Nick Broomfield’s new documentary, Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love follows the peaks and valleys of beloved Canadian singer/songwriter/poet, and Montreal local, Leonard Cohen’s life, throughout his career up until his death, beginning with his time on the Greek island of Hydra in the 60s.

It was there that he first met his longtime lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, who served as inspiration for one of his most beautiful and successful songs, So Long, Marianne. When Ihlen and Cohen first found each other, Cohen had yet to cross over into the world of music, and spent many of his days on the island, which was at the time somewhat of a known Bohemian Utopia, doing speed and working on his book, Beautiful Losers.

Ihlen, a Norwegian expat and recent divorcée, was also seeking refuge from the trials of life on the idyllic island with her son, Axel, when she met Cohen. There was an immediate connection between the two, and thus began the start of an on/off relationship which would go on for a decade, and a connection that would last for a lifetime. 

Nonetheless, what seems to be the beginning of a blissful companionship under the sun between the poet and his muse is put on hold when Cohen decides to return back home to Montreal. While he’s there, he decides to play a piece of Suzanne for Judy Collins.

Also featured in the documentary, Collins recounts his nervousness, as he says he can’t sing or play the guitar, but the song ultimately speaks for itself. Suzanne is an immediate hit, and Collins gets Cohen to perform it at a fundraiser with her. His timidness on stage—even leaving the stage halfway through the song, only to be brought back out by Collins—is a huge part of what has made the charming, but humble poet so beloved by all.

This is a life-changing moment for everyone; Cohen’s success skyrockets from this point on, as the world gets a new star, but Ihlen’s picturesque partnership with Cohen will never again be the same.

Though the title posits a love story, Ihlen’s presence in the documentary is scarce. In spite of the director’s inside connection to her as a close friend as well as a former lover, very little detail of Ihlen’s personality or life is incorporated into the film, with her only notable screen-time being footage from her deathbed—arguably something perhaps too intimate for the screen.

For the most part it seems that the film is primarily a Leonard Cohen story, following the eruption of his career and success, and weaving through the familiar tale of his fame, including his countless lovers, indulgent drug use, and overall turbulent mental health.

What we see of Ihlen is a fragmented portrait of a young, blonde woman, often looking out longingly at the sea, seemingly dreaming only of Cohen. Contrasted by the occasional peripheral remark about the toll of it all on her young son, Axel, who spent much of his life in and out of institutions as a result of the somewhat hedonistic insouciance that characterized the 1960s and 70s.

The story is in many ways more revelatory of the time than it is of its characters, with little unique insight into the mind of either Cohen or Ihlen. In the light that Broomfield sets the scene, it feels to be somewhat evident that the “undying love” between Cohen and Ihlen proves to be far less romantic than Cohen’s poetic ballads. 

Overall the documentary makes for an interesting watch as you are guided for a nostalgic stroll down memory lane with a great deal of interesting footage of Cohen throughout his career. Though of course there is undoubtedly substantially more documentation of Cohen available for use than there would be of Ihlen, perhaps titling the film Marianne and Leonard is somewhat misleading.

Broomfield still, however, manages to paint a complete picture of the time during which the famed relationship occurred, and even chips away somewhat at the unwoven seams of Cohen’s character and career, even if Ihlen’s character is never developed beyond mere ‘muse’.

There is still a chance to catch it in theatres.

Nuit Blanche, for me, is all about checking out as many random things as I can with friends, running into people I haven’t seen in a while and taking the metro home at a time it doesn’t usually run just because I can. This past Saturday was all tgat, but also a chance to celebrate and remember the unforgettable Montreal poet, songwriter and icon Leonard Cohen.

After some time spent at a church and the obligatory run through the Belgo Buildings, we braved the sea of humanity in Place des Festivals to make our way to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (or the MAC) where the exhibit Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything was showing. The line looked daunting at first, but moved quickly for a Nuit Blanche line.

The first room we entered turned out to be the one we would spend the most time in. It was all about Leonard’s music career, with concert footage from each era mixed in with interviews and archival photos and video simultaneously projected on three walls.

It was on a loop but it took about an hour for the whole loop to start again. It was chock full of great footage and I saw a good chunk of the crowd singing along at several points and caught myself doing the same.

After being treated to a quality mini musical doc, we checked out the rest of the exhibit. There were rooms with presumably equally as thorough videos on Leonard’s poetry and writing and one with an organ where each key played a recording of Leonard saying something.

