In 2015, the CALQ awarded the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec to 35 Québec personalities for their exemplary accomplishments. Leonard Cohen was among them, but was unable to attend the ceremony to receive the medal symbolizing the Order. We had hoped to be able to present it to him personally on another occasion, but unfortunately this opportunity never arose. We learned of his passing with profound sadness, feeling orphaned by his loss, a feeling shared around the world by all those touched by his immense body of work.
Leonard Cohen’s legendary career began in Montréal, in 1967. This was the year of Expo 67, and of Suzanne. With melancholy casualness, a young poet moved from literature into song by affirming his credo: love, women, freedom, underpinned by themes of solitude, hurt and betrayal. His talent and the power of his verses emanated through all the songs that followed, which he fine-tuned with a jeweler’s attention to detail, organizing chaos with the meticulousness of his words, seeking the “secret chord to please the Lord”.
“If I’d known where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often”, quipped the poet who, like a migratory bird, flew constantly back and forth between the islands of Montréal and Hydra, in Greece. His quest was not so much for inspiration but was more of a spiritual nature. His great voyages were interior ones, in a labyrinth where the truth and the Minotaur coexist, both finding expression in his polarized verses. He excelled at the art of conjugating the sacred and the profane in his declarations of love, relating “invincible defeats” and combating the darkness of his torments with humour.
With equal doses of generosity and modesty, he discreetly watched over the world’s progress, sharing with his peers. When he was awarded the Prix Denise-Pelletier in 2012, he decided to offer the accompanying $30,000 prize to the CALQ to be awarded to a young songwriter. This generosity enabled Vincent Vallières to tour high schools in several regions.
Leonard Cohen saw the “crack in everything”, but chose to believe “that’s how the light gets in”. This light he shone on the complexity of the human spirit continues to guide us, even as his deep warm voice continues to sooth us.
On behalf of the employees and the board of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, I wish to offer my sincere condolences to his family, his loved ones and all his admirers.
CEO of the CALQ