Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

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Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby jarkko » Fri Feb 27, 2009 11:28 pm

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ ... nment/home
Coffee and candour with Cohen
Twelve hours after his masterful return to the U.S. stage, the low baritone that belongs only to Leonard Cohen rises again – this time, to reflect on what he learned when his own life hit the ropes.
Simon Houpt reports

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

February 27, 2009 at 10:57 AM EST

NEW YORK — Lean in close now. Leonard Cohen is speaking, and if you want to understand him, it might take a bit of work. It's not just that he talks, as he writes, in sometimes enigmatic pronouncements; he's also quiet as a lullaby.

You've just settled in across from him, making small talk, when his two publicists retreat into the next room. Suddenly he seems freed by their absence. "Come and have a coffee," he says in his familiar low baritone, getting up and crossing the room. "How do you take it?"

Cohen is playing servant here, but he was master last night. When he appeared on stage at the Beacon Theatre for his first stateside concert in 15 years, the crowd greeted him with waves of adoration, like a beloved and humble sovereign returning from exile, or maybe a new U.S. president: There was hope in the air. And Cohen seemed energized by the affection, jaunty even, so much so that when he departed the stage after each set and encore, he skipped off like a thieving scamp.

But 12 hours after he and his band bid adieu with a soothing rendition of Whither Thou Goest, he is seated wearily on a couch, wearing a bolo tie and a black three-piece suit cut smartly to his lithe frame, his trademark fedora atop his head, and he appears almost fragile. At one point, as he considers a question and his left hand drifts absently up to his mouth, his fingers seem to tremble slightly. You suddenly remember: He's a 74-year-old man.

One, to be sure, who's in greater demand than ever. Since launching his tour last May in Fredericton, Cohen has played 99 concerts, some in venues as large as London's O2 arena, which boasts a capacity of 20,000. This spring, he will do another 28 shows across North America, including 11 dates in Canadian cities that he bypassed last year, in support of a DVD and double-disc CD album of his London concert, coming out March 31. Reinforcing his cultural currency, he will even play the shaggy Coachella festival near Palm Springs on April 17, joining an outdoor lineup of much younger acts that includes Conor Oberst, The Black Keys, Girl Talk, and The Hold Steady.

"The response has been very, very, very hospitable, and it's been a generally very nourishing experience," Cohen begins, slowly. "We've been all over the world, and you know, one is never sure that it's going to work again. You're never sure from concert to concert, actually, because there's some part of it you don't command."

Cohen likes to feel the mood in a room and react, in a process he says is almost spiritual. Which is why, as his music director and bassist Roscoe Beck explained a couple of hours before the show, Cohen tries to leave himself open to momentary whims onstage. "It's heads-up at all times," said Beck, who has played with Cohen since 1979 and put together the band for the current tour. "We may land on a chord and he just may feel that it's not time to come in singing yet, just emotionally it's a nice moment, and he'll decide to extend that moment another bar. We have to be ready for that, we have to be ready for anything. A lyric change, an added bar, a different song."

Cohen is out on the road again to rebuild a multimillion-dollar nest egg he alleges was lost through the mismanagement of others. A series of lawsuits and counterclaims now seems to be behind him, but the sting remains.

"I was spending enormous amounts of time in lawyers' offices, tax specialists' offices, accountants' offices, detectives' offices. In fact, I was spending all my time in offices, and I had to say to myself at a certain point, 'If God wants to bore you to death, I guess that's His business.'

"It was an enormous — 'distraction' hardly begins to describe it, because what happened was, my own work became a distraction. I had to take care of the matters at hand, they were urgent, and the situation was dangerous at certain points."

His financial well-being was threatened, but Cohen has always been someone to extract wisdom from twists of fortune, be they shattered romances or corruption in society; some of his best songs are built upon sharp insights into human nature gained when on the ropes. So, you ask him, what have you learned about yourself from the ordeal?

"The next time around, I'll try to know where the bank is," he grimaces. "I was very, very, very absent from these day-to-day concerns."

