Point of View

Point of View: Be Leonard Cohen

Last night, for the first time, I saw Leonard Cohen perform live. Over the years I had heard about his performances in glowing terms from admirers and fans, responses like, he “put on such a great show”, “what a performer”, etc.

To all of these I would like to add: What a performer. What a poet. What a man.

In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, he has been one of the world’s great poets and he only started his career as a musician in his 30s. Think about that alone for a moment. Unlike other major musical figures of the 60s he came from a solid literary background. He has remained immune to musical fashion, concerning himself with composing only the most precise and profound lyrics in music.

Yes, he sang last night; and he played and was supported by truly world class, top notch musicians and singers; but he also performed a poem. I can’t say he ‘read’ it; there were no eyes moving across a page here. Rather it seemed to pour out of him, like tears. Or smoke.

And while on smoke, at one point he mentioned that he’d like to tour a couple more years, then fancies taking up smoking again at 80. He said

“at this point in the show I would have a cigarette here and drink some obscure scotch like Lagavulin…”

and it hit me, as he moved across the stage he just performed and evoked having a smoke and scotch. I love single malt scotch, and I felt it. I have never smoked, but I wanted to smoke the hell out of a cigarette. He has a sense of drama, and knows the uses of the power of a pause and a breath.

As I watched, listened and felt him last night, I thought ‘how is this possible?’ I was listening to material written before I was born from a 78 year old man who danced and skipped offstage and on, who flung himself down on his knees to sing… he was fluid, almost liquid, he skipped like an ageless sprite. And he did all of this for three and a half hours. As a performer myself, I can’t tell you how much physical energy is required and expended for that intensity for that amount of time.

And his mind is as flexible as his body; his performance of the poem “A Thousand Kisses Deep” clearly had stanzas recently added and changed. And as he spoke those words, I was surprised to realize tears were rolling down my face. Really.

So yes: everything you’ve heard about Leonard Cohen live is true. He is funky, sexy, brilliant and cool. He is an artist and a lover of women who is really naked under that suit that he wears. That suit that does not wear him. Yes he is an original and unique, and yet at the same time, I say those of us that write and perform should all attempt to be more like him.
And not least in his attitude towards criticism.

“I was on the internet today and I read a rather dismissive review of last night’s show.  I had to ask myself, why don’t you hate this sonofabitch more than you do?  I felt love. But then, you’re depriving yourself of the deep pleasure of pure hatred. And I realized; there aint no cure for love.”

It was funny and touching, that after all these years he’d look at a negative review and then be affected by it. And it was a showman’s great segué.
Oh please Mr. Cohen, let me feel the hatred for you. I refuse to lend the reviewer – because he is surely not a critic – any credence by naming or quoting him here, but I was surprised by the flare of hatred I felt for the reviewer and how defensive I felt toward Mr. Cohen. Because what that person failed to understand is, you can’t be ‘dismissive’ of an artist operating at that level. Whether you ‘like’ the songs or sound, etc., etc., is surely besides the point.

So yes: be like Leonard Cohen. Write honestly and straightforwardly without embarrassment. Have a point of view. Don’t squelch your passions. Love and forgive. And when it’s right, don’t deprive yourself the deep pleasure of feeling pure hatred.

After all, it is only by aiming for the sky that you might hit the trees.


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