Stamp Stories
Published in

Stamp Stories

Leonard Cohen

Originally this episode aired October 14th 2019.

In Episode 25, we learn about the career and life of a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen and the stamps issued by Canada Post September 2019 to celebrate his career.

Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal on September 21, 1934 into an upper-middle-class Jewish family. He grew up in a house on Belmont Avenue in Westmount.

The men in his family, particularly on his father’s side, were very involved in the Jewish community of Montreal. His grandfather, for example, was the founder of a range of Jewish institutions in the city. In the wake of anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian imperium, he saw to it that countless refugees made it to Canada. Nathan Cohen, Leonard’s father, ran Freedman Company, the family clothing business. Nathan wasn’t a religious figure. His father tragically died when he was nine.

His mother, Masha, came from a family of more recent immigrants. Once being interviewed he said oh his mother “My mother was a refugee and witnessed the destruction of her own milieu in Russia. I think she was justifiably melancholy about something, in the sense of a Chekhovian character. It was both comic and self-aware. But I would not describe her as morbidly melancholy, as I was.” As a matter of fact, in one story he shared, he talked about the warmth of his mother

Growing up Leonard also had a beloved dog, who was really important to him.

Reflecting upon these early years he noted “. . . . The death of my father was significant, and the death of my dog were the two, I would say, major events of my childhood and my adolescence.”

As a teenager he formed a country and western band, called the Buckskin Boys. He was always fond of country, listening to radio stations coming from America as young boy. But this band did not last long. Leonard was on his way.

When he was 17, Cohen entered McGill University as an English major.

As an undergraduate studying at McGill Cohen struck up a deep friendship with one of his professors, the poet Irving Layton, who became a life-long friend and his importance to Cohen’s artistic development can’t be overstated.

In 1956, a year after Cohen graduated with a B.A., his first poetry collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published.

Though rough as might be expected given that many of the poems were the work of a teenager, it bore the seeds of what his future poetic work would become, intellectual, spiritual, melancholic and tinged by dark humour.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Cohen spent a term in the McGill Faculty of Law and then a year (1956–57) at the Columbia University School of General Studies. Cohen described his graduate school experience as “passion without flesh, love without climax”. This was at the height of the Beatnik generation — which also came with it a sense of restlessness — a need to explore.

Consequently, Cohen left New York and returned to Montreal in 1957, working various odd jobs and focusing on the writing of fiction and poetry. He had this flexibility as his father’s will provided him with a modest trust income of 750 a year which was sufficient enough to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions for the time.

In 1959, Cohen signed a deal with the publisher McClelland & Stewart and received a $2,000 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to begin work on his first novel — The Favourite Game. With his grant he went abroad to England and eventually in April 1960, he found his way to Greek island of Hydra.

Not long afterward, he arrived in Athens, visited the Acropolis, made his way to the port of Piraeus, boarded a ferry, and disembarked at the island of Hydra. He was twenty-five years old when he first stepped foot onto his greek paradise.

On Hydra, he fell in an assortment of expats exploring the world. They were a bit late to be beatniks, a bit early to be hippies. This was crowd were true bohemians in the classic sense. Cohen also found the sun he wanted, but it also had the sparseness he craved to stay focused on the task at hand. The Hydra of 1960 had limited electricity, only a handful of telephones and virtually no plumbing.

In 1961, The Spice-Box of Earth was released. It was the first book that he published through the Canadian publishing company McClelland & Stewart. The Spice-Box of Earth was quite successful in helping to expand the audience for Cohen’s poetry.

After the release of that work Leonard Cohen would spend time in Hydra, Montreal and, in New York.

As for his writing process at the time Cohen alternated between extreme discipline and the varieties of abandon. There were days of fasting to concentrate the mind.

And of course there were drugs too: pot, speed and acid. “I took trip after trip, sitting on my terrace in Greece, waiting to see God,” he would say years later. “Generally, I ended up with a bad hangover.”

