This is not breaking news, but I forgot to mention it last week. When Leonard Cohen was awarded the Glenn Gould prize, he gave the money back to the Canada Council for the Arts. Here is the text from the Canada Council website:

Toronto, May 14, 2012 – Leonard Cohen donated his $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize to the Canada Council for the Arts at a star-studded concert in his honour at Toronto’s Massey Hall.

“The truth is without the help and encouragement of the Canada Council I would never have written The Favourite Game or The Spice Box of Earth,” said Mr. Cohen. “I am profoundly grateful.” 

The Canada Council awarded Mr. Cohen an arts scholarship that helped launch his writing career in 1958, the first year of the Council’s operations. The scholarship was extended for three more years and supplemented with a small travel grant and poetry reading fee.

“We are deeply honoured and moved by Mr. Cohen’s donation back to the people of Canada,” said Joseph L. Rotman, Canada Council Chair. “Artists give back in many ways – through making art, through connecting people to each other, through giving voice to Canada abroad – and none more so than Leonard Cohen. How remarkable, then, that he has chosen to make this additional gift to Canada’s leading arts funder to ensure that others can benefit from the same support he received so early in his career.” 

Leonard Cohen is the ninth recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize, awarded by the Glenn Gould Foundation to celebrate brilliance, promote creativity and transform lives through the power of music and the arts. The Prize was originally administered by the Canada Council for the Arts until 2000. The Council also supported the Glenn Gould International Conference organized by the Foundation in 1992.

At the prize event, other singers sang his songs. Do they do anything like this at the Governor General‘s Literature awards evening? Have other writers read out their favourite passages from the prize-winner’s work? Cohen also gave a few remarks, some of which were about meeting Glenn Gould. Here is an excerpt from the 15 May Globe and Mail:

Cohen also opened up about his relationship with Gould during his brief time onstage.

He recalled meeting the Toronto native for the first time around 1960. A twenty-something Cohen was interviewing Gould for a magazine and nervously ventured to the pianist’s apartment to meet.

 “This was before the days of tape recorders,” said Cohen, who recalled that the interview – intended to last a few minutes – stretched for hours.

 “I was so engrossed by what he was saying, I stopped taking notes. Those words were burned into my soul.”

 Until Cohen returned to his Montreal home to write, that is.

 “I couldn’t remember a word that he said,” added Cohen, who became the ninth recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize and followed in the footsteps of Montreal jazz great Oscar Peterson and Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu Gould and Cohen would meet again years later, at Columbia Records’ New York headquarters.

 “He was recording something sublime, I was recording something otherwise,” quipped Cohen, noting that he was, at the time, endeavouring to master the hip new slang.

 “I said (to Gould), ‘Hey man, what’s shaking?’ He said: ‘I didn’t know you were from Memphis, Tennessee.’”

 While Cohen avoided overt sentimentality in his words, an array of speakers from different disciplines happily offered testimony to Cohen’s brilliance.

 Actor Alan Rickman compared Cohen to the 16th century English poet Thomas Wyatt. Celebrated author Michael Ondaatje discussed the ways in which Cohen’s 1963 book, The Favourite Game, helped him transition to life in Montreal as an immigrant to Canada. And Clarkson, whose friendship with the singer dates back nearly 45 years, said his two novels “made (her) life worthwhile.”

 But perhaps most touching was the brief tribute offered by Cohen’s son, Adam, who performed Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye before closing the show with a rousing singalong take on his father’s 1967 hit, So Long, Marianne.

Doesn’t that sound like fun? They know how to throw an awards party. I can see it now. At the Margaret Atwood Novel Prize and the Alice Munro Short Story Prize evening, D.W. Wilson and Sarah Selecky are going to get up there and talk about their meeting with the famous author, and then their literary friends — their up and coming writer pals — are going to read from their works. And then the kids, who are young adults loving literature, are going to get up and say sentimental things…. I can see it now.

You still have a chance to catch Cohen on tour. Check out Cohen’s website. Tickets go on sale tomorrow for his concert at The 02 in London on 21 June 2013.

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor

One Comment

  1. ah, I’m in love with all things Cohen at the moment. I attended his concert here in Ottawa at the odious Scotiabank Place (hockey emporium) and despite the venue, it was a wonderful concert/trip down memory lane. Sure his voice is slipping, but man he’s some rockin’ senior citizen. And he did a moving recitation of A thousand kisses deep. If you get the chance to go, don’t miss it. Even if it is in a hockey arena.


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