- May 27, 2008 by Justin Brake (Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram)
Charming Cohen sweeps audience off its feet, time and time again
The future of the Holy Heart Auditorium may be in doubt, but its legacy is even greater this week as Canadian poet and musical icon Leonard Cohen graces its stage just two weeks after ending a 15-year performance hiatus.
The 73-year-old will embark on a summer tour of primarily European dates but is warming up on Canadian soil in preparation, including the three-day stop in St. John's.
At the first concert Sunday evening, Cohen and his nine-piece band took to the stage dressed nattily in black and white attire and were greeted with thunderous applause.
He promptly removed his hat and bowed to the audience, which, by the end of the night, would repeat their standing ovation a good number of times.
"Some excellent musicians have gathered around these songs and we're going to present them to you," Cohen said, addressing the still-cheering crowd. "We just hope you're not disappointed."
As the band started into "Dance Me To The End Of Love" from 1984's "Various Positions," the woman seated next to me gasped in excitement.
The red and blue floodlights created an intimate ambiance and Cohen, singing passionately, with both hands on the mike, swanked a deep and slightly withered voice, but with the distinct intonation he always offered in his songs.
"The Future" was performed with poetic passion, but Cohen repeatedly relied on lighthearted comedy to moderate the mood, which at times was seductive and dark, especially during poetry interludes and song introductions when he would recite selected lyrics.
"It's been a long time since I've stood on a stage anywhere," he said after the first few songs, hiding from the bright light in the shade under the brim of his hat. "I was 60, just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I've taken a lot of Prozac," he added, naming about a dozen different forms of the antidepressant as the audience took to his comedic disposition while he segued into "Ain't No Cure For Love."
The band's three backup vocalists, Sharon Robinson and sisters Charley and Hattie Webb, earned significant recognition for their refined harmonies which gave to the songs an at-times familiar, and other times unfamiliar, distinctive backdrop.
The first set spanned all eras of Cohen's career, but with "Bird On The Wire" being the only song from the '60s, leaned more toward material from the '70s and '80s.
"Everybody Knows" from the 1988 album "I'm Your Man" was poignant as Cohen sang with deep, dark conviction, his eyes emerging from the shadow of his hat and peering towards the balcony.
The second set opened with Cohen standing at a keyboard, centrestage.
"I don't want you to get alarmed, but I'm going to start this thing up here," he said pressing a key that initiated a beat. "It's not as easy as it looks. Actually, it is," he joked.
It was "The Tower of Song" from 1988's "I'm Your Man" and was warmly greeted by the audience.
"Suzanne" followed, with Cohen on guitar - possibly the most anticipated number of the evening. The audience went silent when he played the opening notes.
The song, perhaps Cohen's most well-known, was sombre in tone, and judging by the many tear-filled eyes around me, it was an emotional experience for some.
"I'm Your Man," "Hallelujah," and "Take This Waltz" were second-set highlights. The former saw Cohen at his most seductive, combining sexual references with a yearning for love.
As he left the stage, his band finished the last song and followed suit, but the encore break lasted mere seconds.
A countrified rendition of "Heart With No Companion" featured a resounding steel guitar performance by band member Bob Metzger.
A masterfully reworked version of "So Long, Marianne" followed, as did "First We Take Manhattan," two of Cohen's biggest musical achievements.
When he came back for the second encore, he paid homage to the venue.
"There's rumours that this theatre has a limited time," he said, speaking of ghosts and music and memories before starting into "That Don't Make It Junk" from the 2001 album "Ten New Songs."
"If It Be Your Will" featured sound vocal and musical performances by the Webb sisters, who played guitar and string harp for the song.
An upbeat "Closing Time" indicated the show was coming to an end, more than three hours after it began.
But the resilience of the Holy Heart audience brought Cohen back for one more song.
"I tried to leave you, I don't deny," he sang, introducing the 1974 song "I Tried To Leave You" to a laughing audience.
During the song he introduced the band members as they took turns executing solos.
Javier Mas' rich performance on a number of string instruments, including the bandurria and archilaud, was an integral part of the band's collective ambient sound, as was Dino Soldo's, which was distinguished by his sax solos.
The concert in its entirety was flawless and the vocal performances of Robinson and the Webb sisters and those of each of the musicians, coupled with Cohen's enthusiastic integrity, made for an evening those in attendance likely won't forget.
Having attended hundreds of concerts in this era of over-inflated ticket prices and having experienced some of the world's greatest living musicians, for the first time ever, the $75-$100 cost of admission was warranted.
Cohen and his band conclude their St. John's visit tonight at Holy Heart Auditorium in St. John's.
The unmitigated pleasure of my spiritual nostalgia tour, however, was Monday’s concert with Leonard Cohen, who did not disappoint. His performance and that of his band and backup were strong and powerful. The audience, two-thirds grey, but generously peppered with the generation under 30, connected enthusiastically with this troubadour of love at 74, who performed repeated encores. One can describe Monday night’s concert as a spiritual event, a fellowship of moderns who long for love and community but who often do not find them in pews and churches. Cohen in his inimitably gravelly but melodious voice betrayed how much religion is still on his mind. Untroubled by the weight of history and Wayne Johnston’s bitter-humorous childhood reminiscences, he observed the poetic beauty in the name of the auditorium, “Holy Heart of Mary,” just as he had once spoken feelingly in one of his classic songs about “Sisters of Mercy.” Reminiscing about his own religious journey from Judaism to Zen Buddhism, Cohen commented that he had tried many religious ways, but in the end “cheerfulness kept breaking through.” Finally, and for me personally a signal moment in the concert, he recited the refrain to “Anthem,” that verse that rings with truth and illuminates with hope the darkness and brokenness of our existence: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Hans Rollmann is a professor of Religious Studies at MUN and a Cohen fan, who can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog - Paul Levinson's Infinite Regress - "Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song" [I]t's heartening to see that Cohen still has his stuff. Great lyrics, gravelly voice, and even a fine throwaway line, "some places, yes" - listen for it...
Beautiful photos by Alex Fox here. Alex writes: "I was working as an usher at the HHM Theatre the past three days for Leonard Cohen, and on Monday I got a press pass for the paper and was allowed to stand next to the bottom of the stairs for the first song only, but I managed to get some shots of him... I think I fell in love with him at the show, he is the cutest person ever, (especially in the top picture - he was so touched that everyone gave him a standing ovation when he walked on stage). When the crew got to meet him he said 'Hello. How do you do? My name is Leonard Cohen.'"
Blog - Between The Rock And A Hard Place: Newfoundland, Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle, And Even Russell Crowe - "'That's How The Light Gets In' - Leonard Cohen & Troubadours Of Passion In St. John's" ...The adoring and enthusiastic crowd (not a bit the norm in St. John's) and Cohen's apparently genuinely sincere gratitude for how he and his crew had been received and treated during their three-day stay here in St. John's created an atmosphere of friendly warmth, that feeling of gratitude flowing freely in both directions. I don't spend much time in audiences who show anywhere near so much genuine and generous gratitude to the artists on stage; it felt wonderful, much like being caught up in the sweep of a loving embrace...
Blog - Literary Pursuits - "One For the Money, Two For the Show" ...The audience just hung on his every word. The air was electric, a standing ovation occurring at the end of at least half (if not two-thirds) of the songs. The backup band was absolutely amazing, with everything from a harp and harmonica to a saxophone, keyboards, drums, various stringed instruments that I didn’t even recognize—each played expertly...
