Sunday, 9 September 2012

Leonard Cohen at Wembley Arena, 8th September 2012

I first heard of Leonard Cohen in March 1976 when I was 14.  I was on an exchange visit to France and this boy I liked had an LP by Graeme Allwright, a Francophile New Zealander who'd translated many of Cohen's songs into French in the late 60s.  Consequently, I also fell in love with the songs: 'Suzanne' - 'Suzanne t'emmène écouter les sirènes ... ' - 'L'Etranger' ('Stranger Song'), 'Vagabonde' ('Travelling Lady') and 'Je Voulais Te Quitter' ('I Tried to Leave You').  Once home, I took myself and my pocket money off to Virgin Records, then a cramped little shop smelling of joss sticks and dope near the bus station in Bristol, and bought 'The Songs of Leonard Cohen'.  He's been part of my life ever since.


It seems careless, then, to have left seeing this demi-God in concert for another 36 years, during which time Leonard has apparently continued to do what poetry has told him to do, while I have paid dearly for my propensity to confuse love with something else altogether.  The last few months since his tour was announced have been nerve-wracking.  'Take it easy, Lennie,' I have whispered, whenever I've been reminded of his advancing years. 'Just chill with the grandkids this summer. Don't die yet.' 

The good news is that Leonard didn't die.  In fact, he looks, at age 78, a lot more sprightly than I am, frequently falling to his knees to sing to his audience (and springing back up again) and capering across the stage between sets and encores more like a silvery Puck about to put a girdle around the earth in forty minutes than a geriatric.  In all he was on stage for about three hours, giving it his all - and what an all it was.



In addition to several songs from his new album, 'Old Ideas', he played what must have been the soundtrack to the lives of most of the people in that space - so many standards that it's impossible to believe one man wrote them.  I bet there are singer-songwriters who would give their eye-teeth to have written just 'Suzanne' or just 'Hallelujah' or 'I'm Your Man' - Leonard wrote all three, and 'Famous Blue Raincoat', 'The Future' and 'Alexandra Leaving' as well.  Not to mention all the rest.

And he is such a gent, as evidenced by his witty and self-deprecating banter between songs and his generosity towards his illustrious band and backing singers who are always so much more than mere backing singers.  The sublime Webb sisters performed a solo, and Sharon Robinson a divine version of the aforementioned 'Alexandra Leaving', surely one of the most perfect songs ever written.  Every person on stage had their moment in the spotlight - literally - while Leonard took off his hat - literally - to pay his respects.  


One of the most moving moments was hearing the capacity crowd join in with his rendition of 'So Long, Marianne' during one of two encores, each several songs long.  I felt very emotional throughout the evening, however.  So many of the lines seemed so apposite.  And it felt like I was back in the same place I'd been at 14, waiting for my life to start.  All those intervening years, the horrible errors over which I've grieved didn't matter any more.  I could begin all over again. 



Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again ...  





The birds, they sang at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be ... 


Every heart, every heart to love will come, but like a refugee ...



Love's the only engine of survival ... 

And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song 
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah





2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this lovely description, Deborah. I feel the same way you do about Leonard Cohen. Did you ever read his early novels? I remember Beautiful Losers, probably published in the late 1960s.

    I have such a strong memory of first hearing Suzanne during my university orientation week in 1971. It was like a thunderbolt. My younger daughter's second name is Shoshana, a kind of acknowledgment of that moment of pure eternal love.

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    1. Thanks, Anon. What a beautiful name Shoshana is.

      I did read his novels, when I was about 16 or 17, and still have them on my shelves. I suspect a re-reading is overdue. I have, however, frequently returned to his poems. It's a given that he's a better songwriter than poet, but 'Book of Longing' is superb.

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