His voice is the equivalent of an aged bottle of red…rich, mellow and smooth.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Seventy-six years old. Two thousand recorded renditions of his songs.
Hundreds of days spent living in the mountains at a Zen Buddhist monastery.
Canadian poet, novelist, singer-songwriter, Buddhist monk, Jewish and revered septuagenarian.
Leonard Cohen skips out and enthralls an awaiting audience of 10,000 in Brisbane, Australia.
To experience Leonard Cohen live in concert is extraordinary.
The Unified Heart concert on Saturday night was raw and tender,
with Cohen’s poetic mastery fusing perfectly with six incredible musicians and three vocalists.
Cohen was modest and humble, whose respect for his band, singers and stage crew was moving,
and reciprocated by the muscians and the audience.
He’s the consummate showman with a style that is deeply sincere and generous.
The loyal band made their way onto the stage:
guitarist Bob Metzger, bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck, drummer Rafael Gayol,
saxophonist and wind instruments Dino Soldo, keyboard pianist Neil Larsen, and
Spaniard Javier Mas on acoustic guitar and bandurria,
with vocals by the effervescent backup singers ~ the celestial harmonies of sisters Charley and Hattie Webb, and the vocal interplay of sultry-voiced Sharon Robinson, co-composer of “Everybody Knows” and other Cohen odes, were integral to the mix. Loenard Cohen’s musical backing was superb.
Then skipping playfully onto the stage, out bounded Mr Cohen donning his trademark fedora and dark suit. From here, they sprung into numerous classic Cohen tracks starting with “Dance Me, Until the End of Love.” as well as “Chelsea Hotel Number 2” “Everybody Knows” “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” “Bird on a Wire”
and on it went.
In the second set “Tower Of Song” “Suzanne” ”Sisters of Mercy” “Hallelujah” “I’m Your Man” the recited “1000 Kisses Deep” with “So Long Marianne” and “First We Take Manhattan” in the encores.
We listened in rapt silence, we sang, we laughed, we applauded, we were captivated.
Cohen often fell down on to his knees to try and push out every note in an impassioned mesh with the music.
The eloquent Cohen introduced his band
with more grace than witnessed in a knighting or a papal ceremony.
“Here he is a priest, a prince, a poet, a sculptor of time
our timekeeper on drums, Rafael Gayol…
“Mandolin maestro Javier Mas, the Spanish virtuoso of string instruments”…
“The musician’s musician, the impeccable Neil Larsen on the hammond organ and keyboards”…
“My collaborator, Sharon Robinson, from California, with a sultry voice and my songwriting partner since the 70’s on “Everybody Knows” “Summertime” “Waiting for the Miracle”….
“The sublime acrobatic Webb sisters, ‘the angels’” who played the harp & performed cartwheels across the stage.
The band members were heaped with adulation,
and each acknowledged with a long deep reverential bow of respect by Cohen.
Cohen gave the band members room to showcase themselves, one by one, while he removed his hat and faded briefly into the shadows. A ten-minute solo by 12-string guitarist Javier Mas, left everyone in awe as did the virtoso of wind and sax, Dino Soldo.
Cohen and his band returned for three encores for a show lasting more than 3 hours long,
with the star skipping on and off the stage each time.
Very few musicians have stockpiled three hours of material as profound, eloquent and enigmatic as Cohen.
Encores, standing ovations and much love flowing in both directions.
Cohen tried to say goodbye but we didn’t want to let him go…
I tried to leave you, I don’t deny
I closed the book on us, at least a hundred times……
Goodnight, my darling, I hope you’re satisfied
Finally we said goodbye with a standing ovation.
“Thank you friends for keeping my songs alive for so many years.”
In a world that obsesses over the trivial and praises the mediocre, this was something different: true greatness, depth, emotion. And all offered up with the grace and humility so frequently absent from our daily toils. Noel Mengel, The Courier Mail, Hallelujah, another divine show from Leonard Cohen.
I feel so blue
I think I’m falling,
I’m falling for you
People describe his live performances
as a spiritual, life-enriching spectacle,
a place where he plays all his great songs in gusto.
Without a doubt, Leonard Cohen is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
A true legend.
Childhood ~ Leonard Cohen was born to his Jewish parents in Montreal, Quebec on 21 September 1934. His father owned a clothing store, though he died when Leonard was just nine years old. Cohen learned to play the guitar as a teenager and formed a folk-country group named the Buckskin Boys. When his father died, he was left with enough money in a trust fund to allow him to pursue his interests in the arts.
A Life in the Arts ~ As a poet, Leonard Cohen was influenced by the likes of Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca and Henry Miller. Cohen’s own poetry was published for the first time in the volume entitled Let Us Compare Mythologies, whilst he was still a student. His 1961 collection The Spice-Box of Earth raised his profile in literary circles. He went on to publish more poetry, as well as works of fiction (such as the Favourite Game) whilst living on the Greek island, Hydra.