- June 1, 2008 by Christiane LaForge Photos Sylvain Dufour
CHICOUTIMI - Du jamais vu! Si intense que l’on demeure sans voix, ne trouvant pas le mot pour traduire ce moment d’exception. Un spectacle unique. Un personnage immense. Entre Leonard Cohen et le public ce n’est rien de moins que de l’amour.
Vendredi 30 mai 2008. Occupant la totalité des sièges de l’auditorium Dufour de Chicoutimi, le public vibre avant même l’arrivée des musiciens. Leonard Cohen entre en scène. C’est déjà l’ovation. «Je vous aime» crie quelqu’un. «Moi aussi je vous aime», réplique l’artiste. Si menu dans son costume anthracite, tenant son chapeau contre sa poitrine, saluant gentiment, il a une telle présence que l’on succombe, conquis.
À peine commence-t-il a chanter Dance me to the end of love que s’instaure une certitude : nous ne serons pas déçus. Loin de là.
Sur la scène, entièrement habitée par les nombreux instruments, trois choristes aux voix très belles, six musiciens - et quels musiciens ! Dix artistes en harmonie pour livrer un spectacle mémorable. À l’entracte comme à la fin, les réactions sont délirantes. Plusieurs fois le public se lèvera spontanément pour l’applaudir, manifestant son émotion sous l’impact des mots et son admiration pour la grandeur du poète.
Précédant ses chansons de courts textes qu’il récite en français, du moins au début, le charme de Leonard Cohen réconcilie Molière et Shakespeare, abolissant avec grâce les limites des deux langues. L’effet est impressionnant. Il crée un lien puissant entre lui et son public par le pouvoir de tout ce qu’il exprime à travers les mots et la musique de ses chansons. On peut bien aimer ses disques, cela ne rivalisera jamais avec ce qui se passe là, ce vendredi de mai, sur la scène de l’auditorium Dufour.
À la troisième chanson il demande «Est-ce que je peux parler anglais ?» pour évoquer ses 15 ans d’absence sur scène et prétendre avec humour «qu’il n’y a pas de remède pour l’amour». Jusqu’à la fin, il établit un lien entre ses chansons et ses musiciens, maintenant le rythme sans bavure. C’est impeccable et chaleureux, propice à l’adhésion inconditionnelle aux échos d’une âme sensible, lucide, tourmentée et pourtant amoureuse. «Comme un oiseau sur la branche, je cherche ma liberté» récite-t-il avant de chanter la très émouvante Bird on a wire. Ce qu’il dit, ce qu’il chante n’a de simple que l’apparence. Ses textes, même les plus sombres, sont d’une telle poésie qu’on les reçoit l’esprit ouvert à la confiance qu’il a d’être compris. Et il l’est.
Everybody Knows met en évidence la grande qualité de ses musiciens. La répétition de certaines phrases, comme un mantra, s’appuie sur la musique. Elle en modifie la couleur, en accentue le sens qui se transforme dans le rythme et les intonations. Avec In my secret life on a le sentiment qu’il entre à l’intérieur de la chanson. Ce n’est pas mécanique, ce n’est pas technique. Cela vient de l’intérieur de lui et explose en douceur dans l’oreille de nos cœurs.
De sa voix grave, il crée de la douceur. De sa silhouette il exprime toute la profondeur de sa parole. Puisant dans les succès anciens, risquant des chansons nouvelles, la salle réagit sans cesse et avec force. Lorsqu’il termine la première partie c’est l’ovation. À la seconde l’accueil est vibrant et Suzanne ajoute à la fièvre du public. Hallelujah les éblouit. Democracy les transporte.
Pas question de le laisser partir, la salle scande son retour. Il revient de bon cœur et, trois chansons plus tard, ravira tout le monde en disant: «On n’est pas pressé», avant de continuer.
Difficile d’expliquer ce qui se passe entre cet homme et son public. Une communion. Une reconnaissance. Tout se résume à cet aveu spontané : «Je vous aime» lancé. Moi aussi monsieur Cohen… plus encore, désormais !
- June 1, 2008 by Christiane LaForge Photos Sylvain Dufour
HICOUTIMI - Unheard of! An intensity that cannot be defined, no words can describe this event. A unique spectacle. A huge character. Between Leonard Cohen and his audience there is nothing but love
Friday, May 30, 2008. Covering all the seats in the auditorium Dufour Chicoutimi, the public vibrates even before the arrival of musicians. Leonard Cohen comes into play. This is already standing ovation. "I love you" shouted someone. "Me too I love you", a replica artist. If menu in his costume anthracite, holding his hat against his chest, gently acknowledging he such a presence that is unsuccessful, conquered.
Barely starts Does he sing Dance me to the end of love to establish a certainty: we will not be disappointed. Far from it.
On stage, inhabited entirely by the many instruments, three singers with beautiful voices, six musicians - and what musicians! Ten artists in harmony to deliver a memorable performance. At the intermission as the end, the reactions are delusional. Several times the public will rise to applaud spontaneously, expressing his emotion under the impact of words and his admiration for the greatness of the poet.
Previous his songs short texts he recited in french, at least initially, the charm of Leonard Cohen reconciles Molière and Shakespeare, with grace abolishing the limits of both languages. The effect is impressive. It creates a strong link between him and his audience through the power of everything he expresses through words and music of his songs. It may well love his records, it does not compete with what's happening there, this Friday, May on the scene of the auditorium Dufour.
By the third song he asks "Is what I can speak English?" To discuss his 15-year absence on stage and say with humour "there is no cure for love". Until the end, it establishes a link between his songs and his musicians, now the pace without mistake. It is impeccable and friendly, conducive to the unconditional adherence to the echoes of a soul sensible, lucid, tormented and yet loving. "Like a bird on the branch, I seek my freedom" recites there before singing the very moving Bird on a wire. What he says, what he sings has a simple appearance. Its texts, even the darkest, are of such poetry that receives an open mind the trust that ad'être understood. And it is.
Everybody Knows highlights the high quality of its musicians. The repetition of certain phrases, like a mantra, based on the music. It changes the color, accentuates the sense that turns on the rhythm and intonation. With In my secret life one has the feeling he gets inside the song. This is not mechanical, not technical. This comes from inside him and exploded gently into the ear of our hearts.
From his deep voice, it creates softness. From its silhouette it expresses the depth of his word. Drawing on the success former, risking new songs, the room reacts constantly and forcefully. When completed the first part is standing ovation. At the second reception is vibrant and Suzanne adds to the fever. Hallelujah the dazzles. Democracy transports.
No question of letting go, the room chanted his return. It is good heart, and three songs later, will delight everyone in saying: "There is no hurry," before continuing.
Hard to explain what happens between the man and his audience. A communion. A recognition. Everything boils down to this spontaneous confession: "I love you" launched. Moi also Mr. Cohen… more now!
- June 14, 2008 by Alain De Repentigny (Photo by Lorca Cohen)
Le 30 mai, 17h. Leonard Cohen retrouve ses six musiciens et trois choristes sur la scène de l'auditorium Dufour du cégep de Chicoutimi pour une répétition d'une heure et demie. Cohen et son entourage s'y sont rendus en avion privé, mais une bonne partie de l'équipe s'est tapé un voyage en autobus et en bateau de 38 heures depuis le concert précédent, trois jours plus tôt, à St. John's, Terre-Neuve.
