Leonard Cohen part 1

Leonard Cohen

I thought I?d talk about the Leonard Cohen concert in Wellington last January. I?m really glad I got to see it, not only for the music itself but the audience reaction I witnessed. The crowd went wild after every song, the hits receiving standing ovations and roars of approval. The support act was iconic New Zealand poet, Sam Hunt, reading his own work and some ?cover versions?. The room was filled to capacity (10K I think) and probably could have sold out twice over or more if word around Wellington was anything to go by. The stage announcements had all the candour, wit and self-deprecation of a stand-up comedian (which he was in a former life someone told me). What I sensed in the standing ovations was more than an appreciation of the music, and most certainly it wasn?t the idolatry of a traditional rock concert either, he made sure he presented himself as no more than a humble, thoughtful and articulate man who was able to communicate something of what it is to be a humble, thoughtful and articulate man. He wasn?t some demigod or a construct of fantasy or an ideal. His songs openly explored the fullness of his being, his weakness, anger, forgiveness, humour, lust and all the rest. The emotion that returned to him from the audience was much closer to gratitude than hero worship, that he had the ability to encapsulate in word and music the things that he does and the fact he?d come all the way down here to share it.

    But the role of words was the main thing it seemed to me, that the audience was responding to someone genuinely communicating with them. Not a superfluous word as far as I could hear, nor hardly a perfunctory rhyme anywhere, word images and metaphors that fire off shards of light into the dark mystery and absurdity of existence, his existence illuminating mine and in their own private way everyone else in the room, or so it seemed from their reaction. All this together is a difficult thing to achieve and why few bother to try. I was possessed at several points by the perception I hold that some of my ex-students work is often at this same standard. If the thousands in the audience that evening only knew the work of Simon Comber and Antonnie Tonnon how astounded they might be to discover analogous, perceptive and hard working wordsmiths in their own midst (OK this is an obvious plug for Simon?s new album Endearance, but I make no apology, I respect his work and feel confident that many in Cohen?s Wellington and Auckland audience would too if they came in contact with it.)

    I here take a break mid-blog to watch the Daily Show. John Stewart might just be one of the most respected Americans in the world right now (OK, Barack Obama is a household name and has six million friends on Facebook, but him aside), and it seems to me Stewart?s standing derives from his tapping into a vast thirst for communication. His whole shtick is to mercilessly trash what various people try to pass off as communication and genuine exploration of issues. The live audience greet him with barely-contained enthusiasm at every show. This somehow strikes me as similar to that which I experienced at the Cohen concert?a delight at genuine acts of trying to make some sense of the nonsense that clutters our existence?to communicate and explore without fear of where it might lead.  I?m tentative about going further but I?ll try in the next blog.


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