All the fun of the 60’s, the Village, Greece when it was cheap, Montreal when it was brilliant with writers and poets and Trudeau pere, had a weird effect on those of us born smack middle of the Baby Boom in the late 50’s. It was impossibly romantic, a bit old-fashioned and entirely enticing. Our leading edge Boomer non-contemporaries re-invented folk, wrote poetry which was not embarrassing to read, hung out with F.R. Scott and Irving Layton as well as Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell.
Being a bookish child, along with listening to Songs of Leonard Cohen I actually read both his novels, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. The first I understood in a precocious way and have been meaning to re-read, the second read like it had been written on meth…which it turns out it was. Those novels, along with the songs, were a window onto a vanished world of a generation just becoming. It was not yet a cliche to live in little more than a cave on Hydra with a beautiful Norwegian girl called Marianne and write songs about her (my favourite LC song actually) although the Durrells had done it before the war and Patty Fermore did it after.
Susan and I went to see the Cohen show when he came to Victoria in 2010. Years and years of practice ensured that it was a brilliant, perfectly arranged and managed, evening. But it was Cohen’s great gift of empathy which shone through the remembered melodies and nostalgic lyrics. He was remembering along with his audience.
Many years before, during some awards festivity in Vancouver, I heard that Cohen was staying in a hotel my then wife and I enjoyed a Friday evening drink before dinner. I am not terribly interested in celebrity. But I was quite willing to stake out a seat before the fire in the Wedgewood Hotel and take my chances. And, as it happened, Cohen came in. Alone. No entourage, no security, just the man.
There is a funny choice in situations like that. Do you play it cool and leave a busy man to his business? Normally I would have. But I didn’t. I went over to him in the lobby, held out my hand and said, “Thank you.” He took my hand, looked me in the eye and diffidently said, “No, thank you.” Then the elevator binged in the background and, with a slight nod of the head, Cohen was gone.
Now he is actually gone. I am glad to have had an instant to thank him.