It also was on Hydra that Cohen met one of the loves of his life. Newly abandoned by her writer husband, a Norwegian beauty Marianne who would eventually inspire some of Cohen’s greatest songs. They lived together in a house Cohen bought in Hydra and he helped raise her young son.

Some of the songs Marianne and Hydra would later inspire include:“Bird on the Wire,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” and, of course, “So Long, Marianne.”

This of course would come later. In the early 1960s, Leonard Cohen was still intent on making a career as a poet and novelist. He would complete his first novel called “The Favorite Game” and it became a modest success. In October 1964 he received the Prix littéraire du Québec and then followed a reading tour. This would earn about $17K at the time. He used this money mostly on travel — his only real luxury.

It was also in the early 1960s while visiting his mother on a break from Hydra, that his skill for guitar playing got an upgrade and how he found his song. In 2011, Leonard told the story in Spain as he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters (an annual prize awarded by the royal family in Spain).

I know he may not believe in luck, but this happenstance encounter would inevitable change his life. Such lucky connections would not be his last.

Nonetheless, before he would take songwriting on, Leonard was still enjoying the height of fame as a poet and novelist. In 1966, the NFB released the great documentary and time capsule “Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen

The original film was shot as a documentary on four Canadian poets who toured a handful of universities in 1964. The working title of the film was “Four Poets” and included Leonard Cohen, Earle Birney, Irving Layton and Phyllis Gottlieb. However, once in the editing stage, they found the material was to be lacking, so Don Owen the original director walked away from the project.

Donald Brittain then came on board and shot additional footage and turned it into a Cohen focused biopic, who was a much more charismatic film subject.

Shortly after the film was released, Leonard Cohen would publish his second and final novel titled Beautiful Losers.

At the centre of the novel are the members of a love triangle, united by their obsessions and fascination with a 17th-century Mohawk, Saint Catherine Tekakwitha.

Cohen wrote the novel in two eight-month spurts while living on the Greek island of Hydra in 1964 and 1965. He fasted and consumed amphetamines to focus his creativity on the novel. Despite a lavish rollout, sales were disappointing, and critics were initially unsympathetic or hostile.

Later in 1965, Cohen would also published another book of poetry, Parasites of Heaven but sales were also dismal. So while Leonard Cohen was considered by many the leading new voice of the Canadian poetry scene, the book sales were poor. Cohen decided that he would never be able to fully support himself, let alone anyone else, by writing literature.

Not surprisingly though, this and his other works only gained critical and commercial attention once he had given up novel-writing and became known for his songwriting. Now his works are considered important parts of the Canadian literary canon.

However, now he turned his focus to songwriting. He left Hydra in November 1966 with the intent to travel to Nashville with the goal of starting a career as a country & western singer. As he would say, while he stopped in New York he was ambushed by a burgeoning folk scene there.

Leonard took up a room at the Chelsea Hotel and slowly infiltrated the local folk scene that he saw was burgeoning there. His time at the Chelsea hotel would later be fodder for a song about a tryst with Janis Joplin on a later album — but for now he was just soaking it all in and adapting his country music knowledge to folk music.

It wouldn’t be much later that it became something more. Through a friend of his named Mary Martin, he was able to make an important connection with Judy Collins.

Her Album “In My Life” released in November 1966 with two Leonard Cohen songs. “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “Suzanne”. It would peak at №46 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts in 1967. By 1970 it would be a gold record and sell over 1 million copies in US alone.

Judy was early on very cognizant of the importance of Leonard for her at this time. She was thankful to have his songs to record, but she thought he should also be a performer. She would be instrumental in making that happen.

His song “Suzanne” became a hit for Judy Collins and was for many years his most covered song. Initially, “Suzanne” was a poem, published in his 1966 poerty book called Parasites of Heaven — but it was not a fully formed song then and the book had not sold well. With Judy recording the song, though everyone would learn of the woman who gave him Tea and oranges from China. The inspiration for the song was Suzanne Verdal and Old Montreal as Leonard shared with Paul Zollo in his book FROM SONGWRITERS ON SONGWRITING.

