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I Should Go To A Leonard Cohen Concert Before...

Updated on April 22, 2014

I should Go To A Leonard Cohen Concert Before…

Monday, I went on a job interview in the morn and when I finished I decided to take in a movie (Elysium) in Manhattan… and, perhaps, because I did not enjoy the movie, I noticed the massive billboard with a picture of the great poet, singer, Leonard Cohen. I came across Mr. Cohen and his unique voice - and I mean unique - a little over ten years ago when I saw him in a concert on the local PBS channel, which I should really send a thank you note in the form of a check because that it is where I first discovered The Band and the late great Levon Helm too. If there any fairness in this world, the Nobel folks should recognize Mr. Cohen as a Poet Laureate, since he is still among the living. Mr. Cohen is well in his seventies, but, apparently, that voice is still quickening the words that he wrote – not that those words need any sparks of life.

When I first heard Mr. Cohen, it was through his much covered song, “Hallelujah” that serenaded my ears, which prompted me to go out and buy many of his greatest hits. Now, it is true that for me the musician Prince is the greatest musician I have ever heard due to his having the total package on account of his God given unrivaled talent. Prince maybe able to do many feats in music, but not writing like Cohen… whose pure, lyrics represent the many aspects of our lives. I have heard great lyrics from the late Reggae artist, Bob Marley, but if one knows his or her Bible, one would or should know that many of Marley’s lyrics were taken from the Bible (Proverbs and Psalms)… and, yes, objectively, Bob Dylan is a great songwriter, (… and she takes just like a woman, yeah but she breaks just like a little girl…) but his voice for me is not ideal.

I like the writing of Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Springsteen for their lyrics too, but again in that genre, I still would give the nod to Bob Seger or Van Morrison, the latter I need to see in concert too before he stops touring. That is how I used to evaluate the musicians that I listened to then… but when I heard Leonard Cohen with that voice... I changed my evaluation. Now, I cannot articulate through words the uniqueness of Cohen’s voice - but he put it best in one of his songs, Tower of Song: … I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice….

In the song Hallelujah, Cohen referenced the Bible’s Sampson and David whose lives were fraught with the travails of life, borne out of love/lust gone wrong… along also with the feeling of want when Cohen sings about not being able to no longer feel the Holy Spirit. In another area of Cohen’s song writing, he takes on death… I do not know if the untimely demise of many of his musical peers motivated Cohen to write about the many faces of death - but take a gander of his lyrics from one of his songs, Who By Fire:

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady's command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

The great historian Tocqueville chronicled our Democracy in its infancy - but Leonard cohen has written in song the state of our grown up form of government in his song, Democracy - read the poignant lyrics below and tell me that you are not moved and find yourselves nodding in agreement:

It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

I even like the fact that Cohen in some of his lyrics is uncertain (see couplets below)… even when he is proselytizing; take for instance when he is opining about the disparity between the rich and the poor... he sings In The Tower of Song:

Now you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the Tower of Song.

With all that said, I have never seen Leonard Cohen in concert and since he is getting up there in age... I should. I wished that I knew how to incorporate some of Cohen’s songs for you to hear his graveled, unique voice, but for now his lyrics would have to do. I have told you that Cohen’s lyrics have touch virtually all aspects of life and so he has even written jokingly about the travails of old age In the Tower of Song… realizing that his cradle is long gone and his grave is approaching:

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song….


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    • Verily Prime profile image

      Verily Prime 4 years ago from New York

      Did you notice his voice? Listen to the Tower of Song, Bird On A Wire, Democracy... a let your ears be tickled. Thanks again, sister....

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for this introduction to Leonard Cohen. I'm listening to Hallelujah, and will definitely listen some other of his songs. I support your going to the concert. Cheers!