Hanging out in the laundromat with Leonard Cohen

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
November 12, 2016 - 11:04am Updated: November 14, 2016 - 11:33am

A LAUNDROMAT on Seymour Street was visited many years ago — maybe 25 or so — by a man who could have been anyone with some dirty socks and underwear that needed washing.

He was an entertainer, passing through town with his band on the way to someplace else. Acting on a tip, a young Kamloops Daily News reporter approached him and asked if he was willing to talk for a few minutes. Today, she remembers him as a pleasant man, who chatted amiably with her as he folded his laundry.

They continued chatting as she walked back toward the newspaper office and he hung a left up 4th Avenue and returned to his hotel with his bag of clean clothes.

The hotel, which was then the Canadian Inn, is now the Hilton DoubleTree, and the reporter’s name was Sydney Jones.

Peter vander Leelie, another journalist I worked with even longer ago, remembers meeting the same man, also in a laundromat, in Winnipeg.

Considering the amount of time Leonard Cohen spent in laundromats, you’d think he’d have written a song about them but I don’t think he ever did. He did write a short poem back in the ‘80s called “I wandered into a laundromat.”

Cohen, Canada’s greatest poet and arguably our greatest song writer, died this week. So famous was he that even the American networks took a break from wall-to-wall Trump coverage to mentionit. Rolling Stone paid homage, calling him “hugely influential.” Others are calling him “visionary.”

Canadians everywhere are remembering their favourite Leonard Cohen songs, digging though their old CDs and vinyls for Songs of Leonard Cohen, Death of a Ladies Man and other LPs, quietly humming Bird on a Wire, Ain’t No Cure for Love and Suzanne.

All the big stars borrowed his music and made it famous all over again. One of the best was Jennifer Warnes, who titled one of her albums Famous Blue Raincoat after a Cohen piece and sang his First We Take Manhattan and others. And k.d. Lang’s version of his Halleluja was one of the most haunting and powerful ever done.

But nobody could beat Cohen at his own music and poetry, even though he had no business being a singer, with his raspy, barely in-tune voice.

My own favourite is a song called Going Home, which I discovered on an airplane on the way home from Europe in 2012. The airline had one of those entertainment systems where you can pick from hundreds of different albums, and I came across Cohen’s Old Ideas.

Going Home was the lead-off song, and what I liked about it was his self-deprecating assessment of himself: “I love to speak with Leonard, He’s a sportsman and a shepherd, He’s a lazy bastard, Living in a suit.”

His lyrics were always clever, insightful, inspiring; fascinated with human suffering, he always gave us new insights into ourselves.

Cohen released another new album only in October. It’s called You Want It Darker, and it was already on my Christmas list before word came of his death this week.

But I can’t help returning to Going Home, and these prophetic lyrics:

Going home

Without my sorrow

Going home

Sometime tomorrow

Going home

To where it’s better

Than before.

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