With the success she had, Judy Collins, introduced Leonard to legendary talent scout John Hammond, who immediately decided to sign him. In one fell swoop, Leonard found himself quickly on the path of a real career — that only a year earlier he thought might be something temporary.

At the end of 1967, Songs of Leonard Cohen, his debut album was released on December 27 on Columbia Records. Although Hammond was supposed to produce this initial record, he became sick and was replaced by the producer John Simon. This Album contains both his early versions of Suzanne and “So Long Marianne”.

Leonard would also begin to tour around his album. The nervousness Leonard had for live performances was real. It did not really subside for him until he was in his seventies. He was never one of those musicians who talk about feeling most alive and at home onstage. Although he has had many successful performance strategies — including drugs and drink — the act of giving concerts often made him feel like “some parrot chained to his stand” — as he remarked at one concert in Jerusalem in in 1972.

As Cohen would say these would feeling would “ stems from the fact that you are not as good as you want to be — that’s really what nervousness is. That first time I went out with Judy Collins, it wasn’t to be the last time I felt this.”

No one would really notice this though. A testament to his power as a performer was caught for posterity in the DVD Live at the Isle of Wight 1970.

The “British Woodstock” has come was plagued by many issues, including technical headaches and general unrest but Cohen took the stage and through sheer force of personality did what Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Joan Baez and his other predecessors on the bill couldn’t: he talked 500,000 people down, and brought a looming catastrophe under control.

Bird on a wire, was the lead track on his second album Songs From a Room which was released in April 1969 and hit #63 on the U.S. charts and #2 in England. The back of the album also features the famous black and white photo of his Norwegian girlfriend Marianne Ihlen sitting seated at a desk in the home they shared on Hydra.

It was around this time a change happened to his relationship with Marianne. She had followed him back to North America at one point, but eventually he kept her at arms length telling her the folk scene was not for her. By the end of 1960’s, Marianne and Cohen parted ways. It was an amicable end to their relationship.

They would stay in touch during over their lifetime. When he toured in Scandinavia, she visited him backstage. They exchanged letters and e-mails frequently. When they spoke to journalists and to friends of their love affair, it was always in the fondest of terms. It was also celebrated in a movie released in 2019 called Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.

The early 1970’s would also continue to be a good time for Leonard. Near the end of 1969 Leonard met Suzanne Elrod. He would have a son Adam with her in 1972 and a daughter Lorca in 1974. That year he would also release New Skin for the Old Ceremony. Some consider one of his classic albums.

This is the album which features several popular Cohen compositions, including “Who By Fire” and “Chelsea Hotel #2”, which referred to a sexual encounter he had with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea hotel in the late 60s (and which we mentioned earlier).

Cohen would later apologize for what he called” the sole indiscretion, in my professional life”. He told the BBC in 1994. “I associated a woman’s name with a song, and in the song I mentioned, I used the line ‘Giving me head on an unmade bed while the limousines wait in the street,’ and I’ve always disliked the locker-room approach to these matters. I’ve never spoken in any concrete terms of a woman with whom I’ve had any intimate relationships, and I named Janis Joplin in that song. I don’t know when it started, but I connected her name with the song, and I’ve been feeling very bad about that ever since. It’s an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologizing to the ghost, I want to apologize now, for having committed that indiscretion.”

It would perhaps soothe his conscience to know that Joplin also spoke of their brief affair — in less than glowing terms. Many years later, an excerpt from a September 3, 1969 interview with Janis Joplin was published in the book The Sixties by Richard Avedon and Doon Arbus. She made it quite clear that she was very loose with her sexuality and she had no shame in naming both Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen as lovers who “ gave her nothing… “. And this was even before he had even released the song.

So while Leonard has felt bad, it seems Janis wasn’t shy to talk about their time together — and, it seems it was not as magical for her as it was for him.

Now while “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” was a notable work for Leonard in the 1970’s, the period also brought one of his less successful albums, the 1977’s Phil Spector-produced Death of a Ladies’ Man.

