Nova Scotia

Halifax music scene mourns Leonard Cohen

The singer-songwriter, poet and novelist visited the city a number of times over the years and now members of Halifax's music scene are sharing what the legendary musician meant to them.

'I think he represents for me the absolute peak of the singer-songwriter,' says Rachel Sunter

Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

Leonard Cohen's music makes Halifax singer-songwriter Rachel Sunter think of her father. When she found out the legendary Canadian artist died, she called to see how he was taking the news.

"My dad was a huge Leonard Cohen fan. I remember listening to him on car trips across the country and on records and when my dad was working in the workshop," said Sunter, a member of the band Arsoniste. 

Leonard Cohen died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 82. 

'Lyrics always came first'

Sunter played a couple of Cohen's songs — Bird on a Wire and So long Marianne — on her keyboard prior to teaching a music class Friday. She didn't need sheet music. 

Rachel Sunter said Leonard Cohen's music reminds her of road trips with her father. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"I think he represents for me the absolute peak of the singer-songwriter. Like somebody whose words are higher, more beautifully put together than the actual musical composition," said Sunter. "For him the lyrics always came first."

In downtown Halifax, The Carleton Music Bar & Grill owner and former MuchMusic host Mike Campbell said he remembers studying Cohen's prose in university.

'One of the best'

"He's one of those interesting artists that started out doing one thing and then moved into a field that no one thought he could actually excel at and then wound up at some point becoming one of the best songwriters anybody ever heard," Campbell said.

Campbell recalls seeing Cohen around Toronto when he worked at MuchMusic. He said the artist was friends with the station's founder, Moses Znaimer.

Mike Campbell expects his bar, The Carleton, will hold a Leonard Cohen tribute night some time in the near future. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"He was one of those legendary guys on the periphery," he said. "I remember wandering by a cafe in the middle of the afternoon in Yorkville one day and he was just sitting at a table by himself having a coffee and reading a newspaper."

The thought of striking up a conversation with Cohen crossed Campbell's mind, but he decided against it.

"You think of him as this huge legend but you know he was just a normal guy like everybody else."

'Hallelujah free zone'

The Carleton is an intimate music venue. There's a small stage in the back and Campbell says it's a Hallelujah free zone — musicians are not allowed to play one of Cohen's best known songs.

"I think it's kind of akin to a Stairway to Heaven zone in guitar stores. I don't like people doing that song unless they're k.d. lang and Jeff Buckley," Campbell said. 

"I expect to see a lot of nights devoted to Leonard Cohen in the near future. Hopefully we'll put one together here, that would be sweet. But I don't know that we're going to let anybody do Hallelujah."

About the Author

Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.