A rare and recent original pigment print of a Leonard Cohen painting sold for $5,800 at an auction benefiting the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre.
The auction took place under the gavel of Eddy Rogo during the 14th Battle of the Bands, an annual fundraiser for the long-term care institution, held on Dec. 7 at the Metropolis.
Rogo said the work, entitled The Background Singers, was created by Cohen, who died on Nov. 7, in the last months of his life. Signed and with a certificate of authenticity, the print is No. 11 of a limited edition of 50.
Not known is if those singers might have been the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim men’s choir and Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, who sang backup on Cohen’s final album You Want it Darker, released a month before his death.
The choir and Zelermyer performed that evening in a moving tribute to Cohen.
The artwork was among a dozen items Cohen donated from his private collection to Maimonides for this year’s auction. Little known is that the famous Montreal-born singer-songwriter has been supporting Maimonides in various ways over the years.
The connection was not impersonal.
“Leonard Cohen’s history with Maimonides dates back to when his good friend Irving Layton was a resident,” said communications officer Lauren Schwartz. “He would visit him at Maimonides regularly.
“Over the years, he has been involved in several fundraisers with Maimonides and has donated items from his personal collection for our auction at Battle of the Bands [in the past]. His loss left our foundation heartbroken, but eternally grateful.”
The poet Layton, who died in 2006 after living in Maimonides for several years, was a mentor to and friend of Cohen, going back to when he was a student at McGill University. Cohen came in from California to speak at Layton’s funeral.
Altogether, the items Cohen donated to the 2016 Battle of the Bands, held as usual over two days before full houses, were a windfall for Maimonides.
Another object of intense bidding was a chain and medallion designed by Cohen that went for $2,000. It bears in Hebrew the traditional blessing for children.
Other particularly coveted wares were a photo of the artist, signed and stamped with his seal, and a double vinyl album, framed under glass, that each sold for $2,100.
Also on the block were a key chain and lapel pin featuring Cohen’s intertwining hearts logo from his 2009 world tour and the crest worn by members of his band, a framed special edition tour book, a poster, and a backstage pass from his comeback tour – all snapped up.
Battle of the Bands each year features amateur local bands, mostly made up of middle-aged doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals, with names like Benny & the Healers and Prime Time Players 2.0.
There is always a guest celebrity performer, and this time it was The Legends from Las Vegas, who pay tribute to Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Cher and others.
But the highlight was the Cohen homage by one of the bands, Gerry & Friends, and the synagogue choir and Zelermyer. The emotion among the 2,000 present was palpable. A lawyer, Gerry Kandestin has been living his musical dream in his spare time since 1964 when as an 11-year-old awestruck by the Beatles he picked up a guitar for the first time.
Together, they sang three Cohen classics: Bird on the Wire, Suzanne and Closing Time.
Zelermyer, wearing the trademark Cohen fedora, and the choir, conducted by Roï Azoulay, performed Hallelujah, singing one verse in Hebrew, and the haunting You Want it Darker, the title track from Cohen’s last album.
Cohen, who grew up in the Shaar where his family has a long history, invited Zelermyer just over a year ago to collaborate on that number because he wanted to recreate the authentic sound of the synagogue liturgy he knew.
“We treated this as a labour of love,” said Zelermyer. “I feel privileged to be a small part of Leonard’s legacy.”
The Battle of the Bands has raised more than $4 million over its history. Proceeds from this year’s event, MCed by Andy Nulman, will go to the Maimonides Centre for Research in Aging. Co-chairs were Rory Olson, Freddie Naimer and Kandestin.
Among the other auction items were tickets to the Grammy Award ceremony and after-party in Los Angeles. The title sponsor was National Bank Private Wealth 1859.