Leonard Cohen Live: Let Us Compare Mythologies (My Love Letter To Mr. Cohen)

Come down to my room
I was thinking about you
And I made a pass at myself
– My Room from The Energy of Slaves (1972)

Surprised to see the name Leonard Cohen amid the heads and decks of a hip, happening interweb site like the BackstageRider?

“Uh, Mikala,” you say,  “he’s, like, 76 years old. And he’s creepy. And isn’t it weird when he sings about ‘crack and anal sex’ in ‘The Future’”?

And I respond: “If there was anyone who deserved this most arse-twitchingly great cliché, namely ‘The Man, The Myth, The Legend,’ it is he.” And then I blow you a raspberry.

Herewith, my love letter(s) to Leonard Cohen…

Poet, novellist, singer, songwriter, gadfly, dark lord of darker words, king of the one-night stand, writer for writers, Montreal-born Leonard Cohen has been a hero of mine since I was a sprout. His words are creepy and wonderful. Elegiac. Romantic. Dirty. Pretty. Ugly.

There is nothing more beautiful than a songwriter who knows how to write words for songs.

But first, a story. I found myself at Canada’s Grammy Awards, the JUNOs, on March 21, 1993. Cohen had just won Best Male Vocalist and was dating actress Rebecca de Mornay. They were both in the VIP area doing the grip and grin.

There, by the grace of the gods, went I.

I approached Mr. Leonard Cohen. He asked me my name, I told him. He told me it was beautiful. I told him, breathlessly, my face nothing but two giant eyes looking up at this tall man of words and style, about how much of an inspiration he was.

He smiled a Zen-like and un-sleazy grin and we chatted. He chatted. I beamed. I told him I was currently studying his novel Beautiful Losers…his interest here waned a bit, his eyes softly saying “Oh, child, I do not wish to have my words parsed by a student”.

So I congratulated him on the pointless award, told him how his words and music always filled my house, and that I should let him get back to whatever he was doing tonight. He grasped my hands and looked me in the eye and said “Mikala, you are very beautiful person”. I died 999 deaths.

Leonard Cohen at the 1993 Juno Awards

Leonard Cohen played live in Vancouver in a giant concrete fortress on December 2 and I was there, in the 21st row, amid the oldies, a friend, and various youngster local indierockers including Brian from Japandroids, and members of Said The Whale and The Zolas.

But the audience was mostly the grey-hair or no-hair brigade. Which is cool. The thing about when oldsters go to gigs is that they’re often a bit more reverent. The crowd was so rapt, the arena, was so quiet, you could hear a (hip-replacement) pin drop.

Cohen came on stage and played….an utterly gobsmacking 28 songs.

For 3.5 HOURS (including an intermission – “I know it’s a school night but…” Cohen joked), the audience cycled through its own memories. For most of us, there must have been some personal history attached, some story, to some song that he played.

And even with the cringeworthy jazz-lite elevator music on some of his later tracks, his band were astounding. Spanish supremo Javier Mas on 12-string guitar and mandolin, particularly. The solo before “Bird on a Wire”? I believe I turned to my friend and exhaled something that resembled a “…fuuuuuuuuuuck” when Mas was given his own moment.

There were multiple standing O’s. When he recited the words to “Anthem” (“There is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in”) or “A Thousand Kisses Deep“, it was electric. That VOICE! Incomparable. And reminds you of how easy it would have been for Cohen to get laid. Or how easy it probably still is for him, based on the swooning grannies around me.

And the humour, oh gods, Leonard, j’adore. A few years ago, friends, he bantered, a British reviewer “called me a boring old drone who should go the fuck back to Canada. Now, that’s okay,” he continued, “because I am a boring old drone. But is Canada really home to boring old drones? Joni Mitchell? Neil Young? Gordon Lightfoot? Are they boring old drones?”  Laughter. And no, they’re not. (Unless you count Young’s Arc Weld album, which was MOST DEFINITELY BORING DRONE).

So many moments of awe. “Who By Fire?” among them. Sigh. The bit when he sings”And who…shall I say is calling?” always gives me the heebyjeebies. But I don’t think anyone there would argue with me if I pulled out “Hallelujah” as stellar. Here’s pretty much what it looked and sounded like in much better quality than the video I sneaked in:

“I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah.” …. Uh, yeah, what he said.

Leonard Cohen, we are ugly but we have the music. Thank you. \m/

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