Leonard Cohen 75 years (September 21, 2009)

by Dick Straub, photos by Linda Straub

Cohen joins Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Thomas Wolfe and other luminaries with a plaque dedicated to him at the entrance to the Chelsea Hotel, 23rd Street, New York City, on October 23, 2009.

This idea first occurred to me back in 1998 when Lizzy Madder made a New York City visit that coincided with a play based on Cohen songs being performed at a college in Connecticut. Using the best communications available at the time (Usenet and a discussion thread called I announced plans for a restaurant meeting near the theater, and several fans were able to join us. Notably, future Cohen event chairman for New York 2004, Geoff Gompers, was one the attendees.

While Lizzy was here, my wife and I developed a tour of notable New York Cohen sites of interest, and escorted Lizzy around town to each. As soon as we saw the plaques at the Chelsea, we all knew we wanted one for Cohen.

In 2000, before the Montreal Event, we were able to take Jarkko and Eija Arjatsalo on the same New York tour, and they agreed totally. There was a brief period where we thought we might bring it off prior to the New York 2004 Event, but it didn’t make it to the top of the planning list. Many issues arose during that process, like the bankruptcy of our primary venue, the Bottom Line.

Esther Cohen and David Elder
Early on, Jarkko had stated he was certain fans would like the opportunity to contribute to such a project, and the hotel, while not giving a guarantee to placing it with the others, seemed amenable. Finally, the idea took real life last year when we began contemplating something really special to do in honor of Cohen’s 75th birthday.

The Chelsea was undergoing change and controversy, and the new general manager, David Elder, had a very full plate. He did listen, however, and agreed to meet with Linda and I and Esther Cohen to discuss. It took many calls and visits to obtain the final complete acceptance that the Board had approved the idea.

Jarkko Arjatsalo from the Leonard Cohen Files, and Marie Mazur from Speaking Cohen became the design team. We considered many choices for wording and spacing. It is hard to believe that something so simple can become so challenging, but it was.
Possibly the most difficult decision came close to placing the final order for the item, when we agreed we should eliminate a line that said “our man.” While we knew fans had been enthusiastic about that item, we concluded others viewing the plaque would not all understand it. Further, the plaque was after all to be about Leonard, not about the fans. Without that item, it is also more dignified and consistent with the other plaques at the hotel.

As Jarkko had predicted, once I announced the project on the forum as a 75th birthday tribute to Leonard, the money rolled in. Three hundred from 29 countries sent mostly PayPal contributions, and some cash and checks. We paid for the plaque comfortably with money left over for Leonard’s new foundation, The Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Peace.

For a period we targeted the installation and dedication on Leonard’s birthday. However, since he and a large number of fans were in Barcelona for that date, we elected to conduct the dedication on the day when his tour brought him back to New York City for a Madison Square Garden concert. As expected, many fans were in New York for that occasion, and some 60 were able to join us for the ceremony at the Chelsea.

The plaque dedication received New York Times coverage online Thursday afternoon. The Friday ceremony was videotaped and is now on line for all to see. Guests received the printed program that displayed the agenda, the special guests, and the listing of donors. The ceremony began with my introductions of the special guests (only one shown in the program did not make it), and brief remarks. I was followed by Robert Kory, and David Elder. I showed a video so that all could see and hear Chelsea Hotel #2.

Robert Kory presented Leonard's greetings.

Dick Straub on the left
Below: Len Beirbrier, Esther Cohen, Dick Straub

After the video we proceeded to the hotel entrance and removed the paper covering the plaque. It is indeed a thing of beauty for us all to behold. After the unveiling, we returned inside the hotel for great food and beverage provided by the hotel.

We were very fortunate in the placement that the hotel provided for Leonard’s plaque. That had been a matter of discussion since the beginning, and we had reluctantly accepted a position on columns to the right of the entrance where Leonard would have begun a new row. The placement now, however, features Leonard as the most prominent item for all to see.

In addition to the plaque in front, the hotel also displayed a portrait of Leonard by Robert Lambert, a noted artist residing in the hotel, behind the check-in desk. Mr. Lambert enjoyed posing with Esther Cohen and me.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sue Giffard and Leonard Bierbrier for their assistance on the dedication ceremony. Sue prepared name tags and designed and printed the program, and Leonard prepared a wonderful video loop for guests to enjoy during the reception. And, of course to Linda Straub and Esther Cohen for support from the beginning. Wijbe Lageveen’s video was also very well received by those in attendance.

Thousands of thanks to everyone!

- Dick Straub

Click here for the Program of the Plaque Dedication Ceremony and List of Donors!!
Click here to watch the video by Thelma Blitz!!

Text © Dick Straub. Photos © Linda Straub. Used by permission. All rights reserved.