It’s the one-year anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death in Montréal, and the fedoras are everywhere.
I’m humbled to be included in the city’s
“This was never a sycophantic exercise,” said John Zeppetelli, director and chief curator at the MAC. We were never interested in presenting Leonard’s beautifully cut suits or his fedoras.”
Those suits and fedoras tell a story too, of course, a nod to the status of the Montréal Cohens, and the fact that Leonard’s father Nathan owned a high-end clothing business. “The Freedman Company was known for its formal wear, and Nathan liked to dress formally, even on informal occasions,” writes Sylvie Simmons in her 2012 Leonard Cohen biography, I’m Your Man. “In suits, as in houses, he
Like his father, Leonard wore a suit even on informal occasions. It likely became a tether to his father, a reminder of where he came from even when his poetic indiscretions seemed to betray his upbringing. “I was born in a suit,” Cohen once said. He was buried in one, too.
Cohen's grave on the one-year anniversary of his death. (Justin Joffe for SHIFTed)
As his family belonged North Montréal’s more prosperous Jewish community, Cohen acknowledged that there was a class divide — the city’s downtown Jews were far more radical, socialist and communist in their philosophies. Celebrated Montreal writer was Mordechai Richler among the latter group, and a woman on our Jewish food tour tells us that Richler’s grandfather and Cohen’s grandfather, both of whom were prominent rabbis in their communities, absolutely hated each other. The divide was one of
It’s to this end that Leonard Cohen’s dedication to wearing suits rings with a sort of sartorial blues. As the man left the city and discovered the world was far more complicated and ugly, even as his ego was destroyed by hungry women and endless world conflict, his suits became a tether back home.
In the Jewish faith, suits are a right of passage for every young, regardless of class. While we’d always been expected to dress well for
Klipotsuggests that when we look at something or someone we perceive to be ugly or impure, we’re only looking at the outer or the shell. The true essence, the holiness, whatever you might call it, is obscured and hidden beneath the visage. rind,
Cohen’s fondness for such memories of youth must have been challenged when he saw the ugliness of the world, like went to perform for Israeli troops during The Yom Kippur War against Egypt, witnessing self-justified barbarism at the hands of his own people and suddenly feeling far less gentlemanly. Those fine, bespoke threads made their way into the words of his work, most often as he projected the image of himself as a man always kneeling at the altar of love, sex or song.
There’s a concept in Kabbalah called Klipot, best captured by Leonard in his seminal song Anthem with its line, “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
“I am locked in a very expensive suit/ old elegant and enduring/Only my hair has been able to get free,” he wrote in the poem, “Flowers For Hitler”. “I comb my hair for possibilities/I stick my neck out/I lean illegally from locomotive windows/and only for the barber/do I wear a hat.”