Adam Cohen Talks Bringing Together Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey & More for First Official Leonard Cohen Memorial Concert

Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Leonard Cohen performs at the Muziektheater in Amsterdam, Netherlands on April 18, 1988.

The family of Leonard Cohen has announced a memorial concert to commemorate the first anniversary of the esteemed singer/songwriter’s death.

“Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen” will take place on Nov. 6 at Bell Centre in his hometown of Montreal, and will feature performances from Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey, Philip Glass, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers, k.d. lang, Feist, Sting, Patrick Watson, Damien Rice and more. The evening will also include spoken word readings of Cohen’s poetry from notable actors.

“There were so many groups of people expressing beautiful interest in commemorating and memorializing and paying tribute to my old man,” Cohen’s son and You Wanted It Darker producer, Adam Cohen, told Billboard. “Instead of having it be a whole bunch of candles burning in various places, we wanted to pull a bunch of disparate pieces together and make a big bonfire, a big sight on a hill.”

Proceeds of the memorial concert will go to the Canada Council, which awards grants to Canadian arts projects and supported the older Cohen during his earlier career as a fiction writer, as well as The Council of Arts and Letters of Quebec and the Montreal Arts Council. Hal Willner and Adam Cohen are producing the event, with Emmy-nominated director Jack Bender set to film it for an upcoming TV special. 

Read our full discussion with Adam Cohen about memorializing his father below.

This memorial was set in motion by a set of instructions you received from your father: "Put me in a pine box next to my mother and father. Have a small memorial for close friends and family in Los Angeles, and if you want a public event, do it in Montreal." Could you talk about that a little bit more?

I think it's normal for a son to feel a sense of devotion and responsibility to his old man, especially when, in this instance, it's about a beloved public figure. I also think that throughout my old man's career, he was so focused on the work, and never the actual career -- the art, rather than the commerce -- that he was easily hoodwinked and actually had lost his fortune on many occasions and was often unaware of how appreciated he was -- unconcerned, even. It gives me great pleasure to be organizing where the reach of this man's influence can be put on display, to honor him in that way.

How did you decide this was the right way and right time to honor your father's memory?

I'm embarrassed to confess that only weeks after his passing, I was already thinking of a way in which to celebrate him. Not just because it was part of a parting instruction, but because it's important to me to have a public memorial and tribute. We have categorically declined, as a family -- even while my father was with us -- to endorse, officialize or sanction tributes around the world. They were always, at best, allowed to go on, but never with our blessing. There was something beautiful about this being the first and official tribute organized and sanctioned by the family.

In the spirit of finding a date that corresponded with something meaningful, I think it's beautiful to do it in his hometown. He traveled a lot, but he always identified and heralded his little hometown of Montreal. To do it around the anniversary of his passing corresponds with the Jewish tradition of the end of a year of mourning, a year of fondness and recollection. I'm hoping, on a personal level, that this is going to tie the bow.

The other thing is, there were so many groups of people expressing beautiful interest in commemorating and memorializing and paying tribute to my old man. Instead of having it be a whole bunch of candles burning in various places, we wanted to pull a bunch of disparate pieces together and make a big bonfire, a big sight on a hill.

Damien Rice, Philip Glass and Lana Del Rey do appear to be decently disparate artists. What do you see as the thread that unites them with Leonard?

Good taste? (Laughs.) I happen to know Damien, so I know the fondness and the influence he has for my father. I know that Philip Glass worked with my old man on something, and he's always expressed admiration for my father. Lana has famously covered "Chelsea Hotel #2." All of these things, from my humble perspective, are just a mark of good taste.

You’re raising money for the Canada Council, which has a storied relationship with your father in his early days. What does this organization represent to Canadians and to you?

When you are zoning out and looking at your social network feeds, and there's an alarmist on the left, telling you that a government is cutting back funds for the arts, it's easy to ignore. It's easy to have it be just another talking point in the cartridge of the left, but the truth of the matter is a country that invests in its own artists is investing in the richness of its people and of its creative resources. Canada is one of those last countries doing that. The grant system that they have has been in place to encourage and support artists of all types. My father was one of them, and he always wore it as a badge of pride for Canada. He always had gratitude for the Canadian grant system that gave him his start.