Leonard Cohen Returns To Montreal
Montreal (and Westmount’s) favourite son Leonard Cohen passed away a year ago on November7, 2016. “It was a mild day for mid-November in Montreal when Leonard Cohen’s funeral was held last Thursday in the city he always considered home, even after years of living in Los Angeles” the Montreal Gazette reported.
“One of his best songs, In My Secret Life, included the words ‘I know what is right/And I’d die for the truth.’ And in the end, those lyrics segued into Cohen’s secret funeral. About 15 people attended the graveside ceremony and burial in the Jewish section of Mount Royal Cemetery. As Leonard requested, there were only a few old and close friends.”
The first week of November, 2017 the City of Montreal had a homecoming of sorts for fans and followers to celebrate the life and the works of Leonard Cohen, first with a tribute concert and then with the launch of a retrospective exhibition and numerous related events at the MAC.
The concert; Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen was a sold out 2 1/2 hour international star studded musical tribute to the revered poet and musician. It took place Monday night, November 6, at the Bell Centre. The event featured many international stars and was more than enjoyed by both the musical artists and the audience.
A Crack in Everything
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
185, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
On Wednesday, November 8 the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) launched Leonard Cohen: une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything:
It’s a multidisciplinary exhibition that combines visual art, virtual reality, installations, performances, music and writing.
One of the video installations featured in the exhibition that has an interesting South African/Berlin/Montreal/Westmount based provenance, was months in the making. It all began last winter with a call through MAC via social media for men of a certain age who were lifelong fans/followers of Leonard Cohen to get in touch with South African artist Candice Breitz, who is based in Berlin.
Two years before Cohen’s death, MAC had started planning a major exhibition for November 2017 to celebrate Cohen’s lifetime body of work. Due to her reputation as an internationally acclaimed video artist, Breitz was the first one they asked to participate; and as a longtime admirer of Cohen’s work she jumped at the chance.
Eventually, almost 40 artists became involved in creating the exhibition’s 20 installations. For Breitz’s piece, she was looking for men over 60 who were lifelong Leonard Cohen fans and who were willing to participate in a video production that involved performance in front of a camera and singing. No acting or singing experience required; just a passionate long-term affair with Cohen’s work was what she was looking for.
At first, Griffintown resident Shaun Fawcett wasn’t interested. “But once I learned more about Candice and what she had planned, and I understood what would be involved, it intrigued me, so I followed up.” He filled out the long questionnaire that described his lifelong relationship with the work and persona of Leonard Cohen. “Lo and behold, in early May I was contacted by Candice’s people and they told me that I was one of the 18 men picked to be involved in the project!”
“Thousands had applied, worldwide, but in the end they chose 18 who were within a one day’s drive of Montreal; to simplify logistics and keep costs down. The 18 chosen were from among hundreds of men that fit that criterion. That group was then invited to participate in individual audio/video recording sessions that took place during the beginning of June at the Phi Center in Old Montreal.
Shaun Fawcett and Candice Breitz
Over a six-day period, Candice Breitz and her team guided each of the 18 men through a three hour recording session. Three sessions per day were filmed/recorded using the Phi Centre’s professional recording facilities. During each session the participant was required to sing all of the songs on Leonard Cohen’s 1988 comeback album “I’m Your Man”. “Oh, and did I mention that we were required to sing the entire 40 minute album in one take, with no lyric sheets!,” recalls Shaun.
Because each of the men was filmed separately, two or three a day, they never met as a group. Shaun says he had one chance meeting with another participant who had just finished his recording session as Shaun arrived for his.
The link below is a two minute trailer/preview and a post-shoot interview produced by
Candice Breitz that gives an idea of the installation in which that Shaun participated.
Shaun went on to explain, “The big difference between this one and some other installations like this that Candice has done in the past (i.e. John Lennon, Bob Marley, and others), is improved technology and the addition of the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim synagogue cantor and choir.
This is the same cantor/choir from the Westmount synagogue that Leonard invited to sing on his last album, not long before he died. The choir can be heard on the title cut from the last album:
“If you haven’t heard it, It’s a very beautiful (end of life) song; one that only Leonard could write.” says Shaun.
Leonard Cohen: une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything: opened to the public on November 9, 2017 at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC). CBC News produced a short summary of what they saw at the opening: