vendredi 24 avril 2009

The Amazing Grace of Leonard Cohen

I wanted to find a way to remember every song Leonard Cohen and his talented troupe of musicians/back-up singers delivered to us last night. Turns out it was easy. His first and second set and encore songs were posted on the Internet somewhere:

First Set

Dance Me To The End Of Love
The Future
Ain't No Cure For Love
Bird On The Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Waiting For The Miracle

Second Set

Tower Of Song
Gypsy Wife
The Partisan
Boogie Street
I'm Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep (recitation)
Take This Waltz


So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
Sisters of Mercy
If It Be Your Will
I Tried to Leave You
Whither Thou Goest

I was eleven years old when I first heard of Leonard Cohen. "Suzanne takes you down to a place by the river.... Goodbye Marianne..."

As a ninth grader, we studied the poetry of rock music, and I discovered the words "like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free".

That's when I realized what poetry was and also when I realized I would never be a poet. I tried, but the results were frankly embarrassing. In my defense, let me say that I set an impossibly high standard for myself. I would either stand tall in the company of Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan or forget about it. The world is not the worse for the fact that I chose to forget about it.

But the world is immensely richer thanks to Leonard Cohen, the master of "self investigation without self indulgence", which is how he himself put it in a recent CBC interview. That's what makes his lyrics so much more than pop or folk songs. They are ballads; they tell a story; the story is very personal and yet it resonates in everyone who has been burned and thrilled by love. In the interview, he talks about love, about men and women and how difficult it is to make the connection work. And yet how vital the connection is, how exhilerating it feels when it works, how depressing it can be when it breaks and you know it is irretrievably broken.

The best moment in the interview is when he breaks into song ("Non, je ne regrette rien") in reply to the question of whether he regretted having had multiple loves and hence multiple failures in love as opposed to one true love story. I loved his reply. "For I've seen your flag upon the arch and love is not a victory march, it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah...." Leonard Cohen has clearly had failures and victories. And he isn't finished yet. This is the third act. I hope it never ends.

At the beginning of the interview, which I didn't see until I had given my post a title and an introduction, he talks about performing and about achieving a state of grace with the audience. He implies that this has as much to do with the audience as it does with the performer. He and we achieved that state of grace last night.