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Edmonton Journal - Saturday July 26, 2008
Pilgrims from around globe visit Cohen's city haunts
Poet/songwriter's Garneau connection a highlight of tour
Francois Marchand, Special to The Journal
Published: 3:01 am
EDMONTON - Leonard Cohen was here.
In 1966, the famed poet, author and musician visited Edmonton on an early poetry reading tour, and left an indelible mark on our city.
According to musician Michael Dorsey, who was lucky enough to hang out with him at the time, Edmonton left an indelible mark on Cohen as well.
"I kind of agree with a few people who have suggested that his time in Edmonton was a pivotal point," Dorsey said. "He probably decided he was going to make a run for it, in music. He was very accommodating, very intense, and he
didn't talk a whole lot about himself. He used his reading and didn't play a lot of music. He seemed to be still experimenting."
Dorsey, who led a group of fans on a tour of Edmonton's "hot Cohen spots" Friday afternoon, used to live in the basement of a "co-op" house located at 11015 89th Ave., a few steps away from the University of Alberta.
Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy" also used to live in that house -- two young women who became the inspiration for the famous song when they fell asleep on Cohen's bed at the Hotel Macdonald.
"I stayed up and I remember there was a full moon," Cohen once told Harry Rasky for his book The Song of Leonard Cohen: Portrait of a Poet, a Friendship and a Film. "And I felt like having something to say to them when they woke up, and that was one of those rare and graceful occasions when I was able to write a song from beginning to end in the space of a few hours."
Kelly Bailey is a 21-year-old psychology student who now resides in the famed house.
At a moment's notice, she was graceful enough to let visitors -- who had come from all over the world to experience Edmonton's Cohen connection -- enter her home and get a glimpse of the now bare, concrete basement where the Sisters lived and where Cohen attended parties.
"I actually found out about a month ago, and it was all a surprise," Bailey said. "I've been exploring his past and reading his biography and listening to his music. It's really amazing to know that part of his history is here.
"We were thinking of buying a couple of posters, just to have a little tribute to him," she laughed. "It's an honour to have these people here and share this little piece of history with them as well."
Of course, when Cohen spent a few weeks in Edmonton over 40 years ago, making the transition from spoken word to songwriting, he also left his mark on other locations -- the Hotel Macdonald and the Robbie Burns statue, the defunct Alberta Hotel, the original Yardbird Suite (under the Army & Navy store on Whyte Avenue) and the Tory "Turtle" lecture theatre on the U of A campus.
But the true Cohen gem remains that house on 89th Avenue, which entranced Cohen fans coming from as far as Australia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Arizona and the U.K.
Jean and Phil Liptrot, a couple who had travelled all the way from Yorkshire, England, were simply spellbound by the rustic building that once, if only for a short while, had been home to one of the world's most revered artists.
"It's just unbelievable," Jean gasped.
"To retrace his steps is marvelous," Phil added.
"You can really imagine Leonard as a student, coming to the basement to write and play his guitar."
The Edmonton Event - before and after
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