Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Night with Leonard Cohen

My Bay Area visit was soul-feeding in every way and - though I badly needed to connect with friends and family - it was built entirely around seeing Leonard Cohen at the glorious Paramount Theatre.

When the tour was announced, I (rightly) assumed that I could not afford the three-digit ticket prices. (This was even before my lay-off.) I even discussed the matter with my money sage, Gins, who asked: "So, let's compare this to taking a music class at Swallow Hill. It's about the same price. Is it worth it?"

It's a worthwhile question: Leonard Cohen is not only the finest poet and songwriter in modern times (in my humble opinion), he is also a master of Life. All those years of writing and religious study - not to mention giving up his heart time and time again - have turned him into something of a holy man who exudes love and humility in every direction.

Let's put it this way, if the Dalai Lama had a hipster brother, it would most certainly be Leonard. (Cohen was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name Jikan, meaning 'silence', living in a monastery for five years.) Dude is SERIOUS.

The fact that the majority of the population has never heard of him, only intensifies my love. I have never heard the "golden voice" on the radio and he is nowhere to be found at the MTV Awards; he has never dated Drew Barrymore although it is highly possible.

At the tender age of 74, Leonard is an international elder statesman of sorts. This French-Canadian Jew has influenced countless writers, musicians and ordinary folks like me, who never get enough of all the sex, pain and humor in his songs. His Wikipedia entry states:

"Over one thousand renditions of Cohen's songs have been recorded. He has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. While giving the speech at his induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008, Lou Reed described Cohen as in the 'highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.'"

So, I'm pondering all this and realize that, "By God, watching Leonard perform is worth many, many, many music lessons and I should reconsider my frugality here." Soon after, I received a frantic phone call from, James, who let me know he was working his famous "ticket mojo" and could get us 7th row if I made up my mind in the next 60 seconds.

And it was DONE.

The performance on Tuesday evening was worth every hard-earned dime. I was shocked to discover that I knew almost all the words to nearly every song he played. (I made a concerted effort to not actually sing, since no one was there to hear me.) I was happy to see Leonard is quite nimble for his age. He began most songs down on one knee (more humility) and did a happy jig as he exited the stage for intermission and several encores.

For nerds like me who care about such things, here is the set list:

Dance Me To The End of Love
The Future
Ain't No Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Waiting for the Miracle

Set break

Tower of Song
The Gypsy Wife
The Partisan Play
Boogie Street
I'm Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep - done in spoken word, no music - UNBELIEVABLE.
Take This Waltz

Encore #1:
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan

Encore #2:
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will

Encore #3:
Closing Time

Encore #4:
I Tried to Leave You
Wither Thou Goest

With his impossibly talented 9-piece band, including three lovely lady singers (including his writing partner, Shannon Robinson), Leonard sang each song as if he were premiering them. In return, the audience reacted as if the songs were new to us - laughing in all the right places, nodding and clapping in full connection. The last time I felt that much united love for a performer was when the legendary Nina Simone entered Davies Hall - the same thundering applause and hoots of joy and welcome. 'Twas a phenomenal feeling to be a part of it all.

James and I had met up pre-show with with his friend, Jameel, and his lovely sister, Camille - who had never been to the Paramount, Oakland's famed gem. It's the kind of place that makes you want to wear chiffon and drink champagne - which is exactly what I did. We showed Camille around the art deco masterpiece, built in 1931, and her jaw dropped time and time again. A nearby usher watched us and joked, "Oh, are you on the 'ooooh-aaaaaah!' tour?" (The Paramount Theatre was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and you MUST make every effort to visit in your lifetime.)

I also managed to sneak some video footage of LC during "Marianne" - it's a bit shaky as I was trying to be stealthy and avoid the fuzz:

Here's another of the Paramount audience giving the love:

All in all, a night to remember.


Fang Bastardson said...

Your seats kicked our seats' ass.

Susie said...

Dance Me to the End of Love is one of my all time favorite songs. I would have been thrilled just to hear that.

My friend Michael is a priest in the same order and I used to beg to go to retreats in Idyllwild which is where Leonard was living.

But Michael said stalking wasn't cool at Zen Buddhist retreats.

ClizBiz said...

Fang - Ah, but you were THERE.

Susie: Yes, stalking a monk doesn't sound like the best idea but I probably would have "gotten lost" with you in Idyllwild had I known Leonard's GPS.

Heidi's heart said...

Wow, Heather, you are so incredibly lucky! I know you don't always feel this, but you are blessed with the right people and the right situations at every turn. Bravo!

ClizBiz said...

Heidi: Yes, I am blessed. Truly. No argument there.