Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen's first visit to Winnipeg, 1964

The Manitoban, Feb. 5, 1964

In February 1964, a 29-year- old Leonard Cohen made his first visit to Winnipeg.

At this point in his career Cohen was best known for his second collection of poems, The Spice-Box of Life (1961). His work earned him a CBC award for new literature and two Canada Council awards for literature. Thanks to these accolades and and appearances on CBC radio he was making a name for himself across the country.

He had also just published his first novel The Favourite Game three months earlier.

 U of M Library, Winnipeg Tribune Photo Collection

The reason for his visit was to participate in a 1964 Manitoba Theatre Centre special production on the afternoon of February 9, 1964 called "Poetry and Jazz" where he and master guitarist Lenny Breau shared the stage. Admission price: $1.00.

The MTC, created in 1957 with the merger of Theatre 77 and Winnipeg Little Theatre, was located at the time in the old Dominion Theatre on Portage Avenue East.

It appears that neither of the daily papers nor The Manitoban reviewed the show.

February 4, 1968, Winnipeg Free Press

Free Press entertainment reporter Phyllis Laking caught up with Cohen while in town. She noted that he certainly looked like a poet: “He was wearing a dark blue suit, brown suede shoes and a Beatles haircut.”

Cohen protested that he was described as a 'professional poet' by the media. “I’m not a professional poet. I’m not a professional anything. It comes as a surprise that people are willing to pay my plane fare to hear me read.”

As for is impressions of the city? He complimented the new airport as "lovely" and added: “I would say the same thing about Manitoba that Lawrence of Arabia said about the desert: I like it because it's clean."

Cohen did other readings in the city while here, including at the University of Manitoba the following week. The original lecture room had to be switched to a theatre due to a larger than expected crowd.

That event appears not to have been reviewed either, but in a Letter to the Editor to the Free Press following the event “D.U.S.” gave their impression: "The large theatre used was overcrowded with stupid, smiling, noisy young girls who seemed eager only to gaze at the ‘poet’ and to laugh too loudly and nervously at sexual references in his work.”

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