Paying tribute to the ultimate ladies' man - National Post

The Edmonton Event - before and after
KimSolez
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Paying tribute to the ultimate ladies' man - National Post

Postby KimSolez » Wed Jul 30, 2008 8:41 pm

http://www.nationalpost.com/scripts/sto ... 688430&p=1

Paying tribute to the ultimate ladies' man

Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In this summer-long series, the National Post takes readers to some of the most interesting places in the country, from the hometowns of the famous to little-known places touched by celebrity.
By Kevin Libin

EDMONTON -- By the time the surprised student arrived home, hot take-out lunch in hand, there were three-dozen strangers on his front lawn, his front porch, peering through his unwashed windows and poking around his backyard.

They came from Japan, Germany, the U.K, Finland, Holland and the United States to see this place. To those living here, it was, till now, just another rough-around-the-edges co-op University of Alberta residence. To the visitors, it was the sacred Sisters of Mercy house, where Leonard Cohen briefly visited — first, upstairs, at a professor’s party, before spending the night in the basement with Lorraine and Barbara, the inspirations for that song (“they lay down beside me/I made my confession to them,” he wrote).

Mr. Cohen spent a few weeks in Edmonton 42 years ago, invited to lecture by the university’s English department. He composed that song — though, there have been disputed versions of how the night transpired — and a few poems (including Edmonton, Alberta, December 1966, 4 a.m.).

Among his surely epic experiences, this visit might at best merit a “minor place,” said biographer Ira Nadel. “No more than that.” He was, by 1966, a renowned Canadian poet, Mr. Nadel says, just emerging as a songwriter, spending time in New York’s Chelsea Hotel with Janis Joplin and Lou Reed.

But to the pilgrims who travelled to the Leonard Cohen International Festival in Edmonton, which wrapped up on Monday after five days of intense worship, even footnotes fascinate.

Anywhere Mr. Cohen shed skin cells while in Edmonton, they toured: the Hotel MacDonald, where he stayed, but was evicted for the commotion he caused; the former site of the Alberta Hotel, now an office tower, where he subsequently relocated; the lecture hall where he recited poetry to mesmerized undergraduates; and the Yardbird Suite, a legendary music dive (since relocated) where he sang.

Between stops, aficionados (they call themselves Cohenights) swapped memories of earlier festivals — there have been three of the biennial events before, in
Berlin, New York and Hydra, the Greek Island where Mr. Cohen keeps a home — shared concert clips on portable video players, showed off their mastery of trivia, such as the origins of the Famous Blue Raincoat (a Burberry, reportedly) and dished rumours regarding his current love life.

“They’re psychotic,” one buff marvelled aloud, taken aback herself at the zeal of her fellow travellers. “They just want to be any place Leonard stood,”
In fact, the Cohenights ranged from eager admirers to obsessives. Sunday’s gala tribute concert featuring artists, including Jann Arden and Tom Rush, covering Cohen songs, drew 1,400 mostly casual fans.

Anyone passingly familiar with Mr. Cohen could dig the feisty sounds of Monsieur Camembert, Australia’s “most famous gypsy band,” who travelled here for a private performance of their repertoire of Cohen covers, from their Famous Blue Cheese album.

But it took a fetishist to sit through the 40-minute PowerPoint presentation by nephrologist Dr. Thomas Mueller on “Cohen’s connections to medicine, meditation and Buddhism.”

Exhibits of artwork painted while listening to Mr. Cohen, dance performances interpreting his music, and late-night “collage-a-thons” fell somewhere in between.

“These are dedicated Leonard Cohen fans who will go anywhere for this international event,” said Kim Solez, a local renal pathologist and the festival’s organizer.

“There are only about 250 to 300 people like that in the world who will come to Leonard stuff no matter where it is” — even if it doesn’t actually feature Mr. Cohen himself, currently in Europe on his first tour in 15 years.

But taking in a concert is something anyone can do. Well, almost anyone: Western Canada has been left off the tour, something Dr. Solez thinks is deliberate.
He’s sure Mr. Cohen — whom he spent part of a day with some years back while spearheading an international campaign for an annual Robbie-Burns-type commemoration of Mr. Cohen’s birthday — wouldn’t wish to overshadow this with his presence.

“He knows about our event, and doesn’t want to be competing directly with it,” he maintains. “It would be nice to have him, but everything we planned would make no sense if the man were actually there.”

After all, why bother with German Cohenights serenading native versions of I’m Your Man (“Ich bin dein Mann”) and Everybody Knows (“Jeder weiss bescheid”) on open mic night when Mr. Cohen is available to sing the real thing?

Besides, seeing the moody Ladies’ Man onstage for a couple hours provides limited appreciation of his oeuvre. For devoted fans, craving more, travelling the world to discuss his every detail and study like holy places the floors he once walked may, they hope, provide them some deeper glimpse into Leonard Cohen’s unusual soul.

klibin@nationalpost.com

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