Les musiciens n'ont pas revêtu leur costume de scène. Cohen, si. Répétition ou pas, il apparaît en complet cravate, coiffé d'un chapeau qu'il déposera à l'occasion sur son pied de micro. L'élégance faite homme. Il décide des chansons qu'il faut répéter, quelques-unes qu'il chantera en soirée, mais aussi d'autres qu'il intégrera au concert plus tard dans la tournée: The Partisan, Waiting For The Miracle
Le directeur musical du groupe est le bassiste Roscoe Beck, mais c'est Leonard Cohen qui est le patron. Il constate vite que la salle est sèche et, sur la scène en tout cas, le son est «mort». Maestro Cohen discute avec le sonorisateur Steve Spencer, qui fera un travail remarquable le soir même et le lendemain, et pour en avoir le coeur net, le chanteur va faire un tour dans la salle, le chapeau sur la poitrine. Il fait signe au groupe de continuer à jouer, revient sur scène et dit à son monde que tout est correct: «Ça doit être à cause des deux jours de congé.»
Ce soir-là, Cohen et ses complices donnent un concert fabuleux de plus de deux heures et demie, revisitant toute sa carrière, exception faite de son dernier album Dear Heather. On entend distinctement la voix de Cohen, plus vigoureuse, plus haute qu'il y a 15 ans, on comprend chacun de ses mots et pourtant la musique est omniprésente, palpable, atteignant parfois des sommets de beauté (Who By Fire, Gypsy's Wife). Et, comme au Nouveau-Brunswick, le poète fait presque toutes ses présentations en français, récitant quelques phrases de la chanson qu'il s'apprête à chanter. Il salue continuellement ses musiciens dont la chanteuse Sharon Robinson, sa «collaboratrice» avec qui il a écrit des chansons comme Everybody Knows et In My Secret Life.
Le public saguenéen applaudit à tout rompre, siffle, crie et se lève à tout moment pour acclamer le visiteur qu'il n'attendait pas. «Il fait toutes les grandes capitales, Paris, Londres, Berlin, et ce soir, il chante à Chicoutimi!» me dit mon voisin, un Bleuet d'origine venu exprès de Saint-Hilaire pour entendre Cohen. De la scène, le chanteur entend mal la réaction de la foule. En fin de soirée, il me confiera que pendant l'entracte, il a dit à ses musiciens d'en donner plus, convaincu qu'il était que le public n'embarquait pas. Le lendemain, le sonorisateur aura réglé ce problème et le chanteur pourra goûter pleinement l'accueil délirant. Juste avant la troisième chanson, Ain't No Cure For Love, il dira: «Je ne savais pas que les gens d'ici connaissaient mes chansons; avoir su, je serais venu il y a longtemps.»
Après le premier concert, peu avant minuit, j'ai retrouvé Leonard Cohen dans sa chambre d'hôtel et nous avons discuté pendant un peu plus d'une heure. Je le savais précis - depuis le temps qu'il travaille les mots - mais je ne m'attendais pas à ce qu'il puisse me raconter dans le détail sa première rencontre avec Lou Reed en 1966. Ou qu'il me corrige, moi qui croyais que le spectateur qui lui criait des choses à Wilfrid-Pelletier en 1970, était un contestataire bien de son époque, qui dénonçait l'artiste chantant sur une scène plutôt qu'au milieu du peuple. «Non, c'était un ami ivre, de dire Cohen. Un jour, je te raconterai mes démêlés avec les maoïstes en France.»
Je cède la parole à Leonard Cohen.
La Presse - Ces dernières années, vous aviez toujours l'idée de remonter sur scène un jour?
LEONARD COHEN Oh oui. J'ai toujours eu ça en tête, mais le temps file, surtout quand tu vieillis et que tu as une famille, des petits-enfants. Et puis, j'ai eu des problèmes financiers. Et j'ai vécu au monastère du Centre Zen (de Mount Baldy, près de Los Angeles) pendant cinq ou six ans. Parfois, je me demandais si je ne chanterais plus jamais sur scène. Ce n'était pas tragique, mais pendant que je faisais mon lit ou que je cuisinais j'étais un cuisinier au monastère je me disais «c'est donc ça ma vie, je ne chanterai plus jamais en public, c'est fini «. Tant mieux, me disais-je parfois, j'ai toujours trouvé cela difficile, c'est peutêtre mieux ainsi.
LP Pourtant, vous gardez de bons souvenirs de la scène, mais vous avez déjà dit que vous n'aviez pas ce qu'il fallait pour profiter pleinement de votre succès
LC Je n'ai jamais été convaincu de mon succès parce quema compagnie de disques nem'a jamais vu comme un chanteur viable. Je faisais des disques et on n'en faisait pas la promotion. On ne me disait pas que mes disques se vendaient et je ne surveillais pas ça. Je partais en tournée, il y avait des salles combles, et je lisais les critiques, la plupart plutôt modestes, certaines très positives, mais je n'ai jamais eu l'impression que ça explosait, que les gens avaient hâte de me voir. Ce qui a vraiment tout changé, c'est l'Internet. L'Internet est démocratique et il ne dépend pas des journalistes ou du service de promotion de la compagnie de disques, tout cela est obsolète aujourd'hui. Quand j'ai commencé à recevoir beaucoup de feed-back de Finlande, d'Islande, de Taiwan, d'Afrique, d'Amérique du Sud, j'ai compris tout à coup qu'il y avait un public dont je ne soupçonnais pas l'existence. Ça s'est mis à grossir, mon travail s'est fait connaître et, à un moment donné, (le Finlandais) Jarkko Arjatsalo a lancé les Leonard Cohen Files (leonardcohenfiles.com), et il est devenu le secrétaire général du parti. Ce sont plus de 800 pages web (NDLR: environ 1000), des archives fascinantes. C'est un travail d'amour, je l'ai compris, j'ai commencé à y contribuer et nous sommes devenus de bons amis.
LP Quand La Presse a annoncé votre tournée en janvier, vous nous aviez dit que vous commenceriez dans les Maritimes, «très nerveusement». Comment ça s'est passé?
LC Merveilleux. Un accueil tellement chaleureux, authentique. Quand tu te lances dans quelque chose que tu n'as pas fait depuis 15 ans, les possibilités d'humiliation sont abondantes (rires). Cohen a une autre très bonne raison de se réjouir.
Il n'a probablement jamais été accompagné par un groupe de musiciens de cette qualité. Pour la première fois de sa carrière, il veut faire son prochain album avec ses musiciens de scène. Toutes les chansons sont écrites, et il en a déjà enregistrées trois avec eux. «Le son va être très riche», dit-il.
LES ENNUIS FINANCIERS
En 2004, Leonard Cohen s'est rendu compte que son agente Kelley Lynch, à qui il avait signé une procuration, avait dilapidé son fonds de retraite; il lui restait à peine 150 000$ sur les millions qu'il avait accumulés dans son bas de laine. En 2005, il a intenté une poursuite au civil contre Lynch et en 2006, un juge de Los Angeles lui a donné raison, condamnant Lynch à lui verser 9,5 millions. Mais la dame s'est volatilisée et Cohen a peu d'espoir de récupérer son argent un jour.
LP Si vous vous êtes remis au travail, c'est en partie à cause de vos problèmes financiers?
LC Oui. Ce n'est pas comme si je ne travaillais pas parce que la vie dans un monastère est extrêmement rigoureuse. Mais je devais reprendre un travail qui m'assure un revenu. En plus, pour remédier à la situation, il a fallu que j'engage des avocats, des comptables, des détectives et c'est devenu très très coûteux. Heureusement, un homme m'a aidé.
