Monday, November 25, 2013

Explaining Leonard Cohen

“I want you to explain Leonard Cohen”

And so begins the simple but impossible task. Many have tried and even those who know him perhaps don’t know him enough to do justice to the response.

But here’s my take from a hundred thousand lifetimes away.

For me the great fascination began at Bimbadgen in 2009 when I attended as a concert buddy for a friend – I was keen to go but happy for him to give the ticket to someone else if he got a better offer. I had always liked Leonard Cohen but his voice in his younger days never quite got to the tonality that really did it for me.  It does now.  ;-)

What was astonishing  at the event was the spread of people in the audience, and technically the good sound and performance and the reverence the audience had for him.

But what really impressed me in many ways that I have perhaps not even come to analyse yet is the Grace of the man.  Here he stood, in this business of performing where so many spend such time and money to not show a sign of their age and Leonard was there naked. The cameras panning in for extreme close ups that do not allow for any vestige of modesty revealing starkly the age of this man and his new challenge that neither he nor any of us can win – that of mortality.

He sang the songs he had written 40 years before as a young man, but now as an old man. And in singing them they linked us with the past and the younger people we all were then… but in doing so he presented them as a man in his then middle 70s.   There is a fine skill to that and it reveals the facility of the writing that to deliver these songs of a young man as an old one – has great potential for being really creepy.

Leonard manages to make aging respectable.  He does it in a way that is dignified and offers us a look at a view of advancing age that we don’t often see.  We see that the young version of ourselves is never far away, even as the years write upon our skin and fail to fool the mirrors.

His nakedness is manifest too in sharing with us his work for all those long years.  The work he recognizes needs an audience to remain alive and vital he acknowledges and in so doing we have in our way become stewards.  These fruits of the garden, that he has tended for more than 40 years and done so because it is what he chose to do.  He has tended his garden – created his life’s work in a way that pleased him to do so – even if it pleased nobody else.

Imagine … what you will show - what will any of us have to display for judgment when the time has almost run out.  What will you have to show others for your life’s work when you are in your old age? That’s the fundamental question that comes up for me in bearing witness to Leonard Cohen.

That life observed in the unfolding that stays true to an internal concept of correct-for-me is what really impresses me with Leonard. That and the impeccable manner that he brings to bear on whatever he does.  Simple. Classic. Unapologetic.

There is no ‘sloppy’ with Leonard’s writing, his personal presentation or performing and he really does give it all he’s got.  No ostentation, no artifice, no fakery.   Like it or leave it – there is no pretense to be something other than it is. The quality of the technical aspects of the show he takes personal interest in and nothing is just ‘good enough’.

And never a whiny call to self pity.  No Loser lyrics for Leonard.

In a way Leonard Cohen is Everyman. He is anyone who has ever suffered, ever longed for something always just out of his grasp, and every woman’s perfect man – made more so because he is unobtainable – but not just to them.  Men it should be said, can be just as taken with his charm and may feel that he expresses in his songs the feelings for which they have no words.

His lyrics which seem so personal are also sufficiently and artfully vague that we can pass them though our own internal filters and find that they fit our own experience perfectly. In this seeming complexity, they are simple, precise and as spare as the Master wordsmith can tailor them.

He is said to be, by those who do not really know his work beyond a line from The Young Ones “Nobody ever listens to me – I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record” – ‘depressing’. Despite having suffered with depression for most of his life, in fact his message is really more one of Surviving. No matter the trials that we face we can survive. Despite everything... there is hope.

Leonard Cohen in concert is phenomenal but the true magic is in the change work that it does for all of us who will take up the challenge. Learn from his experience and come to the point of letting go of our own pretenses, excuses and self pity and go lovingly to tend our own garden.

On Saturday it was back to Bimbadgen for the 23 November 2013 concert - for what was now my fifth Leonard Cohen gathering. This tour, as his 2012 tour with a few changes to the band and introducing a more refined rendering of his songs with a most excellent violin in the lineup. His performance at each a little different in some nuance or set list but always always, giving us much more value than the price of the tickets and the financial and geographical inconvenience.

Leonard Cohen is currently on Tour in Australia

"Song operates on so many levels. It operates on the level you just spoke of where it addresses the heart in its ordeals and its defeats but it also is useful in getting the dishes done or cleaning the house. It's also useful as a background to courting." - Leonard Cohen 2012

Keeping The Learnings - Further To Explaining Leonard Cohen

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Unknown said...

Hi Lindy,
I like your way with words, explaining the unexplainable. Almost Cohen-esque!
The man has produced the music of my life and "I lift my glass to the awful truth, that you can't reveal to the ears of youth ..."
Youth: listen to the words and feel the emotions.


lindyasimus said...

Thanks for your comments Alan. I think the words rub off. One finds oneself on different sides of a line... I mean thinking in Cohen lines. There seems to be one for just about every context.

And isn't that a joy!