So Long, Leonard …

I met Leonard Cohen once.

Since I spent all my employed life working in bookstores and for publishing companies, it was a given I’d meet many famous (mostly Canadian) authors during that time. And I did. I still have most of their signed books on my shelves here on Bequia. I haven’t given them away in all this time so it looks as though I’ll still have them when I die.

But Cohen was different, because I never represented him and he was actually in Calgary to sign books at the rival bookstore around the corner from the one where I was working. If the sales rep accompanying him hadn’t had the forethought to buy coffee and bagels from the restaurant across 17th Ave. and bring them, along with Leonard, over to our store where they could sit in armchairs by the window and eat and visit with us, I would never have had the chance to meet the man at all. He was in town to promote a new collection of contemporary psalms, The Book of Mercy. The original dust jacket on my copy is somewhat worse for wear, but the hardcover itself is still in mint condition.


I grew up in Toronto during the 60s and was 13 when Cohen first began recording songs. Suzanne was always a great favourite during my teens, because the name was so close to my own.

But there was also something haunting about this music and the lyrics – something kind of forbidden, too – that made this new singer and his music so attractive to us. In Grade 13 English, we even discussed some of Cohen’s poems, which I always thought was cool, because this was poetry written by someone we could hear on the radio, not old dead guys from another century. Cohen was speaking directly to us in the here and now … even if we didn’t understand exactly what it was he was saying.

Then I read and studied Beautiful Losers as part of a Can.Lit. course I took at university. I had a difficult time reading that book. I no longer have my copy.

So it wasn’t until 1984, when Cohen was on a cross-Canada promotion tour, that I managed to get a signed book and have kept it all these years.


Remarkably, it remained unscathed during a recent infestation of termites I dealt with. Not so the signed books of his fellow-Montreal author, Hugh MacLennan, who I also met when he signed my university copies at a different bookstore in Calgary where I was working. Unfortunately those termites feasted on Hugh.

Fast forward to when I served on a committee in Calgary that had the task of selecting and inviting an author to give a speech at an annual event. We asked Leonard Cohen, but were told by his agent that Mr. Cohen was going to be busy during the next few years promoting his new CD and that perhaps we should inquire again at a later date. Cohen was 78 at the time! I thought that was certainly a sign of extreme optimism, not only that he could make it through a world promotion tour still healthy in mind and body, but also that he’d be alive and able to attend our event a few years later. “You go, Leonard!” I thought. If only they had been able to convince him last year …

But he did come to Calgary that year and gave a fabulous concert, which I attended just days before flying back to Bequia for the winter. The man put his heart and soul into the concert and I came away believing it was the best I had ever attended in my life. He had a way of calling the audience “My Friends” and really meaning it, so that I felt as though he was singing directly to me – probably as did every other member of that audience. I do have the Live in London concert DVD, which is wonderful, but still not the same as the very personal experience of seeing him perform live in front of 10s of thousands of other fans.

It was with great sadness that I read this morning of Leonard Cohen’s death yesterday. Unexpected especially because he had just released a CD of all new music and seemed to be at the top of his game right now. Little did I, or most others, realize that this was his swan song. Listen to the words of You Want It Darker and you will hear the eerie prophecy.

This is my small tribute to someone who managed to touch our perfect bodies around the world with his mind – with his words and his music. I mourn the loss of Leonard Cohen, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to meet him once, to share a coffee and bagel, to get his signature, and that he so generously shared what he created with all of us.

Here’s another tribute to Cohen and to Remembrance Day from my friend, Carin Markuz … (And, Carin, this book of Cohen’s I have is dedicated, “for my teacher”.)

the teachers are leaving… i hope we’ve been paying attention

20 responses

  1. My husband will sob when I show him this, his dream to meet let alone get an autograph, has alas now gone. I posted this before he died and reposted on the day.
    Please come and see.