I would have liked to spend more time in these rooms, but the Nuit Blance bustle and the fact that it was close to closing time (pun intended) for the museum meant I would have to do that some time in the future (okay, enough, two is pushing it). Seriously, though, I will make a point of returning to fully immersing myself in this exhibit before it closes.

While the use of technology was impressive throughout, there was one section, separated into two rooms, that took it to the next level. In the first, there was one screen with a choir singing Leonard Cohen songs (what else). Rather, they were singing parts of Leonard Cohen songs.

When you went around the corner, there was a larger room with what seemed like over 20 screens in a circle facing inwards. Each one had a different person on it and they were all singing or speaking different parts of the same song the choir in the other room was singing, in sync.

If you got close enough to one screen, you heard that person either taking part in the song or moving around, rustling pages or clearing their throat quietly. It was very intimate and human and technologically slick at the same time.

Pretty sure all or at least most of the people were local, too. I recognized one person I know and a few others seemed very familiar.

And then there was the hologram. Yes, in a room made up to look like Leonard’s from some non-specific time in his lengthy career, there was a balcony with a Leonard Cohen hologram sitting down and looking out on the city.

While everything on Nuit Blanche was free and this exhibit normally isn’t, I don’t mind paying to take it in again and fully experience it. From what I already experienced, it’s unique, a great tribute and worth it.

Really glad that Leonard was part of my Nuit Blanche this year.

* Featured image by Stephanie Laughlin

** Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything runs at the MAC until April 9, 2018

Well it looks like we’ll be having our first real series of cold nights this winter which also marks the time of year where many of Montreal’s inhabitants go into hibernation. No I’m not talking about all the squirrels, I’m making reference to those of you who use “it’s too cold out” as an excuse to get out of doing things.

Well don’t! There’s tons to do, so tell your roommate you’ll be wearing the long johns this weekend because you’ve got some shows to go to!

Hommage to Leonard Cohen – God is Alive, Magic is Afoot

The title pretty much sums it up. Everyone has their own way of grieving, remembering and paying tribute to someone and it’s no surprise that Montreal’s music community would do so with a concert.

Pop Montreal has put together a staggering list of artists who will be taking to the stage tonight at the Rialto to do their best to say goodbye not only to a great man and musician but also a member of their community.

All proceeds will be going back to the community in the form of a donation to Le Chainon which seems fitting for the mood of the evening. Now here’s a full concert’s worth of songs because picking just one track isn’t really possible.

Hommage to Leonard Cohen plays Théâtre Rialto, 5723 Avenue du Parc, Thursday, December 15th, 8:00pm (Doors at 6:30), $25, tickets through Pop Montreal.

 

A Tribe Called Red

Head over to the Théâtre Corona tonight and you can catch a trio of DJs (Bear Witness, DJ NDN and 2oolman) who combined form the group A Tribe Called Red. The best way of describing their style is that it’s a mix of various elements of hip hop, dance music and traditional First Nations music.

If you’re unfamiliar with the group this might be the point where you start scratching your head saying “that seems really interesting but what exactly would that sound like?” Well here’s the both catchy and powerful track Stadium Pow Wow which should help answer that question.

 A Tribe Called Red plays Théâtre Corona, 2490 Notre-Dame West, Thursday, December 15th, 8:00pm (Doors at 7:00), $32, tickets through box office.

 

Basin Fest Montreal

This annual festival is quite unique in that it isn’t centered on a specific style of music but rather the collection of artists who use Basin Street Studios as their home base. Located in Griffintown, this home away from home for many artists is an important part of the Montreal music community and it’s a great idea to get out once a year to celebrate it.

We’re not going to preview every band that’s playing but we can refer you to the Basin Fest 2016 playlist which has some killer tracks by some of our city’s best indie artists. So head down to Pirhana Bar this Saturday and check out an event that has the most randomly awesome list of co-sponsors: two radio stations (CJLO and CKUT), Frite Alors and Jägermeister. Yum!

 Basin Fest plays Piranha Bar, 680 Ste-Catherine Ouest, Saturday, December 17th, 7:00pm, $15.

Wander Years + Paper Beat Scissors

Casa Del Popolo will be hosting two wonderfully talented acts this Saturday in the form of Wander Years and Paper Beat Scissors who both have the ability to captivate audiences with beautifully powerful songs that evoke an array of emotions.

As usual, it’s best to let the music do the talking so here’s a track that should stir your emotions. I guess this doesn’t apply to our Vulcan readers but the rest of you should get it.