L'homme en question est Robert Kory, un avocat de Los Angeles, qui a déjà été marié à la compagne actuelle de Cohen, la chanteuse Anjani Thomas. Cohen dit qu'il aurait préféré abandonner toute poursuite et avoir la sainte paix. On lui a vite fait comprendre que ce n'était pas si simple. L'impôt lui courait après et il ne pouvait s'en sortir qu'en poursuivant Lynch.
LP Vous êtes donc reparti à zéro ou presque, et vous semblez bien vous en accommoder?
LC J'ai toujours vécu comme un étudiant. Je ne dis pas que c'est une vertu, je n'ai tout simplement pas le goût du luxe. J'ai une belle vieille maison à Montréal (qui donne sur le Carré portugais). J'ai une maison en Grèce où vit la mère de mes enfants, je l'ai payée 1500$ (en 1960). Et un duplex à Los Angeles, j'habite au deuxième et ma fille Lorca vit au rez-de-chaussée. Ma maison à Montréal m'a coûté 7000$, en fait j'en ai acheté trois, dont une que j'ai donnée au Centre Zen. En tout, ça m'a coûté 20 000$. Les gens disaient: c'est un taudis Un taudis? De quoi vous parlez? Michel Garneau (NDLR: qui a traduit des recueils de poèmes de Cohen) vivait en face, c'est lui qui nous a attirés là.
LP Dans les années 60, vous êtes allés à New York et vous avez constaté que Montréal, que vous appeliez aussi le Jérusalem du Nord, était plus pur, plus vital que New York où on pense davantage en fonction du marché.
LC Je le crois encore. Après avoir quitté le monastère (en 1999), je suis revenu à Montréal. J'y passais quatre, cinq ou six mois par année. J'ai décidé de vraiment m'y installer, j'ai commencé à réparer ma maison parce qu'elle tombait un peu en ruine. J'étais à Montréal quand ma fille m'a appelé de Los Angeles pour m'avertir que j'avais perdu mon argent: «Papa, t'es mieux de rentrer, il se passe quelque chose»
LP Quand vous n'êtes pas à Montréal, votre maison est inoccupée?
LC Les gens du Centre Zen s'en occupent. Et mes enfants (Adam et Lorca) y vont souvent, ils adorent. Mes enfants parlent couramment le français. La langue maternelle de Lorca est le français. Donc ils ont un univers complètement différent du mien à Montréal. Moi, je me tiens surtout rue Saint-Dominique avec mes vieux amis.
LP Vous viviez à Montréal quand est paru l'album Ten New Songs, en 2001. Vous deviez donner des interviews aux quotidiens, mais après le 11 septembre, vous êtes disparu, en Inde paraît-il?
LC Oui, je n'avais pas le goût de faire de l'autopromotion. J'avais un peu le même feeling que Denys Arcand dans Les invasions barbares. C'était la fin de quelque chose Dans ma chanson The Future (1993), j'avais prédit un genre de catastrophe. Je ne savais pas quelle forme exacte ça prendrait, mais je sentais les choses. Quand le mur de Berlin est tombé, tout le monde s'en réjouissait. Moi, je chantais «Rendez-moi le mur de Berlin, rendez-moi Staline» et tout le monde pensait que c'était fou. Mais je sentais qu'un équilibre essentiel avait été renversé et qu'on aurait beaucoup de problèmes, je ne réalisais pas à quel point, mais je savais. J'ai écrit environ 80 couplets de The Future sur ce thème, je disais «la démocratie ne viendra pas de l'Europe de l'Est», des choses du genre Quand le 11 septembre est arrivé, j'ai quitté Montréal, je voulais être tranquille. Je suis parti en Inde quatre mois, puis cinq autres mois sur une période d'un à deux ans. J'ai étudié avec un ami à moi là-bas, un homme âgé, et je voyais souvent mon vieux Roshi (le moine, aujourd'hui centenaire, dont il s'occupait à Mount Baldy).
LP - Vous avez dit dans une interview au début des années 70 que vous vous sentiez parfois comme un étranger dans votre propre ville. Pourquoi?
LC Il y avait un très fort sentiment d'isolement, comme l'a écrit Hugh McLennan dans son roman Two Solitudes. Trois solitudes, à vrai dire. À Montréal, tout le monde se sentait minoritaire: les francophones parce qu'ils étaient une minorité au Canada, les anglophones parce qu'ils étaient une minorité au Québec et les juifs parce qu'ils étaient une minorité partout (rire saccadé). Trois solitudes, donc. Ça a persisté jusqu'à René Lévesque. Je pense que le Parti québécois a vraiment apporté la conscience du fait français.
LP Au Canada?
LC Au Canada, au Québec, et sûrement chez les anglophones de Montréal. Mais la situation n'avait pas toujours été comme ça. Par exemple, mon père était dans le régiment anglophone Royal Montreal pendant la Première Guerre; par contre, mon oncle, lui, était dans un régiment français. Mais cette sensation d'isolement a empiré à un moment donné, je pense. Je n'ai pas de faits précis pour appuyer mes dires, mais quand j'étais garçon, oui, c'était un isolement total.
LP Dans la biographie qu'il vous a consacrée, Ira Nadel raconte que quand vous avez refusé le prix littéraire du Gouverneur général (pour le recueil Selected Poems, 1968), vous êtes quand même allé à la réception au Château Laurier où Mordecai Richler vous a demandé pourquoi vous l'aviez refusé. Vous avez dit que vous ne le saviez pas et Richler a répliqué que si vous aviez répondu autre chose, il vous aurait foutu son poing au visage.
LC Oui, c'est tout à fait vrai.
LP Pourquoi donc, ce refus? À cause du contexte politique de la fin des années 60?
LC En partie. Je trouvais que la situation n'était vraiment pas comme elle devrait l'être entre les deux peuples fondateurs. Je ne pouvais pas mettre le doigt dessus, je ne peux même pas le faire aujourd'hui, je n'ai pas un esprit politique très développé, mais je sens les choses. Ça ne me tentait pas d'aller à Ottawa, pour une raison quelconque. Aussi et c'était probablement plus important pour moi , je ne voulais pas être récompensé pour ma poésie, je ne voulais pas que le gouvernement me dise que c'est bon. J'étais jeune et profondément anarchiste : c'est privé, c'est personnel, ce sont des poèmes d'amour, je ne veux pas qu'un comité sanctionne mon travail. C'était un peu ridicule et enfantin, mais c'était l'époque...
LP - Mordecai Richler avait d'autres convictions.
LC - Très différentes, oui, plus ouvertement politiques, et auxquelles il est resté fidèle jusqu'à la fin. J'ai une vision complètement différente du Québec et du Canada.
On a dit de Leonard Cohen qu'il était le chantre de la mélancolie, de la dépression. Cohen s'amuse «la plupart du temps» de cette réaction, un peu courte sinon carrément exagérée. C'est faire abstraction du réconfort que trouvent ses fans dans la beauté de ses textes et de ses mélodies. Et oublier que l'artiste a un sens de l'humour indéniable.
LP L'humour, c'est important pour vous?
LC J'aime me faire sourire...
LP Mais vous insistez beaucoup sur l'importance du sérieux.
