Feb 11, 2010
The Fall and Rise of Leonard Cohen
by Charles Carreon
Rejoice! The troubadour par excellence of the late twentieth century has risen from the crypt in which he had untimely entombed himself, and put to flight the rumors anticipating his final demise. In the performance captured in the Live in London DVD, Leonard Cohen is effusively grateful to his audience, and the audience reciprocates with unrestrained enthusiasm. During his brief opening words to the audience, he observes that he hasn't been in London in fourteen years, and that on that occasion, he was "Sixty years old -- just a kid with a crazy dream." The audience responds with hearty, affectionate laughter. After the intermission, he cracks another joke about his age, and thanks the audience for "keeping my songs alive."
He begins most of his songs with a brief recitation of the most memorable lyrics in his soft, rasping voice. Then he swings into the tune with familiar ease, as each member of his ensemble takes up their part with passionate discipline, warmth, and sincerity. Almost all of the songs are drawn from his familiar, well-loved repertoire, starting with "Dance Me To The End of Love," continuing through such stalwarts as "Bird On A Wire," "Tower of Song," and "Suzanne."
If there are weak points in the concert, it is when he sings a couple of songs -- "Boogie Street" and "My Secret Life," authored by his "collaborator," Sharon Robinson. Although they go down well, the lyrics are distinctly less complex. The feel-good moment of the concert is supposed to be Leonard's performance of a new political song, "Democracy," and while the song is heartening, its literalism contrasts awkwardly with the lyricism of Leonard's other works. Put simply, Leonard Cohen isn't Bruce Cockburn.
The closeout of the concert is an exquisitely long affair with one song about endings segueing into the next. "Take This Waltz" is the nominal last song. Then they return for "So Long Marianne," swing into "First We Take Manhattan," and wind down again with "Sisters of Mercy." After this second ending, Leonard reads the lyrics to a new song, "If It Be Thy Will," in which he alludes to the "obstacles" that brought him to the brink of despair and led him to surrender his fate, leaving it to the Almighty whether he should ever sing again. After his two backup singers render the song in a touching duet, he rolls into "Closing Time," "I Tried to Leave You," and "Whither Thou Goest." By the time Leonard says his last goodbyes, the audience has been filled to overflowing, and it feels as if the Universe has been enriched by an exchange of great affection and warmth.
I am sure that many people, like myself, had concluded that Leonard's dismal mumblings on "Ten New Songs" spelled the end of his creative time on this Earth. Fortunately, he was gifted with the "obstacles" to which he alluded, and the travail roused him from the tomb. As some of us know, the obstacles included having $5 Million stolen from him by his longtime assistant Kelly Lynch, a Buddhist of the Vajra Vampyre sect. No doubt this was a terrible experience for him, but the results have been good for all of us. Leonard has lost a modest fortune, but regained his immense creative power. In this performance, he stands before his audience in humble gratitude for helping him to reclaim this gift.