Biographer Anthony Reynolds writes in the 2010 book Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life that friend and fellow Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell tried to warn Cohen about working with Spector. She had witnessed some of the insanity between Spector and Lennon in L.A. As well. Seemingly Leonard ignored the advice of his friend. And early on, it seemed things were fine. Alone writing and working with Phil things went well. It was once in the studio that things fell apart.

The reception to album was one would expect not favourable and left many die-hard Cohen fans stunned.

Reflecting on the album in a 1992 with Paul Zollo, Leonard would share the belief that his voice was not ready up to the task — but the work beneath it was solid. As a matter of fact he was even open to a do-over with Phil at that time.

However having a do-over with Phil Spector would not become possible. In 2003 he would shoot and kill actress Lana Clarkson one late night in his home. In 2009 he would be found guilty of murdering Clarkson and was sentenced to nineteen years to life in state prison.

Besides the album release in 1978, Leonard Cohen would also release a book of poetry with the slightly altered title: Death of a Lady’s Man. It has nothing in common with the album, with only one exception: it contains the poem “Death of a Lady’s Man”, which is identical to the lyrics of the album’s title song.

Interesting to note as well, on the album cover is a photo. From the liner notes of the album he notes the photo was taken by an “Anonymous Roving Photographer at a Forgotten Polynesian Restaurant.” It features (from left to right) Eva LaPierre, Cohen himself and Suzanne Elrod the — the mother of his children and at the time common-law wife.

In 1979, Leonard would release Recent Songs which he decided to produce himself with assistance from Henry Lewy, who had previously worked regularly with fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell.

It was viewed as a return to form for the artist, but after two albums in a very short period it would be 5 more years until he would release new work.

No one could blame him. He needed a break. His mother died in 1978 and there was a major strain on the relationship with Suzanne Elrod. She had separated from him. In 1979, she took his children Adam and Lorca to live near Avignon, France.

Adam Cohen would describe his childhood in an 2012 article in the Jewish Chronicle that it was as a “gypsy like existence…Our childhood was divided between France with our mother [Suzanne Elrod], and our dad in New York, Los Angeles and on the island of Hydra in Greece,”. In a New York Magazine article in 2012, he described his relationship with his father. “Although my father wasn’t in the household with us, his presence was the very oxygen we were breathing”.

In an Issue of People Magazine in 1980, his life was described as follows

“Since the separation, Leonard has followed a high-tension regimen — writing, arranging, recording, touring, living out of a suitcase, interspersed with brief periods of collapse and recovery on Hydra or Mount Baldy, Calif. On the Coast he consults “a sort of Buddhist monk,” Joshu Sasaki, who runs an L.A. centre for meditation and manual labor. “When I go there, it’s like scraping off the rust,” Cohen says. “I’m not living with anybody the rest of the time. Nobody can live with me. I have almost no personal life.”

This is a regime he would return to later in his life — especially spending time with his mentor Josuh Saski, or as he would be later known as Roshi.

Eventually, though, Leonard found himself centered again — in some way and after a hiatus of sorts Leonard would return in 1984. A year that would turn out to be both sweet and tough.

In that year Cohen published his next book of poems, Book of Mercy, which won him the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry. However, this was also a year that came with what could be considered the worst time in his singing career, at least in the USA.

His new album, Various Positions had the indignity of being rejected by the American arm of Columbia Records. President of the company at the time, Walter Yetnikoff, deemed the album unworthy of release.

For those that are unaware. This is the album that had Leonard’s greatest hit on it. Yes, that’s right, Hallejuah was on this album. It took him many years to write, and the original words to the song had over 80 verses. This was the shortened version he was relatively happy with. However, it would not be another 20 years before this song would become the worldwide hit we know. A whole episode could be just devoted to that song, and actually the best one I ever heard was by Malcom Gladwell in his series Revisionist History in Season 1 Episode 7.

The short story, for our purposes is this would not be a hit for now, until the remake by John Cale and the tragic death of Jeff Buckley.

Unfortunately for Leonard, at this time, he was really in a low period. Once again, the relationships he formed over the years would help him along. His former backup singer, now a big star in her own right, Jennifer Warnes, advocated to release a Leonard Cohen cover album. In 1987, she. her album Famous Blue Raincoat dropped it very quickly became a big-selling album of Cohen reinterpretations.

