On September 21th, 2019 Leonard Cohen would be 85. I have a mixed feelings about this math. From one side, one feels like Leonard always was there with us. Or rather that it is us who were always next to him.
Who grew up , or lived on without his songs and poetry around? Cohen’s presence is a part of an atmosphere on this planet. In a melody, or a phrase, or those twinkling eyes, or that special smile. It is the part of our souls’ environment. The best, the finest, so very unobtrusive part of it. The luxury of a wing’s free movement.
On another side, Leonard, with that twinkle in his eyes, with that smile of a light, with that grace towards everyone, was one of the very few people who knew no age, almost. Could anyone see Leonard as a elderly man even in his 80s? Nope. His youthfulness, his resourcefulness in that, was not only charming asset of a star. In many ways and millions of situations it was a life-rope to so many of the people who are still devoted to him whole-heartedly, after he is gone, for three years now.
In his physical absence, nothing has changed in the unbounded and grateful love that we have for Leonard. This is a very rare phenomenon in the world culture. And it can be explained only by the supposition that all those millions of people have identified themselves with this ever young and always wise man who did not lecturing anyone, ever. But who was honest, talented, superbly fine, and very human.
There is no coincidence that Leonard’s logo which he did create and draw himself was a Mogen David made of two interlocked hearts. His life and his sharing of his talent with us was a heart on a palm stretched towards us, literally so. This two-hearted Mogen David sent to us by Leonard is one of the main treasures on my husband’s study wall.
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So, Leonard’s would be 85th birthday is still perceived as a celebration by very many of us, despite his permanent absence. Those who were in-tuned into the Cohen’s life knows on how many people were lovingly sending gifts to their favourite man – not a singer, not a musician, not even a poet which is a lot, but a man, a person, a universe, a magnet who had no star syndrome whatsoever and who was always attentive and respectful towards the people. “A real Cohen”, – as my husband never failed to mention on so many occasions.
In congratulating Leonard on his birthday, people who loved him and whose lives he enriched so elegantly, tried do something meaningful and special. I remember well the idea to build a bench in Hydra, the Cohen’s island as we know it, at the spot where Leonard loved to sit and look onto the sea there.
It was a very fortunate idea to commemorate Leonard’s 80th birthday ( and quite an undertake to materialise it in Greece) , and great Jarkko Arjatsalo, very special and close colleague of Cohen, the founder of The Leonard Cohen Files, and a dear friend, managed to collect the needed sum in a bit over 24 hours. Everybody participating signed an address congratulating Leonard on his 80th birthday, and the beautiful file went all the way to Los Angeles, along with the DVD of my film on Simon Wiesenthal, as we knew on how close the matters that we have discussed with Simon were to the Leonard’s heart.
I will never forget the Leonard’s response to that address. He wrote back as soon as the parcel had reached him, thanking all those who participated in the fundraising: “I thank you all, you all are in my heart, each and everyone of you. I did read all the names in the address”. We all knew that he did. That’s why the fundraising was so swift, and actually many people who would like to participate were not able to do so as the goal was met in no time, and noble Jarkko Arjatsalo did not want to have any extra above the needed sum. It is not in a character of that incredible person.
Honestly, I cannot imagine better commemoration of Leonard Cohen that this bench in Hydra, from all and every point of view. After numerous hurdles, it was opened there in in June 2017.
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This year, when Cohen would be 85 on September 21st, I have learned about two remarkable gifts on the day to him, and to us.
In Ireland, there would be five performances of Requiem, music to which was written by well-known guitar player John MacKenna, but all the text, poetry, cast and characters were written by Cohen himself. As we know, John MacKenna approached Leonard with the idea of creation the Requiem in memory of the youth who took their lives, in summer 2016. Leonard has agreed to the idea, and the final arrangement of the material and the text, all by Cohen, had been agreed with him in October 2016, just a few weeks before his passing. This special work would be performed in Dublin in commemoration of the Leonard’s would be 85th birthday in September.