LC Le sérieux est une sorte de plaisir voluptueux. Nous avons un véritable appétit pour le sérieux. Rire du ventre, c'est merveilleux, mais échanger avec quelqu'un quand cette personne te parle vraiment, c'est un moment sérieux. C'est ce que j'ai adoré de l'interview de Dylan avec Scorsese, il est très sérieux. Il ne cherche pas à faire rire, il ne veut pas distraire, si tu veux lui parler, tu dois parler à l'homme sérieux. Et c'est nourrissant, ça fait du bien. Parce que dans notre for intérieur, nous sommes très sérieux, ceux d'entre nous qui ont la chance de ne pas être bombardés, de ne pas souffrir de la peste, de la famine ou de la guerre, ceux d'entre nous qui sont assez chanceux pour avoir le luxe de cette conversation. En-dedans, nous luttons pour notre santé mentale, notre estime de soi, notre dignité, et dans ces moments-là, on s'adresse à notre véritable nature.
LP Écrire, pour vous, c'est d'abord du travail plutôt que l'inspiration, l'illumination. Je me souviens de vous avoir entendu raconter une conversation avec Dylan qui avait écrit une chanson en un rien de temps, alors que ça vous prenait une éternité
LC Dans les années 80, Dylan a donné un concert à Paris et on s'est vus le lendemain dans un petit café du 14e. À cette époque, il chantait Hallelujah, extraite de mon album que Columbia ne voulait pas sortir (Various Positions, 1984). Il y avait là-dessus Dance Me To The End of Love, Hallelujah, If It Be Your Will, et ils ne trouvaient pas ça assez bon. Finalement, c'est une petite compagnie de jazz qui l'a sorti aux États- Unis. Bref, Dylan a entendu Hallelujah et il a été le premier à la chanter (avant Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Rufus Wainwright et autres U2). J'aimais beaucoup sa chanson I and I et je lui demande en combien de temps il l'a écrite. «Quinze minutes!» Il me dit: «Et toi, Hallelujah, ça t'a pris combien de temps?» J'ai dit: une année ou deux; en fait, ça m'a pris quatre ans, j'ai plusieurs couplets inédits de Hallelujah. J'ai toujours dit qu'il y a deux écoles d'écriture, j'aimerais bien être de l'école de Dylan
LP Vous croyez vraiment que ça lui a pris 15 minutes?
LC Hank Williams a bien écrit Your Cheatin' Heart en 20 minutes... Et puis, ça m'est arrivé une fois, donc je le crois.
LP Pour quelle chanson?
LC Sisters of Mercy.
LP À propos des deux filles à qui vous aviez offert le gîte par une nuit froide à Edmonton?
LC Oui, elles étaient couchées et ce n'était pas du tout une situation érotique, personne ne m'a invité au lit. J'étais assis dans un fauteuil, comme maintenant. C'était une nuit de pleine lune au coeur de l'hiver et c'était vraiment très beau dehors, avec la lune qui brillait sur la rivière Saskatchewan gelée. Je n'étais pas fatigué et la chanson est venue à moi. Donc je sais que ça peut arriver, mais ça ne m'est jamais arrivé avant ou après. Habituellement, c'est unmot à la fois et beaucoup de sueur.
LP Parce qu'on vous a d'abord connu comme poète puis romancier, on insiste beaucoup sur l'importance de vos textes, mais on parle moins de vos musiques. Le critique newyorkais Robert Christgau a déjà dit que ce sont vos mélodies qui font le succès de vos chansons.
LC En fait, j'ai fait de la musique avec les Buckskin Boys avant dememettre à écrire. Et j'ai toujours joué de la guitare Tu connais Harry Smith? Il a fait plusieurs enregistrements de musique folk. Il vivait à New York, il était le seul gars que son psychiatre payait pour qu'il vienne le consulter! Il était intéressant à ce point. Il a été un père spirituel pour (le poète beat) Allen Ginsberg et il a influencé plusieurs cinéastes avec sa caméra qui tournait à une vitesse entre le temps réel et le ralenti. On buvait au même bar, attenant au Chelsea Hotel, et c'est le seul gars qui m'a dit: «Leonard, les gens parlent de tes textes, mais tes mélodies sont vraiment bonnes.»
COHEN EN BREF
> Né à Montréal le 21 septembre 1934.
> Onze albums studio.
> Dix recueils de poèmes et deux romans.
> Huit concerts à Montréal, de 1967 (Expo 67) à 1993 (Théâtre du Forum).
> Il existe 1477 versions de ses chansons en date du 11 mai dernier, selon leonardcohenfiles.com.
> Il a fait des études littéraires et un semestre en droit, à McGill.
> Il devient chanteur à 32 ans, même s'il avait déjà joué avec le trio country The Buckskin Boys pendant ses études.
> Le film Ladies and Gentlemen Mr. Leonard Cohen, produit par l'O.N.F en 1965, est disponible sur DVD, tout comme le concert-hommage Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man (2006) et un documentaire critique fort intéressant, Leonard Cohen - Under Review 1934-1977.
> On ne saurait trop vous recommander Livre du constant désir, la traduction remarquable du plus récent recueil de poèmes de Cohen (Book of Longing) par Michel Garneau.
- June 14, 2008 by Alain De Repentigny (Photo by Lorca Cohen)
May 30, 17h. Leonard Cohen found her six musicians and three singers on stage at the auditorium of the college Dufour Chicoutimi for a repetition of an hour and a half. Cohen and his entourage went by private plane, but a good part of the team entered a bus trip by boat and 38 hours since the previous concert, three days earlier, St. John's, Newfoundland.
The musicians did not bear their costume scene. Cohen, though. Repeat or not, it appears to complete tie, wearing a hat that will deposit on the occasion on his mic. The elegance made man. He decides songs is to be repeated, some sing that evening, but also others that will incorporate the latest concert tour: The Partisan, Waiting For The Miracle
The musical director of the group is bassist Roscoe Beck, but it is Leonard Cohen who is the boss. He noted quickly that the room is dry on the scene in any case, the sound is "dead". Maestro Cohen discusses with the sound engineer Steve Spencer, who will do an outstanding job that evening and the next day, and to have the heart net, the singer will make a tour in the room, the hat on his chest. It signalled the group to continue to play back on stage and said to her world that everything is correct: "It must be because of two days off."
That night, Cohen and his accomplices give a fabulous concert of more than two and a half hours, revisiting his entire career, except for his latest album Dear Heather. It is clearly the voice of Cohen, stronger, higher that 15 years ago, we understand each of his words and yet the music is pervasive, palpable, sometimes reaching heights of beauty (Who By Fire, Gypsy's Wife). And, as the NB, the poet is almost all its presentations in french, reciting a few phrases of the song he is about to sing. He continually greet his musicians including singer Sharon Robinson, his "collaborator" with whom he wrote songs like Everybody Knows and In My Secret Life.
The public Saguenay applauds any break, whistles, shouts and gets up at any moment to cheer the visitor that it was not expected. "It makes all major capitals, Paris, London, Berlin, and tonight, he sings in Chicoutimi!" Says my neighbour, a Blueberry original came express Saint-Hilaire to hear Cohen. From the stage, the singer intends to harm the reaction of the crowd. In the late evening, I entrust that during the intermission, he told his musicians to give more, he was convinced that the public n'embarquait not. The next day, the sound will be resolved this problem and the singer can taste fully the delirious home. Just before the third song, Is not No Cure For Love, he said: "I did not know that people here knew my songs; have known, I would have come long ago."
After the first concert shortly before midnight, I found Leonard Cohen in his hotel room and we talked for a little over an hour. I knew precise - from the time it works the words - but I did not expect that it can tell me in detail his first meeting with Lou Reed in 1966. Wherever he corrects me, I who thought him a spectator who shouted things at Wilfrid-Pelletier in 1970, one protestor was well of his era, denouncing the artist singing on stage rather than the middle of people. "No, it was a drunken friend," said Cohen. One day I'll tell my trouble with the Maoists in France. "
I give the floor to Leonard Cohen.