Leonard certainly also recognized the importance she played in his resurrection.

With her advocacy behind him, I’m Your Man, released in 1988, became the biggest album of Cohen’s career. This album, in my view, could alone be a greatest hits.

It includes, First We Take Manhattan, Everybody know, Tower of Song, and of course, the title track I’m your Man.

So the popularity of this album was more than just a case of old fans returning to the fold. It seemed huge numbers of young people — the Kurt Cobain generation (which I guess I was part of) — were primed for a different voice and perspective, something darker, wiser and wry. As a matter of fact Kurt Cobain would reference Leonard in on Nirvana’s In Utero track ‘Pennyroyal Tea’, sung: ‘Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld / So I can sigh eternally’.

By this time too, Leonard’s voice had become much deeper and richer — it was the voice we will always think of that deep booming voice. In an interview in 1988, Matt Zimbel asked him about these changes. This is a raw interview from a VHS tape ( I must apologize for the poor quality).

On the Album cover as well, he poked fun at the perception people had of him as the merchant of doom. Leonard is standing in what looks like an empty warehouse, wearing dark shades a designer suit, and eating a banana.

His wry sense of humour is on full display here, as it would be in 1991 when he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards.

In his fantastic acceptance speech, Cohen made it clear he truly appreciated the recognition at this time in his life. Let’s listen to his speech from that night:

What a great speech, ending it off, with what became a signature of his in the later years to quote from Tower of Song.

Around this time Leonard had been off the road after touring successfully in support of his “comeback” album I’m Your Man . He had also taken a year off to help his son Adam convalesce after a serious car accident in the West Indies which had left the young man in a coma for four months. It was also around this time in the early 1990’s when Cohen began a romantic relationship with the actress Rebecca De Mornay.

In 1992, he would release The Future, which featured the hit “closing time”. The following year, for this album, he would win a Juno for Vocalist of the Year and also the Juno Award for Best Music Video in 1993. While accepting the award for best vocalist he quipped, “Only in Canada could somebody with a voice like mine win Vocalist of the Year.”

1993 was also the year he received the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

Life was coming at him faster at his time, and in 1993 , Leonard also when he began to spend several months of the year at the Zen Buddhist monastery on Mount Baldy outside Los Angeles he had retreated to in the late 1970s’. He took his time there seriously. He shaved his head, prayed, woke up at 2:30 in the morning to do chores.

In 1996, Cohen became ordained as a monk, but that did not safeguard him from depression, a lifelong nemesis; two years later, it overwhelmed him. “I’ve dealt with depression ever since my adolescence,” he said. “Moving into some periods, which were debilitating, when I found it hard to get off the couch, to periods when I was fully operative but the background noise of anguish still prevailed.” Cohen tried antidepressants. He tried throwing them out. Nothing worked. He was about to give when he picked up a book by an Indian writer by the name of Balsekar.

Shortly thereafter, he left Mount Baldy and headed to Mumbai. This time in Mumbai from 1999 and 2000 would change everything. There he found the help of an octogenarian Hindu guru named Ramesh Balsekar. With him he studied Buddhism, Zen and Vedanta.

After calling on Balsekar in the mornings, he would spend the rest of the day swimming, writing, and wandering the city. With this regiments, and for reasons he says he found “impossible to penetrate,” his depression was finally lifted. As he would tell Rolling Stone of what Balsekar would teach him “The model I finally understood.. suggested that there really is no fixed self. The conventional therapeutic wisdom today encourages the sufferer to get in touch with his inner feelings — as if there were an inner self, a true self, the real self that we have glimmerings of in dreams and insights. . . . There is no real inner self to command your loyalty and the tyranny of your investigation. What happened to me was not that I got any answers, but that the questions dissolved.” And with that he was ready to come home.

As Leonard now moved forward with this new understanding, it was also time to celebrate a new Leonard Cohen album. In 2001, he released his first new album in 10 years. It was called appropriately enough “10 new songs” — which includes the fan favourite, “in my secret life”.

