Leonard Cohen

Photo courtesy of Tim Van Schmidt -
see all his original concert photos at King Koncert

Celebrities I Almost Met:

What was Leonard Cohen doing in 1960? Trying to get an artistic grant from the Canada Council. According to biographer Ira Nadel in Leonard Cohen: A Life in Art, the poet "borrowed money to hire a limousine with a uniformed driver, and smoked marijuana with a friend in the back while cruising to Ottowa, and then 'terrorized' the Canada Council staff by chasing them about in a wheelchair, occasionally serenading the secretaries. His unorthodox visit resulted in funding....."

A few years later, in the Mediterranean area Cohen wrote the novel Beautiful Losers "in a frenzied, drug-induced state from which [he] required a twelve-day fast partially to recover; combined with a bad sunburn, however, this state led to exhaustion, a fever, intravenous feeding, and nearly two months of rest," Nadel says. There was also a complication in mailing the manuscript, because a close friend was arrested for hashish and brutalized by the Athens police. This was in 1965.

After he introduced Judy Collins to his song "Suzanne," he was visiting from Canada when she brought him onstage during a New York concert. He got partway through the first verse of a song, said "I can't do this," and left the stage. Over the subsequent years he became much more at ease in front of crowds. Still, he did take a long hiatus from performing, the source of one of the two biggest regrets of my life.

The first regret: Some time in the late 70s or early 80s, when Cohen lived at Big Bear, California, I went up there with a band who'd arranged to play at a club, a rough-hewn little roadhouse type of place. Life had been stressful lately, and I didn't even want to go in. Catching up on some sleep, in the car, seemed a much better option. Later, the guys told me Cohen had been in there and heard part of their set. He even liked the drummer's voice, which everybody in the band thought was awful. If I hadn't been zonked out in the back seat, I would have been in the damn club. Thus, Leonard Cohen became one of the celebrities I almost met.

The other regret came later, when I read about a concert Cohen booked at some famous old theater in the middle of Los Angeles. I thought about it wistfully, but there was money to think of too, and child care… Later, someone told me it had been Cohen's first concert in 12 years. If I'd realized it was such a rare event, I would have moved heaven and earth to get there. Dylan showed up, and several other top-level luminaries who would no more miss such a chance than they'd miss a visitation from the Buddha. Spotlight on my ignorance, again.

Musician Neil Busch once said of Cohen, "He has influenced all songwriters who wish their lyrics to stand alone as poetry. He's less whimsical than Bob Dylan; his words strike a deeper chord on the gut strings of the soul."

Here's an inexplicable phenomenon: After the 9/11 event, Jeff Buckley's cover of Cohen's ineffable "Hallelujah" somehow came to be the unofficial official song of America's reaction. I don't see the connection at all, unless Buckley wrote all new lyrics or something. Strange thing is, many years ago Leonard Cohen also wrote a song called "First We Take Manhattan." It was written in the voice of, from the point of view of, an international terrorist, and with considerable empathy.

Photo courtesy of Tiago Pinhal via this Creative Commons license

Leonard Cohen at Red Rocks 2009
Leonard Cohen Quotations


Erich said…
FWIW, Hallelujah has only been used in a couple of tv specials that dealt with 9/11 events in the U.S. - and not in a wide usage. It's been heard a lot more in other American tv and media contexts. Nickelback's song "How You Remind Me", however, was played commonly in the aftermath of 9/11 and became an anthem of sorts to many grieving Americans.