La Presse - In recent years, you always had the idea back on stage one day?
LEONARD COHEN Oh yes. I always had this in mind, but the time is flying, especially when you're old and you have a family, grandchildren. And then, I had financial problems. And I lived in the monastery of Zen Center (Mount Baldy, near Los Angeles) for five or six years. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever chanterais on stage. It was not tragic, but while I was doing my bed or I cuisinais I was a cook at the monastery I said "it is therefore my life, I would never sing in public, c'est fini" . So much the better, I told myself sometimes, I always found it difficult is perhaps better way.
LP Yet, you keep good memories of the scene, but you already said you did not need to fully enjoy your success
LC I've never been convinced of my success because quema record company nem'a never seen as a viable singer. I was disks and was not on promotion. It does not told me that my discs were sold for watching and I do not like it. I would be leaving on tour, there were houses, and I read the criticisms, most rather modest, some very positive, but I've never had the impression that it exploded, that people were anxious to see me. What has really changed everything, is the Internet. The Internet is democratic and it does not depend on journalists or service promotion of the record company, all that is obsolete today. When I started receiving a lot of feedback from Finland, Iceland, Taiwan, Africa, South America, I realized all of a sudden there was a public which I would suspect not exist. It began to swell, my work became known and, at some point, (the Finns) Jarkko Arjatsalo launched the Leonard Cohen Files (leonardcohenfiles.com), and he became the general secretary of the party. They are more than 800 web pages (Editor's note: approx 1000), archives fascinating. It is a labor of love, as I understand it, I started to contribute and we became good friends.
When La Presse LP announced your tour in January, you've said you commenceriez in the Maritimes, "very nervously." How it happened?
LC Wonderful. A warm welcome so warm, genuine. When you throw in something that you do not do so for 15 years, the opportunities are abundant humiliation (laughs). Cohen has another very good reason to rejoice.
It has probably never been accompanied by a group of musicians of this quality. For the first time in his career, he wants to make his next album with his musicians on stage. All songs are written, and has already recorded three with them. "The sound will be very rich," he said.
THE FINANCIAL ENNUIS
In 2004, Leonard Cohen realized that his agent Kelley Lynch, whom he had signed a power of attorney, had squandered its pension funds, it remained barely $ 150 000 on the millions he had accumulated in its low wool. In 2005, he filed a lawsuit against the civilian Lynch and 2006, a Los Angeles judge gave him reason, condemning Lynch to pay him 9.5 million. But the lady has disappeared and Cohen has little hope of recovering his money one day.
LP If you have returned to work, in part because of your financial problems?
LC Yes. It's not as if I do not work because life in a monastery is extremely rigorous. But I had to take a job that assures me an income. In addition, to remedy the situation, it was necessary that I lawyers, accountants, detectives and it became very expensive. Fortunately, a man helped me.
The man in question is Robert Kory, a lawyer from Los Angeles, which has already been married to the current companion Cohen, singer Anjani Thomas. Cohen said he would have preferred to abandon any further and have the holy peace. He was quick to understand that this was not so simple. The tax ran after him and he could not escape that by continuing Lynch.
LP You are therefore left with zero or two and you seem well you accommodate?
LC I have always lived as a student. I am not saying that this is a virtue, I have simply not the taste of luxury. I have a beautiful old house in Montreal (which overlooks the square Portuguese). I have a house in Greece, where the mother lives of my children, I paid $ 1500 (1960). And a duplex in Los Angeles, I live in the second and my daughter lives in Lorca ground floor. My house in Montreal cost me $ 7000, in fact I bought three, including one that I gave to the Zen Center. In all, it cost me $ 20 000. People were saying: this is a slum A slum? What you speak? Michel Garneau (Editor's note: who has translated collections of poems by Cohen) lived opposite, he has attracted there.
LP In 60 years you went to New York and you see that Montreal, which you also call the Jerusalem North was more pure, more vital than New York where we think more in terms of the contract.
LC I think. After leaving the monastery (1999), I returned to Montreal. I spent four, five or six months per year. I decided to really install myself, I started to repair my house because it fell slightly in ruins. I was in Montreal when my daughter called me from Los Angeles to send me that I had lost my money: "Dad, you're better return, it goes something"
LP When you're not in Montreal, your house is unoccupied?
LC People's Zen Center will occupy. And my kids (Adam and Lorca) go there often, they love it. My children are fluent in french. The mother tongue of Lorca is the french. So they have a world completely different from mine in Montreal. I am especially rue Saint-Dominique with my old friends.
LP You live in Montreal when the album was released Ten New Songs, in 2001. You need to give interviews to newspapers, but after September 11, you're gone, in India it seems?
LC Yes, I did not feel like making self-promotion. I had a little feeling that even Denys Arcand in the Barbarian Invasions. It was the end of something in my song The Future (1993), I had predicted a kind of disaster. I did not know what exact form it would take, but I felt things. When the Berlin Wall fell, everybody leaves happy. I sang "Give me the Berlin Wall, make me Stalin" and everybody thought it was crazy. But I felt essential that a balance had been overthrown and we have many problems, I did not realize how much, but I knew. I wrote about 80 verses of The Future on this topic, I said "democracy will not come from Eastern Europe," things like when September 11 happened, I left Montreal, I wanted to be quiet. I went to India four months, then another five months over a period of one to two years. I studied with a friend of mine there, an elderly man, and I often saw my old Roshi (the monk centenary today, where he worked at Mount Baldy).
LP - You said in an interview in the early 70's that you sometimes feel like a stranger in your own city. Why?
LC There was a very strong sense of isolation, as Hugh McLennan wrote in his novel Two Solitudes. Three solitudes, indeed. In Montreal, everyone felt minority: the French because they were a minority in Canada, Anglophones because they were a minority in Quebec and Jews because they were a minority everywhere (laughter jerky). Three solitudes, therefore. It persisted until René Lévesque. I think the PQ has really made aware of the fact french.
LP In Canada?
LC In Canada, Quebec, and surely among English-speaking Montreal. But the situation had not always been like that. For example, my father was in the English-speaking regiment Royal Hotel during the First World War; against by my uncle, he was in a french regiment. But this feeling of isolation has worsened to a point, I think. I do not have specific facts to support my contention, but when I was a boy, yes, it was a total isolation.
LP In the biography he has devoted, Ira Nadel says that when you refused the literary prize by the Governor-General (for the collection Selected Poems, 1968), you still go to the reception at the Chateau Laurier where you Mordecai Richler asked why you had refused. You said you did not know and Richler replied that if you answered something else, you would have screwed his fist in the face.
LC Yes, it is quite true.
LP Why then, this refusal? Because of the political context of the late 60?
Partly LC. I thought that the situation was not as it should be between the two founding peoples. I could not put his finger over, I can not even do so today, I do not have a highly developed political mind, but I feel things. It does not me trying to go to Ottawa for any reason. So it was probably more important to me, I did not want to be rewarded for my poetry, I did not want the government to tell me that is good. I was young and deeply anarchist is private, personal, they are love poems, I do not want a committee punishes my work. It was a little ridiculous and childish, but it was then ...
LP - Mordecai Richler had other convictions.
LC - Very different, yes, more overtly political, and to which he remained faithful until the end. I have a completely different vision of Quebec and Canada.
It has been said of Leonard Cohen that he was the champion of melancholy, depression. Cohen has fun "most of the time" of this reaction, a little short if not exaggerated. That is to ignore the comfort that found its fans in the beauty of its texts and its melodies. And forget that the artist has a sense of humour undeniable.