  2. A smile from your send off for him. (Signed books – they hold sights, sounds, as well as words. Never easy to hand those off to anyone else)
    Once again we become aware those seemingly forever beacons won’t always be there in person. Such a loss.

  3. I envy you meeting him and going to one of his concerts. We’ll always have his music. Thanks, Sue!

  4. A tender tribute. Thank you for sharing your memories of one of the greats!

  5. Thank you for the remembrance, Susan. His songs are timeless and bring back many happy memories…

  6. Thank you for sharing. I am a big fan of Leonard Cohen and his great music.

  7. My first exposure to Cohen was “The Story of Isaac” sung at the Well, a Christian coffee House on the Drag in Austin, Texas. As often happened, the Jesus movement co-opted songs but how they copied Cohen was beyond me. The same singer later performed “Suzanne” and the crowd ate it up, hands high, worshipping Jesus.

    Forty years later I’m a Christian and a still remain baffled to think how Christians ever found a Christian message in Cohen’s lyrics. (But it could be argued early Christians appropriated a number of metaphors from surrounding Mediterranean cultures to explain the faith to Gentiles, metaphors which modern believers now accept as literal truths.)

    That being said my wife Carol and I remain devoted Cohen fans as well. He wrote so much of the soundtrack of our lives even though we didn’t meet until our thirties, half our lives have now been spent together and we spent those thirty years listening to Cohen. We were just married when he dropped by Austin to perform on Austin City Limits, which I still have, transferred from VCR to DVD and now to iTunes for our Apple TV.

    His music will burn in our collective consciousness for generations to come.
    His lyrics will continue to confound.

    1. I like to think that Cohen intended for us to be confounded by his lyrics, because he’d be the first to admit he didn’t have all the answers and was confounded himself, still searching and learning. Thanks for reading and commenting, Phillip! It seems to me that Leonard Cohen brought more people in the world together than we’ll ever realize.

  8. […] Whenever I think of Leonard Cohen,I hear his singing voice, memorable always. Thanks to Susan, […]

  9. Reblogged this on Julaina Kleist-Corwin and commented:
    Whenever I think of Leonard Cohen,I hear his singing voice, memorable always.

  10. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    “This is my small tribute to someone who managed to touch our perfect bodies around the world with his mind – with his words and his music. I mourn the loss of Leonard Cohen…” read on…thanks Sally Cronin, for pointing me to this, and to Susan for a great farewell post.

    1. Thanks for reading and reblogging, Mira!

  11. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Leonard Cohen was part of the teenage years of many of us. A wonderful tribute from Susan Toy who had the privilege of meeting him.

  12. How fortunate for you that you got to meet the great man. My own reflections are simply of listening to his music and watching him perform live. From that latter activity alone, I knew his lyrics were more than just words. An amazing force, in a strangely understated way.
    Thank you for sharing your experience

  13. The time I heard Suzanne, I was mesmerized and a fan. What a talent.

  14. Beautiful piece. And it had been quite a while since I last listened to “Suzanne.” Holds up like a cathedral.

    So strange that it was just a month ago that news outlets had the story, “Leonard Cohen says he’s ready to die.” Either he was more of a prophet than we thought, or he had inside information …

    Why does it feel like 82 is too young these days?

  15. What a lovely tribute, Susan. So touching. Special memories I’m sure. When I heard ‘Suzanne’ as a young person I remember thinking: tea and oranges, what a great idea! To this day I often crave one with the other. (Thank you also for linking to my post… how sweet of you.) xo

  16. What a wonderful experience!

  17. Sue, what a touching tribute to a great Canadian. How wonderful that you met him face-to-face in a literary capacity, but also in a down-to-earth way. I fondly remember learning about his poem, Suzanne, when I was in grade 9 in Kingston ON in 1971. I always loved that piece and was touched by many of his other songs over the years. He certainly was a prophetic soul. Thanks Leonard Cohen, for all your gifts and their everlasting literary value among us mortals. RIP.

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