The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Leonard Finally Leaves Us.

As though 2016 doesn't have enough to answer for, we have lost Leonard Cohen; the NYT has some good words about his career:
Over a musical career that spanned more than 45 years, Mr. Cohen wrote scores of songs that addressed, in language that was spare and often oblique, themes of religion and love, depression and suicide, politics and war. More than 2,000 recordings of those songs have been made, by artists ranging from the folk singers who were his first champions, like Judy Collins and Tim Hardin, to leading rock, pop, country and even rhythm and blues performers, including U2, Elton John, Sting, Trisha Yearwood and Aretha Franklin.

Mr. Cohen was an unlikely and reluctant pop star, if in fact he ever was one. He was already 33 when his first record was released in 1967, sang in an increasingly gravelly baritone that seemed to have trouble finding and remaining on key, played simple chords on acoustic guitar or a cheap Casio keyboard and cultivated a withdrawn, ascetic image at odds with the Dionysian excesses associated with rock ’n’ roll.

In addition, he was anything but prolific, struggling for years to write some of his most celebrated songs and recording barely a dozen studio albums in his career, of which only the first qualified as a gold record in the United States for sales of 500,000 copies. But Mr. Cohen’s sophisticated, carefully crafted lyrics, with their meditations on love sacred and profane, captivated other artists and gave him a reputation as, to use the phrase his record company concocted for an advertising campaign in the early 1970s, “the master of erotic despair.”
I'll admit it; I'm a fanboy of his. To me, he was Bob Dylan for grown ups. This review, of the one concert of his I attended, gets at some of what made him magical in performance:
At Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, Cohen delivered on the declaration he uttered early in the evening.

“I don’t know when we’ll meet again, but I promise that tonight we’ll give you everything we’ve got,” he said.

And that he did, along with a superb six-piece band and a trio of back-up singers that included the sublime Webb Sisters (Charley and Hattie) and his longtime songwriting collaborator Sharon Robinson. Performing for 3 1/2 hours including intermission, he delivered a career-defining show that included numerous selections from the new release.

The tropes of his performance style are by now familiar, but no less comforting. The spry septuagenarian, clad in his trademark dark suit and fedora, belies his age by literally skipping on and off the stage. He delivers many of his vocals either crouched in intense fashion or literally on his knees, and his ability to rise to his feet effortlessly even while singing provides a testament to whatever health regimen he’s on.

Far from his amusing self-description in his new song “Going Home” as “a lazy bastard living in a suit,” the performer invests his performance with a searing intensity that takes on almost religious overtones. Even in this cavernous arena, he held the audience spellbound throughout the lengthy evening, no more so when he quietly recites his poem “A Thousand Kisses Deep.”

His demeanor is ever courtly, profusely thanking the audience several times for their attention and repeatedly introducing not only his musicians and singers but everyone down to the sound mixer and the guy who rigged the curtain. During his band member’s numerous solos, he frequently took off his hat and sat by their feet, as if in supplication.
Let's stay with this a second. Cohen's generosity to the artists with whom he shared a stage was exemplary. Writing about the same concert, I said:
One of the things about Cohen's performance style that really struck me, and I think must reflect the man himself, is admiration for his fellow artists on storage--musicians, singers,etc.--and his desire to showcase their talent and honor them.

So Cohen extends "I Tried to Leave You," allowing each of his fellow artists to shine, and put her or his own stamp on it. . . Note the soubriquets, too--the "incomparable Sharon Robinson;" the "sublime Webb Sisters" (always identified by name, too); the "sweet shepherd of strings" Javier Mas.

(By the bye, these performers absolutely deserve the praise Cohen generously heaps on them (just visit their linked sites).)

And, easy as it would be to deploy this excellent artists as background, Cohen cedes whole songs to Robinson and the Webb Sisters, and "Who By Fire" is now as much Javier Mas as Cohen, et al.
Here's another thing:

"Famous Blue Raincoat"is superb in its ambiguity--the exploration of relationships marred by betrayal, and yet the betrayer has, in some way, brought a new perspective to the friend he betrays:
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Well, your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried...
In Cohen's writing, nothing is ever simple.

His music will live. I'm glad that he played to the house one magic night when I could be there.

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