Meeting Leonard Cohen for The Mirror

“Oh yeah, Leonard Cohen. The man lives up to his reputation. What can I tell you? I was working, it was 1988. I was working for the Montreal Mirror. Newbie on the block. They said, “Okay, here’s your second or third job.” I don’t remember what it was. “You’re going to be going with this guy, Martin Siebrok. He’s gonna be the journalist, you’re the photographer.

You’re gonna do the cover and it’s gonna be Leonard Cohen.” I went, “What? Leonard Cohen, really?” It was I’m Your Man tour. He was wearing the classic shirt with the suit and whatnot. We met him off Park and Prince Arthur. I think it was the Meridian Hotel there, at that time. Just in the back next to the bar, of course. When Martin and I showed up there, he was at the table, very graciously met us and he sat down and he had a bottle of Advil in front of him.

I think he was probably a little hungover from the night before, whatever going ons. He gave us all the time in the world. We were low guys on the totem pole, the Montreal Mirror wasn’t any international magazine, but completely indulged us. As we were going along, I remember squatting down beside the table. I had recently had a tattoo done and, in the point, it was a Celtic cross.

He looked down at me and goes, “Oh, are you Irish?” I said, “Irish-Scottish.” He says, “Oh, no kidding. I was just in Dublin. A friend of mine has a cross just like that. Do you want a drink?” I’m like, a drink? We’re working. I said, “Martin?” He says, “Yeah, every time I do an album, I have this drink called the red needle.” I said, “The red needle? What’s the red needle?” He says, “Well, it’s a bit of tequila, some cranberry juice, some fruit and whatnot, you mix it. I’ll sort it out, I’ll get them to make it for us.” The drinks came.

The conversation carried on. I got my cover shot. I got my insert for him. I had an extra roll of film. This was analog, back in the day. I had motor drive on my camera and I said, “Mr. Cohen, could I indulge you in walking on the street, on Prince Arthur? I’d like to get you, just walking.” He was feeling a bit loose after a few drinks.

So he just charged outta there, walking down Prince Arthur and I’m just banging off the 36 shots, back in those days, you had 36 and that was it. We got what we needed. It was done in a few seconds. Those shots of him walking on the street were in my archive for 30-some years. I happened to meet a woman named Carrie Haber. I was asking Carrie where you’re working.

She said, “Well, we’re doing a walking tour on Leonard Cohen in tandem with the exhibition at the MAC.” I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I said, “You know, I just dug up these photos I have of Leonard Cohen, of him walking on Prince Arthur Street.” She says, “You have photos of him walking on Prince Arthur Street? Get me them tomorrow.” I’m like, “Okay, no problem.”

So we scan them, sent them off. She had an animator loop them as part of their walking tour. You can download it on Detour now. There’s a short and a long tour of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal. It’s those photos of him animated with the angel in the background that’s been factored into the animation and him turning to the camera after doing his little dance on Prince Arthur for me. Just as a tribute to the man who all Montrealers love. It was an honor to do that, especially after meeting him. It was a really, he was floating around. His spirit was there and it was great to see that come to fruition.”