Leonard Cohen moved to the United States in 1967 to develop his career as a folk musician. He became involved in Andy Warhol’s New York art scene, mingling with notorious figures such as Nico and the Velvet Underground. Cohen’s song ‘Suzanne’ became a hit for the folk singer Judy Collins and his own performances became a focus of attention for Columbia Records. Leonard Cohen’s debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, released in 1969, became a cult hit.
Personal life ~ In the 1960s, during his stay at Hydra, Cohen befriended the Scandinavian novelists Axel Jensen and Göran Tunström. He lived there with Axel’s wife Marianne Jensen (now: Ihlen Stang) and their son Axel after they broke up. The song “So Long, Marianne“ is about her.
Cohen has been married once, toLos Angeles artist Suzanne Elrod in the 1970s.He has downplayed the marriage as an important relationship, and has said that “cowardice” and “fear” have prevented him from ever actually marrying.He had two children with Elrod: a son, Adam, born in 1972 and a daughter, Lorca, named after poet Federico García Lorca, born in 1974. Cohen and Elrod had split by 1979. “Suzanne“, one of his best-known songs, refers to Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of his friend, the Québécois sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, rather than Elrod.
This hand held video filmed in Amsterdam from the 3rd row, captures some of the poetry of a Cohen concert.
Why Leonard Cohen Returned to the Road ~ In October 2005, Cohen alleged that his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch, misappropriated over US $5 million from Cohen’s retirement fund leaving him practically broke with only $150,000. “I had to go to work. I had no money left,” the singer said in 2005.
Partly due to this catalyst, Cohen was forced back out on to the road, to tour the world and try to reassemble his ailing bank account. But, it was not purely for the money he returned to such a rigorous touring schedule. It seemed almost fateful, fans would be allowed another chance to glimpse the singer, after he announced in the film “I’m Your Man” (a 2005 documentary of a tribute concert dedicated to him in Sydney), that he would probably return to the road to rejuvenate his songs, and give them a new life.
In 2005 director Lian Lunson traveled to Sydney to film the historic “Came So Far For Beauty” show, a tribute to Leonard Cohen at the Sydney Opera House organized by famed music producer Hal Willner. Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man includes behind-the-scenes interviews and live performances from this event by Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton, Linda Thompson, Teddy Tompson, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Julie Christensen and Perla Battala, as well as a special performance of “Tower of Song” by Cohen and U2. In a series of candid interviews, Cohen himself reveals his trademark wry humor and soulful intensity, using his own artwork, poetry and personal collection of photographs to reflect upon his colorful past and his creative process.
Cohen, these days, has the mien of a profoundly centered man. Part of that comes no doubt from his studies of Buddhism, which date back to the 1970s, and the period of time in the 1990s that he was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk so he might serve in an austere setting as the personal attendant to his teacher, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
“The first and most discernible lesson is to stop whining,” Cohen explained. “And I don’t really need to go much beyond that. It was sort of like boot camp. It’s a rigorous life, it’s cold and it’s above the snow line. Four-thousand feet was the snow line, and we were up around 7,500 feet. A lot of it is involved in surviving the winter. There’s a lot of shoveling of snow. There is very little private space.
There’s a saying in Zen:
‘Like pebbles in bag, the monks polish one another.’
Those rough edges get smoothed out.”
Cohen never went to Buddhism seeking enlightenment, it was more about survival, he said. He came in as a patient, not a pilgrim. “I needed something. Things weren’t working in my life. I had drugs and promiscuity, many things. I wasn’t happy. I needed a new way. But it wasn’t about anything holy.”
And what about the financial calamity? A court judgment has awarded him more than $9 million —
the touring is not a desperate lunge to pay his bills, and
when he holds out his hat on stage there’s a smile on his face.
And so it was, skipping off the stage like a nymph, Leonard Cohen disappeared off stage. As we exited, we had all shared something special. A worldly piece of poetry, history and grace, decked out in a dapper suit and a hat.
The band was
Leonard Cohen – vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboard.
Roscoe Beck – bass, double bass, background vocals
Neil Larsen – keyboards, Hammond B3, accordion
Bob Metzger – guitar, steel guitar, background vocals
Javier Mas – bandurria, laud, archilaud
Rafael Bernardo Gayol – drums, percussion
Dino Soldo – keyboard, saxophone, wind instruments, dobro, background vocals
Sharon Robinson – vocals, shaker
Hattie Webb – vocals, harp
Charley Webb – vocals, guitar
To follow Leonard Cohen on tour visit his blog.