A Montréal municipal Web site
Experiencing My City
Catherine Pogonat

COHEN IS MY CITY

Essay by Catherine Pogonat
Published on
February 1, 2018
If you know me even a little, you know how much I love Montréal. I explore it, I talk about it, I examine it and I experience it. Montréal is more than my home – it’s one of my greatest loves. And for some time now, my love has had a new name: Leonard Cohen.

Over the past few months, my city is Cohen. Cohen is on Montréal’s walls, in the form of massive murals; his music is on the radio and in cafés; his lyrics have made it to the museum. This urban symphony to the mythic singer made me want to pay tribute to him as well. In my own way. To the man, to the artist and to the final work he left just before dying. A record that plays on repeat at my house and inside of me at the moment. Here is my ode to the city, in the form of an ode to the poet.

The British have Lennon or Bowie, France has Gainsbourg, the United States has Dylan… We have Cohen. When Leonard left us, he left behind one of his most brilliant works, the album You Want It Darker. Cohen the immense poet, the larger-than-life singer-songwriter-performer.

He is one of our most original and powerful poets. He was able to find the tsunami words, the avalanche voice, the divinely specific verb and the metaphor thatsweeps away everything in its path. Cohen is Montréal. You can hear the echo of the city in his timbre, his footsteps in a lane punctuate our silences. Cohen is me, you and us.

Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize. I’d have loved to see Cohen receive it, as thanks for a colossal body of work, and for his incredible farewell album. Bowie’s musical will packed a punch, but was so black that it is difficult to listen to today. Cohen’s goodbye is filled with light, ideas, inspiration and magic powder. I don’t believe in God, but his songs seem to be written in an otherworldly language, in a divine tongue. 

Catherine Pogonat

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Cohen knew how to celebrate the cracks in everything.

Cohen’s last songs were the winter of the man, the twilight of a life, the road to the other side, put into words and music.

Cohen didn’t want to be a musician. He didn’t want to be a singer. But his talent took up so much space, overflowing everywhere. He had no choice. After his dazzling debut, his international success and several years of wandering or silence, he came back with this genius album.

On this album, he dares to go into compli­cated areas and sombre, intimate and gloomy places in a universal way. We visit these difficult places, but we’re often afraid to name them, put words on them, out of modesty or shame. Cohen is never afraid to say it, to cover the impossible with the magnificent.

Leonard Cohen

Cohen was anchored in his territory. In his two solitudes, in the Parc du Portugal, or the Bagel Etc. that he loved so much. But Cohen is outside of time. He is above trends and fashions. In 20, 30 or 50 years, his poetry will be just as modern. His last works of music, composed and arranged with his son Adam, are among his most beautiful. As if he were exactly in the right place at the right time. It’s a soul cry from an artist in total mastery of his art.

When Cohen’s last album came out, my mother was dying. I spent my time on the highway, headed to the hospital. And I listened to “You Want It Darker” over and over. Sometimes my eyes filled with tears and I had to pull over on the side of the road. Because its accuracy was disarming. Because it hurt in the place where it felt just right.

Because as he said so perfectly, “poetry isn’t a pastime, it’s a verdict.” Cohen is my verdict, my Montréal right now.

Thanks, Mr. Cohen. For your entire body of work, for your arched and moving autumn silhouette that I often see along a Montréal street. And thank you for leaving behind one of your most beautiful albums as a wave goodbye. Your cavernous voice will be heard along Boulevard Saint-Laurent for a long time.

 

CATHERINE POGONAT 

You've heard her on the radio and seen her on TV. She has covered the arts scene for more than 15 years. Through the show Mange ta ville, Pogonat shared her devouring passion for Montréal.