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 of gloom.

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

Sally Michalski:
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. (Audience laughs.)

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, laaaaaaaaaa."

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 McGill.

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 integrity.

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."

Jan-Erik Lundqvist:
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
I have lied
I do not know if the world has conspired against love
I have conspired against love
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.

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.)

Sally Michalski:
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
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
And I thought, oh, I can't listen to this.

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.

Brian Trehearne:
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 arguments.

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 In."

Sally Michalski:
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 companion.

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
Must learn what makes me kind
When I heard the song it was like it opened up, not an old wound, but like a
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
But must it come so cruel, must it be so bright
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."

Suzanne Holland singing on steps of McGill.

Words across screen:
In Memory

Hargurchet S. Bhatra
1955 2000
Paula Todd, Steve Paikin, Studio 2 hosts:
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