Brian Trehearne (McGill English Professor) at podium:
I am using integrity of course in its most familiar sense. I might just
remind you of lines like those at the beginning of Flowers for Hitler in the
poem "What Am I Doing Here":
I do not know if the world has lied
To me those lines just resonant with a kind of ethical honesty that as I say
I really don't find in much twentieth century writing.
I have lied
I do not know if the world has conspired against love
I have conspired against love
Justin Tensen on stairwell steps:
We are encouraged to be fancy and we are encouraged to display our feathers.
But what really is universally beautiful about us is our small penises and
our lopsided breasts and our absolute nakedness.
Don Cummer performing a portion of "Memories" on stage:
I want everybody to know that the last question on the quiz asked how many
times Leonard uses "naked" in all nine albums. If you forgot this song, add
another three to your quota.
Clip of stage performance of Beautiful Losers. (Ira gets naked.)
By this time it was about 1998 and I figured I better listen to Leonard in
English to see what he really was about. So I bought a tape and the tape was
The Future. (A portion of "The Future" video clip plays.) His voice was so
rough and the first song, "The Future," sort of shocked me. I wasn't used to
people singing about crack and anal sex. And then I went on to the other
songs. One was "As Light As the Breeze" and it didn't hit me at first but a
few weeks later as I was vacuuming it dawned on me that what he was singing
about was oral sex. (Sally reads the lyrics.)
She stands before you naked
And I thought, oh, I can't listen to this.
You can see it, you can taste it
But she comes to you
Light as the breeze
You can drink or you can nurse it
It don't matter how you worship
As long as you're
down on your knees
Clip of discussion about women and Leonard Cohen including participant Fiona
Harrington. It is suggested Cohen idealizes women and they are not
represented as individuals.
I don't like that shallow argument much at all. I think in fact Beautiful
Losers is one of the earliest feminist novels in Canada. But I think we'd
all want to put the brakes on before we said, out with those nasty feminists
who have been so harsh on Leonard Cohen. There's some reasons for those
Natalie Fuhr at podium reading:
They come to him shedding carefully picked fashion
A 15 year old and a great grandmother
One hundred positions to lie them down with words as blankets
Leonard never had to beg
They came to him on their knees
In Greece, California, Montreal, a concert hall in Vienna
Now he's on my wall
Nancy White outside:
Feminists have been very critical of Leonard Cohen because they felt he
didn't appreciate the woman as a human being but just parts of her, (pointing
to the parts) the elbow, a lobe. I am so embarrassed to hear this because I
consider myself a feminist, a relaxed feminist nevertheless. I thought, I
never noticed. I just thought, oh God, this is a beautiful song. Imagine
going out with this guy. I never really thought of it in a political way but
of course, now I shall be renouncing him any minute. But not yet.
Nancy White on stage singing her Cohen song, "Leonard Cohen's Never Gonna
Bring My Groceries
There are men who cannot be tamed and who do love women and leave them.
Ladies' men are for lovers not for husbands.
Jan-Erik Lundqvist singing and then outside McGill:
He is so obsessed with himself and me too so we are like twin brothers, I
thought. But I am not adoring him. He is just a person as I am. I feel
that I learn something that I already have learned before but I have a
Jan-Erik Lundqvist singing on stage "Take This Waltz."
Jack Lazariuk outside:
I grew up in Montreal and I am pretty familiar with all the places he wrote
about. It didn't really hold much of a thrill for me, the idea of people
wanting to see houses or schools where he was born (picture of Belmont house
shown). I didn't understand it all, what the interest might be.
Clip of a portion of the tour. Esther Cohen explaining that the tour will
view the garden and the ground floor (of Leonard's current house). Esther
shows the garden and explains the various houses that surround it. She
compliments Jan-Erik Lundqvist on his performance.
James outside Leonard's house:
I told James Chan, who is from Taiwan, that my parents used to play his
music. I was brought up on his music and every essay I wrote at the
university had in some way or another, had to do with Leonard Cohen, even the
natural science one. So Leonard Cohen has been a big part of my academic
life, a big part of my musical life. He's a wonderful role model. He's a
wonderful man for letting us go into his house and letting us into his
private life and God bless him.
Clip of tour going by Moishe's Steak House and clip of dinner there.
Tami Byler on stairwell steps:
He finds the light in the darkness. Most people, when I say I'm into Leonard
Cohen they'll say, oh, well you must be very depressed. I don't find that at
all. He finds the light in that darkness and he's beautiful.
Jack Lazariuk outside:
What has always interested me about Leonard is his interior landscapes rather
than the external ones. One night I went to one of the large churches here
in Montreal and it was midnight Mass. In the hustle and bustle of that I
saw a hunchback who was working there as an usher. Whenever he'd got a
chance to somehow make someone a bit more comfortable, to bring someone a
chair or to help them with their coat, he'd be looking for those
opportunities. There was no sense this was a duty. It just seemed to be
coming out of bubbling love for these people. That kind of general of love
that he was in contrast to the everyday of trying to live up to appearances
was a bit like walking into an avalanche, it just snowed over. (Cohen's
"Avalanche" plays with concert photos shown.) It wasn't then that I made any
reference or thought to Leonard's song but later hearing it and hearing him
speak, putting into words the words of the hunchback:
You who wish to conquer pain
When I heard the song it was like it opened up, not an old wound, but like a
Must learn what makes me kind
flower, the feelings I had at that moment.
Stephen Scobie in discussion:
There is that wonderful moment at the end of "Joan of Arc" where Cohen's own
voice comes in talking about Joan:
Myself, I long for love and light
I think Beautiful Losers asks the same question and answers yes, it must be
that cruel and it must be that bright. "Joan of Arc" answers it "la la la,
la la la, la la la."
But must it come so cruel, must it be so bright
Suzanne Holland singing on steps of McGill.
Words across screen:
Paula Todd, Steve Paikin, Studio 2 hosts:
Hargurchet S. Bhatra
1955 – 2000
Leonard Cohen is now 65. He's returned to LA after a few years at a Buddhist
retreat on Mt. Baldy in California and he's writing new songs.
Photos © 2000 by Stan Michalski