Wander Years and Paper Beat Scissors play Casa Del Popolo, 4873 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Saturday, December 17th, 9:00pm (Doors at 8:00), $8.00 ($10.00 at the door) available through blueskiesturnblack

* Featured image: ATribeCalledRed.com

* Know a band or an artist that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe a show FTB should cover, too? Let us know at music@forgetthebox.net. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!

Panelists Cat McCarthy and Der Kosmonaut discuss political art following the Trump victory and the legacy of the late, great Leonard Cohen with host Jason C. McLean.

News Roundup Topics: Pence at Hamilton, Montreal Police spying on journalists, historic building burned, Sarkozy losing power and the International Infringement Conference.

Panelists:

Cat McCarthy: Burlesque performer, artist and FTB contributor

Der Kosmonaut: Spoken word artist, author and blogger

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Reports by Hannah Besseau

Recorded Sunday, November 20, 2016 in Montreal

LISTEN:

WATCH:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

A few years ago, it was late and the party was winding down. In the background, whatever playlist we were using changed the tune and the first bars of Famous Blue Raincoat started playing. The volume was low and most people were focused on where they had to get to, then someone asked the room “What time is it?” And Leonard Cohen answered through our makeshift sound system:

After we all laughed, someone actually checked the time and, turns out Leonard Cohen was right. It was just after 4am. On the Plateau, a few blocks from where Cohen had written some of his most famous songs. Where he lived for many years with Marianne Ihlen. Yes, So Long, Marianne is named after her, not Marie-Anne street that borders Parc du Portugal.

The couple first lived on St-Laurent then moved to the other side of the park on Vallières Street. where Cohen still owned a home right up until his passing. No matter where his primary residence may have been, he always came back to Montreal for a visit. He also kept in touch with Ihlen for decades after the couple split, even writing a letter before she passed away herself last July which included the now prophetic line “I will follow you very soon.”

His doorway is now a makeshift memorial with Cohen music playing out of an old boombox as people continue to leave candles, pictures and other messages as a tribute to the man’s life and the poetry and music he left us. There was a large gathering of Cohen fans, friends and neighbours and a group singing of some of his biggest hits Saturday and another memorial gathering by the Portuguese community today.

A similar shrine has popped up outside the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, made famous in this Cohen tune:

While New York mourns him, a city where he lived and wrote for quite a while, and the rest of the world will surely miss him, too. Montreal was always a part of Cohen and he has been a part of our culture for decades and will be for decades more.

People have been floating ideas for a permanent memorial, like renaming a street, a part of a street or building some sort of monument. Some have even suggested renaming Parc du Portugal in his honour, which would take the approval of the Plateau Borough and the Portuguese Community, but seems the most likely to me along with possibly re-naming Vallières to honour him. Renaming Marie-Anne as some have suggested just wouldn’t make sense.

It was even suggested, by the new PQ leader of all people, to give Cohen a state funeral a la Rene Angelil, but then we found out that he had already been buried. Turns out Cohen passed away on Monday in Los Angeles and his body was flown to Montreal for a small family funeral on Thursday afternoon, after which he was interred in his family’s plot on the foot of Mount Royal.

Then, Thursday evening, Cohen’s official Facebook page notified the world that the man who was a legend had left us. No chance of a large, expensive and ostentatious affair paid for with public funds. Leonard Cohen saw to it that his funeral would be a low key affair, in perfect keeping with his style.

Over the past few days, quite a few of my fellow Montrealers have been posting about encounters they had with Cohen on social media and telling their anecdotes to reporters. While I never had the opportunity to run into him myself, I vicariously feel like I have.

All the stories paint a similar picture. That of a total gentleman who would hold the door for a stranger carrying too much stuff, would leave the house impeccably dressed no matter what time it was or what he was doing, would hang around as a member of the community without any pretension, respectful of his neighbours and pleasant to any random fan who happened to catch his eye.

Through his music and lyrics, we all got the chance to know him. He was a down-to-earth guy who had an uncanny ability to observe and understand human nature and the gift to be able to translate that understanding into brilliantly crafted lyrics. He also had the forethought to realize that if he set those lyrics to music and delivered them more like a poet with a backup band than a traditional singer it would work.

When it came to politics, he was a cynic, sure. But even at his most cynical, he was also optimistic:

but he always kept it real:

and was fierce fighter:

The impact this man had on the culture at large, the culture here in Montreal and millions of people, most who never met him, is immeasurable. I tried to include as many tunes as possible in this post, but it barely scratches the surface of even just my favourite Leonard Cohen songs, let alone what this legend had to offer over the decades.

Leonard Cohen, so long, sir, you will always be with us.