Leonard Cohen died this week and our Canadian and world treasure is returned to the Infinite, enriching It. I was his friend for an hour on a sunny Sunday August afternoon in 1973. I want to share it with you.
I was a young, lowly assistant electrician, hired for lighting the Shaw Festival presentation of "Sisters of Mercy", a pre-Broadway play.Nick Surovy was the male lead. He later had a good career in films like Ghostbusters and Die Hard. Gale Garnett was the female lead.The matinee was over, and Leonard had dropped by, as he did from time to time during the play's run. Checking things out.Everyone was suddenly gone, and it was just Leonard and me in the theatre. I asked him if he had time to kill, and he said yes.
We went to an ice cream shop, and he bought us cones. I bought a National Lampoon magazine. We sat on the steps of the old Courthouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada's first capital, licking maple walnut and reading the mag. He loved the photo spread of a woman boxer: "I am the Queen of England, I love to sing and dance, And if you don't believe me, I will punch you in the pants!
Cones consumed, I got to ask him anything. We shared the same birthday, September 21! Was there really a blue raincoat? Yes, but it was someone else's. The album cover of Songs of Leonard Cohen has a small pic of him credited to "Photo by Machine" - he said it was from a four-pic photo booth strip in Montreal's train station. What about that woman manacled in flames on the back cover? "It was a painting I bought in Spanish Harlem. I liked it." We talked about staying up all night: "It's the ultimate rebellion. You are against your nature itself. It is a new perspective."
Suddenly, our time was over, and he was picked up by a woman in a car that pulled up to the Courthouse curb. Leonard waved as he got in, and I waved back. I never saw him again, and the play closed three weeks later, never making it to Broadway. Leonard left us his poetry, songs, film and memories that endure. I am very privileged for my hour with him. He said "The fact is, I'm turning to gold, turning to gold. It's a long process they say. This is to notify you that I've already turned to clay."