The LP humour, it is important to you?
LC I love me smile ...
But LP much you insist on the importance of seriously.
LC The seriousness is a kind of voluptuous pleasure. We have a real appetite for serious. Belly laughs, it's wonderful, but share with someone when that person you really speaks, it is a serious moment. That's what I loved the interview with Dylan Scorsese, it is very serious. It does not seek to make people laugh, he does not want to distract, if you want to talk to him, you have to talk to the man seriously. And that is nourishing, it feels good. Because in our inner, we are very serious, those of us who are fortunate enough not to be bombed, not suffering from plague, famine or war, those of us who are lucky enough to have the luxury of this conversation. In inside, we struggle for our mental health, our esteem, our dignity, and in these times, it speaks to our true nature.
Write LP, for you it is primarily the work rather than inspiration, enlightenment. I remember having heard you tell a conversation with Dylan who wrote a song in no time, while it took you forever
LC In 80 years, Dylan gave a concert in Paris and was seen the next day in a small coffee 14th. At that time, he sang Hallelujah, extracted from my album that Columbia did not want to leave (Various Positions, 1984). There was above Dance Me to the End of Love, Hallelujah, If It Be Your Will, and they did not find it quite good. Finally, it is a small company of jazz that has left the USA. In short, Dylan heard Hallelujah and was the first to sing it (before Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Rufus Wainwright and U2). I liked very much his song I and I and I asked him how long he had written. "Fifteen minutes!" He told me: "And you, Hallelujah, it took you how long?" I said a year or two, in fact, it took me four years, I have several couplets unpublished Hallelujah. I have always said that there are two schools of writing, I'd like to be the school of Dylan
LP You really believe that it took him 15 minutes?
LC Hank Williams has written Your Cheatin 'Heart in 20 minutes ... And then it happened to me once, so I believe.
LP What song?
LC Sisters of Mercy.
LP About two daughters to whom you had offered shelter by a cold night in Edmonton?
LC Yes, they were lying down and it was not at all an erotic situation, nobody invited me to bed. I was sitting in an armchair, as now. It was a night of full moon in the heart of winter and it was really beautiful outside, with the moon shining on the Saskatchewan River frozen. I was not tired and the song came to me. So I know it can happen, but it does me never happened before or after. Usually, this is unmot at a time and a lot of sweat.
LP Because you have been known primarily as a poet and novelist, on a lot of emphasis on the importance of your texts, but spoke less of your tunes. Newyorkais critic Robert Christgau has already said that these are your melodies that are the success of your songs.
LC In fact, I made music with the Buckskin Boys before dememettre write. And I always played guitar You know Harry Smith? He made several recordings of folk music. He lived in New York, he was the only guy that his psychiatrist was paying to come see it! It was interesting at this point. He was a spiritual father to (beat poet) Allen Ginsberg and has influenced many filmmakers with his camera running at a speed between real time and slow motion. We drank the same bar, adjacent to the Chelsea Hotel, and is the only guy who told me: "Leonard, people talk about your texts, but your songs are really good."
COHEN IN BRIEF
> Born in Montreal on September 21, 1934.
> Eleven studio albums.
> Ten collections of poems and two novels.
> Eight concerts in Montreal, 1967 (Expo'67) and 1993 (Forum Theatre).
> There are 1,477 versions of his songs dated May 11 this year, according leonardcohenfiles.com.
> He studied literature and a semester in law at McGill.
> He became a singer 32 years even though he had already played with the country trio The Buckskin Boys during his studies.
> The film Ladies and Gentlemen Mr. Leonard Cohen, produced by the NFB in 1965, is available on DVD, just as the concert tribute Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man (2006) and a documentary critical very interesting, Leonard Cohen - Under Review 1934-1977.
> Can not be overemphasized you recommend Book of constant desire, the translation of the most remarkable recent collection of poems by Cohen (Book of Longing) by Michel Garneau.
Blog - Photography Podcast - "Leonard Cohen Portrait" ...I’d like to thank Leonard Cohen (and his UNBELIEVABLE ensemble of musicians) for the fantastic concert where he received at least 15 standing ovations, and for allowing me the pleasure to take a few shots....
Thumbnails from an amazing gallery of 16 photos from the concert by Richard.
See them all here.
Amazing Leonard Cohen encounter posted by Darling on The Leonard Cohen Forum. "Who do I see laying in the grass with his hat on his chest?
Boy oh boy, no it can't be, Leonard Cohen laying in the grass in my backyard! Someone (who
turned out to be the electric and steel guitar player) was laying in the grass beside him,
sat up, said a few words to him and left. God more temptation, LC all alone in the grass. Be zen I told myself, be zen. A few moments later, he looked up and motioned to someone to come and join him. I thought, is that a fan?..."
Kitchener hasn't been called Berlin since 1916. But that historical fact didn't diminish the adoration he received from the sell-out crowd at Centre in the Square.
Nor did it diminish the deep gratitude he extended to his adoring fans.
Cohen's loss has been our gain.
It's highly unlikely he would be touring were it not for a former manager, an ex-lover, bilking him out of millions of dollars of retirement savings.
But touring the world is exactly what the celebrated poet-novelist-singer-songwriter is doing these days on the heels of being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, including a visit to Kitchener.
Cohen last appeared at the Centre in 1993 in support of his 11th album The Future. He remembered the previous visit.
"It's been 15 years since I last stood on this stage," he recalled with customary self-deprecating humour. "I was 60 then, just a kid with a crazy dream."
Despite the line in The Tower of Song of being "born with the gift of a golden voice," Cohen has never claimed to be a great vocalist.
Still, his bedroom rumble has always served his lyrics exceptionally well. He sounded as good Monday night as he did 15 years ago.
Although he had three terrific backup female singers in longtime musical collaborator Sharon Robinson and the "sublime Webb sisters" (Charley and Hattie), not to mention a sextet of superb musicians, his voice remained front and centre.
Cohen didn't so much sing as caress lyrics and his clear diction ensured you heard every word.
When he sang he often bent over slightly, as if drawing the words from somewhere deep within. And, when he wasn't singing, he gently sashayed like a proud grandfather at his granddaughter's wedding.
Notwithstanding his voice, he has built his performing career on two essential qualities.
First is charisma.
The term is overused in casual conversation. But Cohen has the real thing, a compelling attractiveness or charm that inspires devotion in others.
Nattily attired in a dark, double-breasted suit, blue dress shirt sans tie, topped with fedora, Cohen looked like he just stepped out of a 1940s romantic comedy. He epitomized debonair.
But his charisma is not the result of fashion, sex appeal or even force of personality. It's a form of grace, a gift with appeal that transcends mere attractiveness.
After each song, and in response to thunderous applause and regular standing ovations, the Monk of Rock offered his beaming, crooked grin, with his hand over his heart in a gesture of humility and gratitude.
Second is language.
Whether writing poetry or songs, Cohen has remained a poet. W.B. Yeats has been called the Last Romantic Poet. But Cohen deserves the title.
His best songs have the allure of poetry -- compelling, engaging, haunting. Melody, while often memorable, remains secondary to lyrics.
His use of imagery and metaphor is unsurpassed in popular song. His language is so rich and so evocative, it's impossible to select specific examples; they are simply too abundant.
His songs ranged over his career, extending back to the 1960s with a fresh Bird on a Wire, Who By Fire, I've Tried to Leave, and the forever haunting Suzanne.