Leonard was in good spirits about this release, but he was also fully aware — as he would often be quoted as saying — he was heading into the third Act.

Leonard did not let age stop him, though, and he still had plenty to do. Life circumstances, would soon alter his plans once again.

In 2004, as Cohen was turning 70, he became aware of majority financial impropriety of a family friend and manager. While Cohen was in Mount Baldy and Mumbai, seeing to his spiritual well-being, his manager Kelley Lynch had been busy emptying out her client’s accounts. While he would release a new album this year called Dear Heather, he did not tour or grant interviews at this time. Understandably of course.

He had been completely betrayed and it was serious. Cohen sued and did in fact win a large settlement, but he was never able to collect the money. Kelley ignored the suit and subpoenas — and was eventually sent to jail for 18 months. In the meantime there was really only one thing for Leonard Cohen to now do — and that was to get back out there to work.

In order to replenish his finances, Cohen embarked on a host of projects, from publishing a new poetry collection (Book of Longing) and participating in the film Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man to playing world tours and producing new albums

Besides his commercial success, Leonard was now also getting recognized and honoured for his work. It was in the mid to late 2000s when Leonard would be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he also was named to the National Order of Quebec, and received the Glenn Gould Prize. This is just to name just a few of his honors.

He would also see 5 of his songs added to the Songwriters Hall of fame. These include Bird on a Wire, Ain’t No Cure for Love, Everybody Knows, Hallelujah and Suzanne.

Let’s listen now to former Governor General Adrienne Clakrson as Leonard got his inducted the Songwriters Hall of fame in 2006:

Shortly thereafter, in 2007, Cohen would go on tour and these songs would be part of the nightly playlist. His new manager Robert Kory did everything possible so that it was a first-class operation: a private plane, where Cohen could write and sleep; good hotels, where he could read and compose on a keyboard; a car to take him to the hotel the minute he stepped off the stage. Between 2008 to 2013 Leonard Cohen played 387 shows to more than 2 million people.

Most importantly for the first time in his life, Leonard found joy onstage and it was evident.

His final tour performance was in Auckland, New Zealand, on Dec. 21, 2013. He wrapped things up with a cover of the Drifters classic “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

As his touring activities wound down Cohen spent more time at home in Los Angeles, his daughter Lorca and granddaughter downstairs, his son Adam and his family just down the street.

Leonard Cohen would also released three more albums: Old Ideas in 2012, Popular Problems in 2014 and You Want It Darker in 2016, which would be released just three weeks before he passed on.

One of Cohen’s last public acts was a Facebook posting on the death of Marianne, his muse from Hydra, who succumbed in July 2016 of leukaemia. It was a copy of the email he sent to her before she passed on. He wrote the following:

“Dearest Marianne,

I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.

I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude. Leonard”

In September, Leonard Cohen granted one of his last interviews to David Remnick of The New Yorker.

In October KCRW’s Chris Douridas for his last public interview. The conversation took place at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles on Oct. 13 as part of a special listening session for You Want It Darker — his last album. His sense of humour was on full display.

And with those final words, he went back home. Less than a month later, Leonard Cohen would succumb to injuries after a bad fall at his home in Los Angeles. While he had been suffering from leukaemia, he died during his sleep following a fall in the middle of the night on Nov. 7, Leonard’s manager, Robert Kory, issued a statement saying the death was sudden, unexpected and peaceful.

After his death, fans around the world mourned him. A shrine of sorts formed outside his homes in Montreal and LA. People gathered and sang his songs. Later on his hometown, Montreal would commission two large Leonard Cohen’s portrait which oversee the people of the city.

One is a beautiful portrait, around the corner from his long time home in Montreal, right near the famous Moishes steakhouse Leonard would frequent when he found himself here. It’s on St- Laurent and Napoleon street.

The other, is what one can only describe as an awe inspiring 21- story Mural on Crescent street. Leonard with his Fedora and his hand on his heart overlooks the town that loved him so.

