Inside Montreal’s Storied Love Affair with Rock Music
When we think of places that shaped modern music a few come to mind. There’s Mississippi, the Delta, the birthplace of the blues. Where Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his place in the pantheon of rock music. And then there’s New York City, which in the 1970s was the hotbed for rock and roll and punk. It was at a club called CBGB where The Velvet Underground and, the then high-priest of the New York art world, Andy Warhol influenced the next few decades of modern music. They laid down the groundwork for artists such as the Ramones, Patti Smith, and David Byrne. An article on Rolling Stone reiterates this about CBGB, even going as far as saying that the now legendary club launched a national movement.
The list goes on and on, but one would be hard pressed to find anyone that would cite Montreal as an important place in music history. However, this is a mistake. Montreal has had a long and storied history with rock music—one that’s often left out.
Leonard Cohen is not only a music icon—he is also one of Montreal’s most beloved sons. A feature on The New York Times announces Cohen as the New Secular Saint of Montreal, solidifying his importance to the city. The same can be said about how important Montreal was to Cohen. It was in Montreal where Cohen wrote one of his most iconic songs “Suzanne” which was part of his debut LP, Songs From Leonard Cohen.
Cohen would then go on to have an illustrious music career. The Montreal native was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2007. Cohen was also given the Companion of the Order of Canada in 2011, the highest honor granted to civilians in Canada. After his death in 2016, Cohen’s remains were placed at the Shaar Hashomayim Congregation Cemetery. To this day, fans continue to make the pilgrimage there to pay their respects to the Montreal music icon.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
While John and Yoko aren’t from Montreal, the power couple made music history in the city—all while lying in bed. John and Yoko had held two of their now-famous Bed-Ins in 1969, one in Amsterdam and the other in Montreal. The two had a simple message: Give peace a chance. This was all in response to the Vietnam War to which “Give Peace A Chance” became an anti-war anthem that rallied millions. This wasn’t the first time Lennon had written an influential song that reached and inspired millions across the world. In a feature by Lottoland on rock music, they list Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as one of the most influential rock songs in music history. The 1969 Bed-In was just another demonstration of Lennon’s vast sphere of influence, and it all took place in Montreal.
Arcade Fire has become synonymous with Montreal. The ensemble led by Win Butler has opened the floodgates for contemporary Montreal artists. The group won a Grammy for Best Album in 2011 for their album Suburbs, and have since been filling up stadiums all across the globe. Arcade Fire were recently awarded the Peace and Justice Activist Award for their contributions to relief efforts all over the world, which goes to show that the band’s influence goes way beyond music.