It was a mild day for mid-November in Montreal when Leonard Cohen’s funeral was held last Thursday in the city he always considered home, even after years of living in Los Angeles.
One of his best songs, In My Secret Life, included the words “I know what is right/And I’d die for the truth.” And in the end, those lyrics segued into Cohen’s secret funeral.
About 15 people attended the graveside ceremony and burial in the Jewish section of Mount Royal Cemetery.
“As Leonard requested, there were only a few old and close friends,” said Robert Kory, Cohen’s L.A.-based manager.
He said Cohen wanted his funeral to be simple, absolutely traditional and in compliance with Jewish law, with the body placed in a casket.
“It was as elegant and profound as he wished,” Kory said. “The rabbi spoke, the cantor spoke, and we recited Kaddish [the Hebrew prayer for the dead].”
In late September, Cohen told a friend – another former Montrealer living in L.A. – that he had only six weeks to live. That turned out to be accurate.
Amazingly, though Cohen died before dawn on Tuesday last week, Kory was able to work closely with the rabbi, the cantor and others to keep the funeral plans secret for more than two days.
“I was fortunate enough to have people at all levels to respect Leonard’s wishes,” he explained. “One doesn’t usually find that level of integrity in a chain of people you don’t necessarily know.”
In fact, Kory had been taking good care of Cohen for years. The poet and musician had turned to Kory after discovering – thanks to the suspicion of his daughter, Lorca – that Kelly Lynch, his former manager, had been defrauding him.
“I was recommended to Leonard by a mutual friend,” Kory said. “She knew that I had successfully represented Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys get out of complex financial problems and recover copyrights.”
Lynch was charged and jailed, but efforts to recover Cohen’s money were unsuccessful.
Kory knew that going on the road was the best way to bring enough money into Cohen’s bank account to take care of his family for the rest of his life and after his death.
“I remember before we began years of touring in 2008, Leonard was very reluctant,” Kory said. “I encouraged him to tell me what it was that he liked about touring and what he didn’t like. That way we could figure out what he needed to make it successful critically, financially and personally.”
Kory promised to set up the tour in a way that met Cohen’s need for privacy. Occasionally he would accompany Cohen to a city where he was performing, but more importantly, he would set the rules and values for the support team on the road.
“Leonard was determined to give every audience his all,” Kory said. “He wanted a simple set so the focus would be on the sound. We recruited an extraordinary sound team and we carried a tremendous amount of sound so Leonard could play quietly.”
One of the key rules concerned sound checks at each concert venue.
“Leonard was unusual in that when he held a sound check, it wasn’t perfunctory. He would work with the band for 90 minutes prior to every performance. Then there was a two-hour break, followed by a three-hour concert.”
Most important of all was Kory’s edict of no visitors before or after any concert.
“Is that really possible?” Cohen asked him.
Kory’s reply: “It’s possible if you allow me to make the rule No Exceptions.”
Indeed, Kory declined even well-known artists who wanted to see him.
“You can’t ask him to meet people and then perform the next night.”
When they began working together, Kory recalled, even in New York, he and Cohen could stroll down Broadway after a show with no problem.
“But by 2009 we couldn’t walk down the street without being mobbed.”
At that point, “Leonard told me he had ruined my life.”
It was meant as a joke, of course, but Kory was not joking when he said: “It was my job to take the blame, contrary to what Leonard might wish. And for me, it was such a privilege and honour to serve an artist of such extraordinary stature.”
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