Lit by angled late-afternoon sunlight, the room pulsed with energy and anticipation as more than 200 people gathered, including his old friends, and the masterful songwriter’s “Closing Time” pulsed on the sound system.
They’d come to be the first to see the gorgeous stamps honour the late Leonard Cohen.
In a sense, they also came to be with him again, to be in the presence of his melodies, his lyrics, his voice, his soul.
The stamps were unveiled Friday, September 20, 2019, in the Glass Court at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, in the city of his birth, overlooking the Leonard Cohen mural that rises 21 storeys above Crescent Street.
Glancing from the stage to the mural outside, singer Michel Rivard joked, “It’s very awkward” singing under the watchful gaze of the master himself. Still, his rendition of “Dance me to the End of Love” was flawless and poignant.
Leonard Cohen was in the room in so many senses. A short biographical documentary video played for several minutes, during which no one uttered a word. A man who passed away in 2016 still had the power to hold an audience spellbound.
“That gave me the shivers,” said emcee André Ménard, an old friend of Cohen’s, and co-founder and artistic director of the Montréal International Jazz Festival.
Cohen, said Ménard, recorded 14 studio albums and “his average for classic songs per album is, I think, unmatched in pop music.”
On the same day, Cohen’s record label, Sony Music, announced the release of new music from Cohen, and a forthcoming album release titled “Thanks for the Dance.” The next day would have been his 85th birthday. The stamp launch event was the world premiere of the video of the song, “The Goal.” It too put Cohen in the room, with his baritone and his sketches and scrawled notes from his notebooks.
Cohen’s songs distilled the desire and pain of romantic love and explored the darkness and light of the human experience. The images on the stamps and the Official First Day Covers highlight three periods of his music career:
- his impressive debut in the 1960s, including two songs that became enduring favourites, “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne”;
- the resurgence of his popularity in the 1980s and the early 1990s, with his unforgettable and oft-covered “Hallelujah” (1984). It has been recorded by more than 200 established artists, and Maclean’s magazine called it “the closest thing pop music has to a sacred text”;
- and his performances on an 18-month world tour he undertook in his seventies, followed by a final burst of creative genius.
Cohen’s place in the pantheon of the world’s great songwriters is secure. In Canada, he earned a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and was made a member of the Order of Canada and later elevated to a Companion of the Order of Canada. In the U.S., he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into several music halls of fame.
When he died, countless singers, musicians and others publicly mourned his passing, expressing their respect for his work and their deep affection for him. They included Bob Dylan, Elton John, Bruce Cockburn, Clive Davis, Cat Stevens and Judy Collins. Leading papers around the world, including the New York Times and Britain’s The Guardian, published lengthy obituaries.
Cohen referred to his gifts with humility.
“I always thought of myself as a competent minor poet – I know who I’m up against. You’re up against Dante and Shakespeare, Isaiah, King David, Homer. I do my job OK,” he told Jeffrey Brown of PBS in 2006.
In 2011, accepting Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award, a distinction previously conferred on the playwright Arthur Miller, Dylan and Margaret Atwood, Cohen said, “Poetry comes from a place I do not command or conquer. If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.”
He used that last line often – and when he went to that place, Cohen said he “had to sweat over every word…I’m very slow.”
In 2016, a month after the release of his critically acclaimed album You Want It Darker, Cohen died at 82. He was posthumously awarded JUNO and Grammy awards.
The Permanent domestic-rate stamps, designed by Paprika of Montréal, are available in a book of nine, with three of each design. Other collectibles, including a four-pack of Official First Day Covers, a collectible pane and a folded uncut press sheet packaged in a simulated album cover and liner, are available at selected post offices or at www.canadapost-postescanada.ca/shop.
The stamps and related products were two years in the making. Canada Post worked very closely with the Cohen family and estate to choose an approach, designs, images and texts that reflected and honoured an individual of Cohen’s global stature.
“It was an intense collaboration,” said Jessica McDonald, Chair of the Board of Directors of Canada Post, who helped to unveil the stamps.
Artist Gene Pendon, who led the painting of the 21-storey Cohen mural, posed for photos with banners displaying the Cohen stamps, and his famous mural in the background. He was beaming.
“We’ve been waiting to see the Cohen story told through Canada Post,” he said. “And it was great. There are so many ways Canada needs to tell its story and Canada Post is doing its part.”
Stamps honour legendary Canadian, Leonard CohenAvailable now