Cohen's unique style of fingerpicking is often overlooked and it was wonderful seeing him play guitar for these and a couple of other songs.
Most of the material was drawn from the 1980s and 90s including a number of songs he co-wrote with Robinson, who contributed several duets and solos.
Cohen is celebrated for his songs from what he refers to as the Book of Love. And, indeed, love is a major theme, as was evident in such songs as The End of Love, Ain't No Cure for Love, My Secret Life, The Gypsy's Wife and A Thousand Kisses.
But he has also been one of the very best political songwriters over the last quarter century as was confirmed by Democracy, The Future and Anthem.
Similarly, while acknowledged as the poet melancholy, his subtle humour shone through in many songs including The Tower of Song and I'm Your Man.
Cohen did a short first set, longer second set and returned for three encores, so the concert ended up featuring 25 songs over three hours, minus intermission.
His songbook brims with enough exceptional material to fill three concert programs. So, there were undoubtedly fans who left the Centre without hearing personal favourites.
But, it's a guarantee nobody left disappointed. He delivered a superb concert.
He ended by singing, "here's a man still working for your smile."
He worked not only for smiles, but for tears of joy.
"It was a privilege and honour to play for you," he concluded. "I hope I can come back someday."
I doubt that many of the 2,200 people who gathered at Hamilton Place last night came to see a singer.
They came instead to pay homage to a literary icon, a man who paints pictures with words, an artist who can stop you in your tracks with a single line of verse.
They were there to witness an event, one of the last hurrahs of an artist who makes you feel proud to be Canadian. Our very own Dylan, and more.
It was Leonard freakin' Cohen for Pete's sake, on stage right before our eyes.
Of course he's not a singer. We knew that 40 years ago when we first heard the Montreal-born poet mumble through Suzanne. Like a hypnotist's charm, Cohen's sonorous drone actually drew us closer to those majestic strings of words.
So when Cohen came out last night in his gray fedora and dark baggy suit, it came as no surprise that the sold-out crowd rose to a standing ovation.
He removed the hat, looking a little timid without it, clasped it to his chest and bowed. He spoke with warmth and appreciation, almost embarrassed that so many people would come out to see him perform.
"Thank you for that exceedingly warm welcome," he said. "Thank you for coming out in the rain ... and on a school night."
An extraordinary thing happened next. Cohen began to sing.
And, man, did he sing. Who knows what key his sub-baritone voice found, but he stuck to it unwaveringly through the night.
He sang for two-and-half hours (with one 20-minute intermission). He delivered some 20 songs including the encores, sounding better than he has on many of his later records.
If there was a crack in his voice the entire night, I don't remember it. And if there was a crack, it was only to let the light shine through (to paraphrase Anthem, the song he closed the first set with.)
Nobody cringed at Cohen's funereal croak. It was what they had come for. They bathed in it. Cohen was magnificent.
He opened the concert with his 1984 song, Dance Me To The End of Love, singing it as an exhortation for his audience, as much as his muse, to help him through the show.
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love...
At 73 years of age, the great poet didn't look a day over 60. He was in fighting trim, standing throughout the show, bending into the microphone, his knees swaying to the music.
He even treated the audience to an amusing little shuffle in the "white man dance" line of his apocalyptic song of repent, The Future. When the second set opened, he actually jogged onto the stage.
And, yes, he still exuded that sexy allure, an impeccably polite lady's man to the end, drawing them in with that unspeakable mystique.
"It's been 15 years since I stood up a stage," he confessed to the audience before pacing into Ain't No Cure For Love. "I was 60 years old then, just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I've taken a lot of Prozac ... How have you been?"
Sure, he had a remarkable band backing him up, six masterful musicians and three wonderful female singers (including the sisters Charlie and Hatty Webb, who he repeatedly referred to as "sublime" as he glanced toward them, perhaps a little too lasciviously).
But he never gave up centre stage, even when long-time writing partner Sharon Robinson joined him for a duet on the delightful Boogie Street.
Bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck and drummer Rafael Gayol kept a rhythm perfectly paced for Cohen's phrasing.
It wasn't all phrasing, however. Cohen's voice actually soared to unimagined heights (which were actually fairly low, come to think of it) through the chorus of Hallelujah and the passionate I'm Your Man.
Neil Larsen, a veteran session player who has played with the likes of George Harrison, Kenny Loggins and Rickie Lee Jones, deftly backed him on a B3 Hammond organ, while Bob Metzger offered up delicate leads on electric and steel pedal guitars. At the edge of the stage, Javier Mas ran through sundry stringed instruments of near-Eastern origin, while Dino Soldo took turns on saxophone, keyboards, winds and vocals.
At this stage in his life, Cohen is supposed to be getting kind of tired. But he didn't look it last night, even in the midst of an international tour that continues tonight with another sold out concert at Hamilton Place before moving on to Toronto for four more shows at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. Apparently there are still tickets for June 9.
A Spectator reporter got a surprise, and a memorable encounter, this week while grabbing lunch in downtown Hamilton.
I was sitting in a small sandwich shop at Jackson Square when he walked in. He was immaculately turned out in a trench coat, suit, tie and hat, and had a subtle distinguished air about him, as he ordered at the counter.
It took me a few seconds before I realized it was Leonard Cohen.
I had always admired his music and poetry, and I desperately wanted to go up and introduce myself. But I didn't want to appear to be just some star-struck fan. So, I racked my brain for some kind of gambit that wouldn't appear too crass or obvious.
Then I remembered his concert at Hamilton Place about 15 years ago, when he introduced the song Chelsea Hotel, about the pop star Janis Joplin. He said he was living at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City when he wrote the song back in the 1960s. There were a lot of artists and Bohemian types living there at the time. He described it as the kind of place where you could be on the elevator with a "bear and midget" at 2 o'clock in the morning, and no one would notice.
One night, while he was riding the elevator, Janis Joplin suddenly popped in. Giving him a quick once over, she asked, "Are you Kris Kristofferson?"
"Yes," he replied, "I am."
Recalling his story from that Hamilton Place concert all those years ago, I knew I had a perfect opening for this week's encounter in the sandwich shop.
By now Cohen had made it around the lunch counter and had turned around with his tray of food and was scanning the room for a place to sit. There were only a few tables, including the one where I was seated. There was also a line of stools along a narrow counter on the wall, which nobody was using.
He looked over towards my table and we made eye contact for the first time. I indicated I was leaving and he could have my place, but he said something to the effect "That's OK," and lifted himself onto one of the stools.
I knew this was my last chance to strike.
"By the way," I said, "Are you Kris Kristofferson?"
A quizzical expression spread over his well-furrowed face as he gave a half-laugh.
Then I launched into a quick explanation about the concert 15 years ago when he'd used the line.
"Do you remember saying that?" I asked.
"Yes, I do," he replied. "You have a good memory."
By now word had quickly spread around the room that there was a famous person in the cafe.
The couple at the next table turned to me and asked, "Is that Kris Kristofferson?"
"No, it's Leonard Cohen."
The man at the table immediately turned to Cohen and asked, "Are you Leonard Cohen?"
Yes, he replied and shook the man's proffered hand.
I started to feel a bit bad because Cohen was just trying to keep a low profile and have a quiet lunch by himself.
"I'm sorry for blowing your cover," I said. "But I've been reading your poetry since the 1960s, and I think Suzanne is one of the greatest songs ever written."
"Thank you," he said.
"But I'm sure you hear that all the time," I continued.
"Yes, but it's always good to hear."
Leonard Cohen performed in concert in Hamilton on Tuesday.