Leonard Cohen – The Artist As Steward
This photo of Leonard Cohen with head bowed and hat in hand is, I contend, the iconic shot of the May 14, 2012 Glen Gould Prize ceremony, the one that most completely captures the spirit of that event and the significance imbued into it by Leonard Cohen.
In support of this notion, I ask readers to consider how Leonard Cohen spent his time at that gala:
- Leonard Cohen accepted the Glenn Gould Prize, which includes both a $50,000 award for the winner and the responsibility of naming the recipient of the associated City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize of $15,000. Cohen had already named Sistema Toronto, a program that offers free, intensive music education to children from culturally diverse neighbourhoods, as the recipient of the Protégé Prize. He then donated his own $50,000 cash prize to the Canada Council for the Arts, the same organization from which Cohen, as a young poet, received a $25 grant in the form of reading fees.
- Leonard Cohen gave a 4 minute acceptance speech, consisting entirely of him
- Quieting the standing ovation he received
- Telling about interviewing Glenn Gould for a magazine and being so bedazzled he didn’t take notes and couldn’t recall enough to write the article.
- Telling about greeting Gould years later with “hip language” (i.e., “Hey man, what’s shaking?”) and Gould responding with “I didn’t know you were from Memphis, Tennessee.”
- Informing those about to perform in his tribute concert that they need not worry about singing his songs in front of him because, as he has pointed out several times in the past, “I go into an immediate, childish ecstasy and paroxysms of gratitude … whenever anyone covers one of my songs.”
- Leonard Cohen watched the concert, applauding each act.
- Leonard Cohen left the building
That’s it. No celebration of his own career, no philosophical pronouncements, no raging against the lack of public funds dedicated to support culture, … . Heck, as far as I can determine from the photos, videos, and press reports, he didn’t even promote his Old Ideas album or his upcoming Old Ideas World Tour, mortal sins of omission for an American artist (maybe this is a Canadian thing?).
Leonard Cohen was grateful, he was gracious, he was generous, … he was great.
Just like that photo.1
Credit Due Department: The photo is by Nancy Paiva and was published in For Leonard Cohen, What Goes Around Comes Around by Todd Aalgaard (Torontoist May, 15, 2012)
- I should note that personally, I would have preferred Cohen’s Glenn Gould Prize acceptance speech to have been more along the lines of his Prince Of Asturias Awards “How I Got My Song” speech rather than this return to his PEN Award‘s “I am only a footnote to Chuck Berry” motif. Humility, artistic stewardship, and such are all well and good, but Leonard Cohen is one of the few individuals alive today who can perform the much-needed task of configuring and broadcasting the spoken word to emotionally move an audience in the realm of culture and awaken them to the potential beauty in poetry, music, and the other arts. Just saying. [↩]