Last Laughing Lenny

It is a singular feeling being at a Leonard Cohen concert and feeling that you are there at the grace of Mercedes Benz, particularly as the audience takes up the call to “take Berlin.”  I admit, I couldn’t help but anxiously survey the Orwellian surroundings at Mercedes Benz World last night.  These fans of L. Cohen, as he signed himself, were far from interested in these trivialities however.  For commuter-belt Weybridge, they met the Canadian troubadour with a rush of euphoria, heightened by Cohen’s friendly charm and endearing patter.

Cohen’s renaissance has put him at a higher level in the musical pecking-order than ever before in the past year.  In a recent interview he described his career as farming his own patch, a fairly incontrovertible statement.  Perhaps rarity is part of the explanation – his intelligence appeals to a broad range of those otherwise disenchanted with the music business.  Sympathy probably is too.  Cohen is a seventy-four year-old dragged out of spiritual as well as professional retirement in a Buddhist monastery by pecuniary necessity after being robbed by his manager and former lover. 

Nevertheless, it is a burden he shoulders with remarkable humility.  Last year he apologised to his fans at the O2 for the high ticket prices.  Last night he was visibly moved by the warmth of his reception.

There has always been something surprising about Leonard Cohen.  He is almost unique in an industry where almost all artists represent their clientele in aspiration or inspiration, regardless of talent or emphasis.  Cohen, I think is both less and more.  

On the one hand, coming to the business at the age of thirty, already an accomplished, if poor, poet and novelist gave him an edge and an ability to articulate things from the outside – as in Democracy, an iconoclastic but somehow positive description of modernity’s chaos.  At the same time there co-exists the Canadian Casanova, who sings of love and loss in an intensely personal way.  Last night Bird on a Wire had a profundity that was hard not to applaud.

That is perhaps enough to explain the attention Cohen gets and is getting but it doesn’t feel like all there is to say about the man.  There is something in his demeanour these days that rises above the melancholy of his songs.  Last night he ran onto the stage and skipped off it.  The rain was ‘refreshing’, nothing a scarf couldn’t handle, and certainly not an impediment to continuous encores.  

That gratitude, whether for being loved at last, for being able to practice his craft, or simply for being alive shone through in his songs.  His redemptive Hallelujah is, perhaps newly, the best version.  The evening climaxed in a sing-a-long So Long, Marianne, where it seemed that the whole audience really did mean the line that it was time to “laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.” 

It might surprise some to find a Leonard Cohen is a place to find a new source of faith in humanity, but the vitality of a man who has been hurt is a wonderful thing.

One very surreal thing about the concert last night was the Pro-Palestinian protest outside Weybridge train station.  I’ve never really thought of Cohen as a Jewish artist (although a companion pointed out that with a name like that, he hadn’t thought of him as much else).  I don’t think these protestors trouble every artist who plays in Israel (the locus of their objection), so they are in the peculiar position of targetting Cohen specifically because in addition he will play Ramallah in Gaza.  I can’t help but feel that undermines their case just a little bit.  As so often, taking sides in this debate in particular is a fatal flaw.

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