Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Magic of Leonard Cohen

Off Topic, and sorry, no concert pictures - no pictures no hassle!

In what was originally designed as a dream date for my well deserving bride, Kathy, we caught LC on his nearby Moncton stop of his Old Ideas Tour. You see, I've never been much of a Cohen fan, that is, until now. My thoughts were always "great songs, when somebody else is doing them", as with the iconic Jennifer Warnes album "Famous Blue Raincoat", and the zillions of others who have covered the songs of LC. Somehow, Leonard Cohen had gained the reputation as a depressed singer for depressed people. Even the Royal Canadian Air Farce comedy troop did a skit along these lines. For me, last night's performance at the Moncton Coliseum completely blew away that myth.. here was a man of 78, who ran and leapt on and off the stage, with an anything-but-depressed glimmer in his eyes, keeping the music going for three and a half hours with no opening act, just as he has been doing for the past five years, and has been scheduled to do it all over again through many evenings to come - no signs here of being a depressed poet, but rather, the almost vengeful triumph of an ageing star who has completely come to terms with his own mortality, and is now out celebrating it with the world. In fact, the only signs of depression, or at least weariness I saw on stage were on the faces of his three much younger and adored female backup singers - perhaps these ladies are growing road-weary!

I love watching bands perform, which is the intent I went in with - Cohen uses a full quiver of top-notch band mates, who can adapt to all of the jazz, rock, klesmer, and gypsy styles demanded by the very familiar songs. The band, of course, was exquisite. The big surprise for me was Mr. Cohen himself. I came out with a very different point of view.

Live music has a funny way of doing that. When Kathy puts on one of LC's studio CD's while working in the kitchen, I'm bored to death (or maybe it's depression?) When music is recorded in a studio, it looses all of its subtle nuances in a quagmire of endless takes, and digital re-mixing. Not so with a live performance - for example, when he sang the autobiographical song "Going Home" with it's opening lyrics:

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit


... there was a nuance he gave to that line, with it's pregnant pauses and the smirkish smile on his face- "now I get it!"

His "gift of the golden voice" - of course, his totally unique smoky basso - baritone, had usually been a turn-off for me; last night it became for me more like the voice of God, whether the man was speaking or singing - "this is what God sounds like", I thought. Not far from appropriate either. Although women find him seductive (and I hope Kathy was so seduced), I myself find LC to be an incredibly spiritual man. When you take the body of his work as a whole, and listen to the turns of phrase, or sometimes just one single word will do, you readily learn how passionately this man knows God, starting with his family legacy of Rabbinic Judaism, but not ending there - it goes on and on through the Catholic Montreal through which he was raised, his years spent as an aesthetic,  and with a reference to "the Word who shed his blood" gives more than a glimmer of the truth in his heart. He's almost "not of this world" so to speak.

There's no sign that this gruelling tour is going to be the death of Leonard Cohen, even though he is remarkably ready for death - something we all need to learn in these times.

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