Recently the city invested in lighting it at night, so it can be seen 24/7. There are also small tributes, like right near his Montreal home on Vallières street. There is a street called Marie-Anne which runs parallel and on the other side of Parc du Portugal. Some enterprising person has added to the sign, the words “So Long” and the word “and Leonard”, so the street sign reads “So long Marie-Anne, and Leonard”. A beautiful and simple tribute.

Another way his memory will also go one are the number of covers his songs receive every year. This includes his now most well known song Hallelujah. In modern times, Hallelujah has become one of the most covered songs, there are versions for every taste and even in movies, tv shows and more . There always seems to be a new Hallelujah cover popping up. Heck its even song in churches.

Also don’t fret if you don’t have enough Leonard Cohen. We’ll be hearing again from him soon.

In a couple of weeks, a posthumous album titled Thanks for the Dance is scheduled for release in November 2019. It will be his fifteenth studio album — and will include 9 new tracks….

Now onto the stamps

In 2019, Canada Post released three stamps, but it was a long time in the coming. As a matter of fact at an event at McGill in 2017, Robert Waite, a member of the Canada Post Stamp Committee let the room on a little secret (at the end of the talk around 1:06:10 ma

The Cohen stamps were unveiled at in September 2019 at the Musee Beaux Arts

Besides having a party for his release, including bagels, coffee and cake, I also believe this may first time where one individual had 3 stamps depicting them released in one go. Let’s take a closer look.

The Leonard Cohen were created by the Montreal graphic design firm Paprika. They portray the poet/novelist/songwriter in three stages of his life and artistry.

The first stamp, “Silver,” uses a portrait taken by U.S. photographer Jack Robinson for Vogue magazine in 1967 — the same year that saw Judy Collins release a version of Cohen’s Suzanne and the appearance of Cohen at the Newport Jazz Festival. It’s a youthful Leonard Cohen in a crouch, looking up.

The second “Gold” is a serious “I’m Your Man” pose, greying in his mid-fifties. The silhouette is from a 1988 beach shot by the Frenchman Claude Gassian. He is standing tall and confident. It’s a nod to the the resurgence of his popularity in the 1980s and the early 1990s, with his unforgettable and oft-covered “Hallelujah” (1984);

The final stamp is Bronze and Leonard — sitting on his last name. The portrait, circa 2012, was done by British photographer Platon.

The stamp offering also comes in different configurations. They are available in a book of nine, with three of each design available. 350,000 booklets are available from Canada Post.

There is also beautiful four-pack of Official First Day Covers. They come wrapped in cellophane. Inside is a nice glossy folder, with four envelopes cancelled with a postmark from Montreal dated September 21st, the date of Leonard Cohen’s birthday.

Each envelope represents a different period in his life — with a relevant photo on the front. On the reverse, you find a story on giving you a bit more context for the photo accompanied by a verse of a song around the time the photo was taken.

15,000 of each envelope have been produced, with noticeably brisk sales on ebay.

For those that want a simple collectible to frame, Canada Post offer a souvenir pane of 6 stamps next to a large photo of Leonard Cohen, leaning with a worn guitar case. The photo was taken by his daughter Lorca Cohen. 75,000 of these are available.

There was also, and I say this in the past tense, a limited print run of 2000 folded uncut press sheets packaged in a simulated full size 12 inch x 12 inch album sleeve.

These sold out in less than a week after release on September 21st. There is brisk bidding for these on ebay if you are looking to grab one for yourself. Thankfully I was able to grab one right from Canada Post by pure chance.

Even though this special item is gone, you don’t want to pay a premium on the secondary market to get your own Leonard Cohen stamps. Canada Post has stated there should still be enough stamps produced to get your fix. A total of four million stamps have been printed, a number Canada Post believes should be sufficient for Leonard’s worldwide fans and collectors to get their own special remembrance of the singer. So don’t wait, as Canada Post has stated these stamps will be available for the next two years, or as long as supplies last. Who knows which will happen first…

You can order all the stamps here.

Sources and other links for further reading & exploration:

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store