A few years back, I started writing a story about a boy with anger management issues. He found himself involved in an adventure that would take him all around Europe, culminating in a big face-off with the bad guys, in Athens. The only things he really cared about was his girlfriend and the music of Leonard Cohen. As part of my research for this still unfinished story I downloaded Cohen’s greatest hits. The only thing I knew about him was his melancholic music, his downbeat lyrics, and a voice that matched both of these attributes. Listening to his songs changed few of my preconceptions; but they stayed with me long after I stopped working on my story.
Tonight I got to see Leonard Cohen perform live for the first time. A friend had seen him on each of the four previous occasions the Canadian visited Ireland. He spoke highly of him, and when a ticket became available he asked me along. Cohen was playing the second of four dates at Dublin’s Kilmainham Hospital, the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It was a cold but dry September evening. 10,000 adoring fans packed themselves into this excellent arena, waiting for The Man himself to appear on stage at exactly 7:15pm. I didn’t know what to expect.
Three and a half hours later, I realised I was in the presence of a beautiful mad man. At 77-years-old, Cohen led from the front, aided by a band of international musicians and singers that have been with him since he began touring again after an extended stay in a Buddhist monastery. (I did say mad, right? But in a good way.) Every song from his greatest hits – if they can be called that – got an airing. Personal favourites like “So Long Marianne”, “Suzanne”, “Tower of Song”, and “Dance Me To The End Of Love” had me in goosebumps. His performance of “Democracy” will go down, for me, as the highlight of the evening.
I can’t continue without mentioning Cohen’s backing singers, Sharon Robinson, co-writer of many of his well-known songs, and the fabulous Webb Sister, Hattie and Charlotte. Each of them got their own moment in the setting September sun, with Robinson’s rendition of “Alexandra Leaving” suitably spine-tingling.
What enamoured me about Cohen was his obvious respect for his musicians. Each time they had a solo to play, he would take off his hat (a Fedora or Trilby, I’m not sure which) and watch them play. He knows he wouldn’t be where he is without them. We know that, too. And we wouldn’t be where we were without Leonard.
I don’t care if he has to wheeled out in a chair the next time he visits – I just want to be there.