He leans back and recalls a moment four decades past. "When I first went down to New York from Montreal to pursue some sort of career," he says, "my mother, who I always thought was kind of naive — she was Russian, her English was imperfect — she said to me, 'Leonard, you be careful of those people down there. They're not like us.' And of course, I didn't say anything to disrespect, she was my mother, but in my mind I thought, 'Mother, you know, I'm not a child.' I was 32, I'd been around the block a few times." He turns to face you, and a lopsided smile wafts across his lips. "But she was right. She was right."

With all due respect to Cohen, though, we might quietly mutter a special thanks to whoever was responsible for his latest travails. For even he agrees that the tour is proof that some good can come from adversity. And to see Cohen in concert these days is to experience a sort of musical Method acting: The emotions in the songs seem to be channelled anew. Like an Oscar-winning actor, his control of his physicality and voice is almost lapidary, and it has a transfixing effect on an audience.

It seems a shame he never pursued feature film work. "I never had any skill of it," he shrugs. You ask him about a brief appearance in a 1986 episode of Miami Vice, as a French bad guy, that went down in Leonard Cohen lore as one of his less successful ventures. He laughs brightly, as if he hasn't thought of it in 20 years.

"I had a big part in Miami Vice, and after the first scene I shot, I was called by an agent in New York. She said, 'You were really marvellous, really marvellous today.' I said, 'You mean I'm fired.' She said 'Yes, they've rewritten the rest of the scenes for other actors.'" He chuckles. "I wasn't disappointed, I'd gone into that show because my kids watched Miami Vice and I wanted to surprise them by being on it."

Mainstream pop culture has never been Cohen's province, anyway; his influences are too European, too ancient. When the faithful made their pilgrimages to the Beacon last week, some from faraway lands, they found welcome solidarity through his expressions of outrage in songs like Everybody Knows and Democracy, in which he pledges, "Democracy is coming to the U.S.A." But, mostly in their late 50s or early 60s, they cheered the loudest at Cohen's admissions of weakness — as Tower of Song has it, "I ache in the places I used to play" — that stood as surrogate confessions of their own emotional and physical infirmities. He was their cantor, offering supplications in search of redemption.

Those weaknesses are what seem to be on his mind these days. Cohen says he has written an album's worth of material, and has recorded a couple of songs, many of them apparently fuelled by a creeping sense of his own mortality. And why not? This is his first tour in 15 years; when it draws to a close, who knows if he will ever see the road again?

"The clear sense that you know you're in the homeward stretch is a very compelling component in writing," he says. "A lot of other things fall away that you hope would satisfy you like human life, and your work becomes a kind of haven, and you want to go there, and you're grateful when the time opens in such a way that you can actually sit down and work at your own work, because everything else somehow has failed.

"I'm speaking not just for myself," he continues. "Somehow, just in the nature of things, you know, the disappointments accumulate, and the obstacles multiply and you sense the destruction of your body, and your mind, and you feel here is the last arena — 'arena' is too big, the last boxing ring, or the last Ouija board, where you can examine some of the ideas that have intrigued you. That have seized you, really."
1988, 1993: Helsinki||2008: Manchester|Oslo|London O2|Berlin|Helsinki|London RAH|| 2009: New York Beacon|Berlin|Venice|Barcelona|Las Vegas|San José||2010: Salzburg|Helsinki|Gent|Bratislava|Las Vegas|| 2012: Gent|Helsinki|Verona|| 2013: New York|Pula|Oslo|||
MaryB
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby MaryB » Sat Feb 28, 2009 3:55 am

jarkko wrote:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ ... nment/home
Cohen likes to feel the mood in a room and react, in a process he says is almost spiritual. Which is why, as his music director and bassist Roscoe Beck explained a couple of hours before the show, Cohen tries to leave himself open to momentary whims onstage. "It's heads-up at all times," said Beck, who has played with Cohen since 1979 and put together the band for the current tour. "We may land on a chord and he just may feel that it's not time to come in singing yet, just emotionally it's a nice moment, and he'll decide to extend that moment another bar. We have to be ready for that, we have to be ready for anything. A lyric change, an added bar, a different song."
[/quote]