And yet before that, on August 31st, there will be a special ceremony in Vilnius, Lithuania. On this ceremony in the inner court of the nice street of the Vilna Old Town, a sculpture of Leonard would be unveiled, the first in the world. Everybody who saw the image of the sculpture and those who knew Leonard, just loved it. It simply charming, and it does bear the fine features of Leonard’s character, his special fleure so very well. Besides, it is simply a very good art.
I am sure that Leonard would be terrified of the idea of making him in stone, he was organically modest; but I also know that he would understand it and appreciate the very best intentions of the people who did it. He was also organically respectful towards the people because he loved and understood them. “ A real Cohen”, – as my husband still says on him.
The sculptor who created this first in the world full-size figure memorial of the legendary poet and singer, Romualdas Kvintas, was a very special person, too. Unfortunately, he would not be there on the unveiling ceremony. Kvintas passed away in October 2018 after his short battle against aggressive cancer. He was just 66. Leonard’s sculpture was one of his last five works. It was finalised by young sculptor Martynas Gabuas, on his own initiative, as Elge Kvintiene, Romualdas’ widow has told me.
This very well known in Lithuania and Europe sculptor also have had an open heart on his palm, just like Leonard. That’s why this sculpture is so authentic, I think. Kvintas is known for his iconic by now works commemorating legendary Jewish Doctor Cemach Sabad in the heart of Vilna, and many other works dedicated to the Jewish people, our history, and the memory of the Holocaust. Among those works are both very touching and so strong sculptures in Seduva which are part of the ongoing The Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial Centre there, a unique project conveying our loving memory to the vanished, or rather, annihilated world and its people.
As for his sculpture of Cohen, Kvintas has worked on it for five years, and one can see that the fine features of every kind of this rare piece of art demands such time, indeed. At some stage of the work, Norwegian businessman and philanthropist John Afseth saw the sculpture of Leonard Cohen’s in making and proposed to support the undertake financially. On Saturday 31st, he would be there at the unveiling ceremony together with his Lithuanian wife Austrine Baronaite who did support the project, too.
They would be joined by the Vilnius mayor Remigijus Simasius and his wife who both took the case of erecting the sculpture of Leonard Cohen in Vilna close to their hearts. Currently, the Vilnius City Administration is looking for a permanent visible place to this sculpture in the capital of Lithuania where the Cohen’s family is from. Egle Kvintiene, widow of sculptor Romualdas Kvintas, mentioned that she is surprised that the sculpture would be the first one in the world. I am not.
Leonard is very popular in Lithuania, always was and will be, I think; the same as Joseph Brodsky. There is a strata of intellectuals there which marks the cultural and psychological landscape of this place full of dramas and filled with richness of thought and culture through generations. I might be subjective in this, but this is what I feel and how I know and understand this place being a Litvak, as my husband is, and as Leonard Cohen was.
The reaction of the people in Lithuania regarding the appearance of the first in the world sculpture of Leonard Cohen in their capital it is what makes me smile. “What an amazing inspiration for us, for the city, for the capital of the country where the Cohen’s family is! What an honour it is, to us” – says one my friend, the head of the UNESCO office of the Old City, Gediminas Rutkauskas. “He makes it to Vilnius finally, Inna”, – told another dear friend, director of the Vilnius Public Jewish Library Zilvinas Beliauskas who loves Cohen and understands him in a mode of an atomic precision. Zilvinas dreamed of inviting Leonard to Vilnius, and we did even undertake some first steps with regard to that, but it was at the time when Leonard was already fragile, and ever delicate Zilvinas did not like to put an extra pressure upon his favourite man.
He makes it to Vilnius, Zilvinas, and he will be there for good, with that smile, and that fine gestures, and that smashy poetry that comes as if from our own inside , just we did not know the exact formulation until hearing it from him in a mixture of revelation and joke. And with that heart on palm directed towards all of us, every one, in his attentive and slightly boyish dealing with humanity. There are people who never age, 85 or what, because the degree of hope inside them is higher than average and it hardly gets diminished. Like in real Cohens.
What a present to us all, on Leonard’s 85th birthday.