Jarkko,
Does this mean we can yell out song requests during a concert :lol: :?: Thank you Jarkko for this a bit more revealing article!
Warmest regards,
Mary
1993 Detroit 2008 Kitchener June 2-Hamilton June 3 & 4-Vienna Sept 24 & 25-London RAH Nov 17 2009 NYC Feb 19-Grand Prairie Apr 3-Phoenix Apr 5-Columbia May 11-Red Rocks Jun 4-Barcelona Sept 21-Columbus Oct 27-Las Vegas Nov 12-San Jose Nov 13 2010 Sligo Jul 31 & Aug 1-LV Dec 10 & 11 2012 Paris Sept 30-London Dec 11-Boston Dec 16 2013 Louisville Mar 30-Amsterdam Sept 20
yentek
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby yentek » Sat Feb 28, 2009 4:30 am

Nice article. So much better than the one in the New York Times.
a.ephroni
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby a.ephroni » Sat Feb 28, 2009 8:22 am

That really is a lovely article. Thanks for the post!
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Honor
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby Honor » Sat Feb 28, 2009 11:19 am

Most definitely, this seems to be written by someone who 'gets' our Cohen. Funny how pronounced the distinction is in such reviews. My family read through all the reviews in the Australian papers, saying, "ooh, this reviewer gets him... this one doesn't!"
Anyway, I think this one does.

My favourite bit (apart from some vicarious pleasure in the offer of coffee... imagining Leonard making me a coffee... what a moment that would be...) Anyway, where was I?
Ah, yes! The Arena of Life reduced to a Ouija board! How does he come up with these glorious gems, at once so poignant and true, and so funny?
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby Red Poppy » Mon Mar 02, 2009 12:52 am

Thanks for posting that piece, thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Globe & Mail is ALWAYS late arriving in Ireland :?
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mirka
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby mirka » Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:01 pm

I love this interview, Cohen comes across as a very much real person.
I was always struck by how well his seemingly spiritual body of work can help to understand turbulence of our crazy world.
For example I found out recently on a couple of occasions his lyrics were quoted in financial magazines :lol:

mirka
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imaginary friend
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby imaginary friend » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:02 pm

A gift of an interview! Respectful, insightful portrayal of the artist Leonard Cohen, different from all of the other interviews/reviews so far.

Simon Houpt has also managed to capture the elusive sensibility of Leonard Cohen's concerts on this tour; the sense that onstage, Leonard is communicating with his highest self, at the same time he communicates with us, and that allows us to catch a glimpse of our higher selves here and there. Fills you up, y'know? Makes you want to be a little more respectful of yourself and others... thank you Jarkko, and thank you Leonard.
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby lizzytysh » Wed Mar 04, 2009 1:49 am

So well said, Sheila... and Mirka. So true. We benefit so much when we're exposed to Leonard's spirituality and sensibilities. After the Beacon concert, someone commented, "You're just glowing, Lizzy." I felt it, too; yet, not as something I might have seen in a mirror, but rather on the inside.


~ Lizzy
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
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Kiwi56
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby Kiwi56 » Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:43 am

Thank you Jarkko for posting this wonderful article.
It´s so much better than many others !
Just a little pearl !
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby linmag » Thu Mar 05, 2009 1:51 pm

He was their cantor, offering supplications in search of redemption.
I particularly like this expression. It sums up for me what I feel is going on between Leonard and the audience at a concert, and gives a respectful nod towards the 'cohen' part of Leonard's cultural inheritance. I understand that because a cohen was a type of rabbi, Leonard felt for some time that he should perhaps go in that direction himself. I think he has found the ideal way for his nature to fulfil this duty. He may not have gone into the priesthood, but he still enables people to connect to their spiritual side.
Linda

1972: Leeds, 2008: Manchester, Lyon, London O2, 2009: Wet Weybridge, 2012: Hop Farm/Wembley Arena
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lizzytysh
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Re: Coffee and candour with Cohen / Globe and Mail

Postby lizzytysh » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:01 am

Ohhhh... so beautifully said, Linda 8) ; as well as the original statement upon which you were commenting.


~ Lizzy :D
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde

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