Monday, 23 June 2008

The Man with the Golden Voice

I've been fortunate enough over the last couple of months to see or do a few of the things that I thought I never would. Most of them were wildlife-based, and fulfilled in Ecuador: the parrot lick, the hoatzin, albatrosses dancing (and I will post photos soon now the business of the last few months seems to be over). Seeing those wildlife highlights does only, however, require being in the right place at the right time, ie ultimately easy enough with time and money. Other things are rather harder, depending on chance or the whims of others. One thing I honestly never thought I'd see was the incomparable Leonard Cohen live. On Friday night, I did. On Saturday morning, I shook hands with the man himself and told him that I never thought I'd see the day...

Mr Cohen (somehow "Leonard" seems disrespectful) hadn't toured before 2008 for 15 years. Given the man is 73 years old, I and many others assumed he never would again. Then, unfortunately for him and horribly fortunately for us, whilst he was on a five-year Zen Buddhist retreat, his ex-manager and ex-lover, Kelley Lynch, stole almost his entire pension fund and the future rights to and royalties from his back catalogue, apparently leaving him with only about $150,000 to his name and no chance of getting the money back. After admitting this had "put a dent in his mood", he's on tour again, essentially to raise some money. Whilst I suppose we'd all rather our favourite artists were doing it for the love, I'm happy enough with this, although of course I feel terribly sorry for him.  But as the man himself said, on stage this time, "The cheerfulness kept breaking through."

A word on how I feel about Leonard Cohen: he is god to me. There are many bands I like an awful lot, some to a quite absurd degree (R.E.M., for instance, as you may have noticed). There are musicians who I admire and respect greatly (Neil Young, Patti Smith and a few more), and loads of others I enjoy hugely. There is only one who I utterly idolise. I'm not sure what it is - certainly the solemnity (I won't say depression, because I don't find them so) of his lyrics helps, but I think it's the poetry, the execution of his lyrics and novels, the sheer romance of the bleak, bohemian lifestyle in Montreal or New York, struggling with poverty, religion and beautiful women. I find his work desperately sexy. That's without even going into the wonder of that voice... Oh, and when I first met the boyfriend, one of the first albums I introduced him to was Cohen Live. We spent many of our first nights together listening to that. So a combination of adoration and memories serves to elevate him above all others for me.

When the tour was announced, I was over the moon, then immediately disappointed to see that the London gig was in the O2 Arena. I've said before how much I hate it. I even said that I wouldn't even go there if Leonard Cohen toured, ha! The alternative was Manchester Opera House, with an amazingly small 1,900 capacity (rather different to the O2) but we'd never get tickets to that... but fortune smiled on us and with some fast online work by my delegate(!) we secured them for the Friday night show. So with an early departure from work and a tense train ride north, praying for no delays, we made it to the Opera House in time for the very early 7.30pm sharp start. He's an old man, he needs to get to bed on time.

It was an awesome concert, truly - three hours, mainly the classics (such as Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy, So Long Marianne), lots from The Future (Anthem, The Future, Democracy) and I'm Your Man (most of it actually, but very excitingly First We Take Manhattan, Tower of Song and Ain't No Cure For Love). His voice is getting much lower but still utterly wonderful. Spoken word renditions of some of his lyrics/poems were spine chilling.  His backing band were all brilliant too - I'm sure for them it's the gig of a lifetime. Here are some photos (no bag checks!):

(No idea what was going on with the colours in that last one, something to do with me fiddling with the white balance, but it looks cool.)

Some reviews from the papers.

Whilst that was all amazing, and I'd have been absolutely content with my lot at that point, as my first paragraph suggests it just got so much better. I was with my parents for this, and they always pick swanky hotels, so we were staying in the Manchester Malmaison. I knew R.E.M. had stayed in this one previously but thought nothing more of it as a location for rock stars. We went to the hotel bar after the show and realised that a couple of the people in there were some of his backing musicians, so we were quite excited, thinking that he was probably staying there too, but we didn't see him and thought he would probably mainly stay in his suite. At breakfast on Saturday morning again there were a few of the band around but not him. Then... as we left the restaurant to go and check out, he was standing in the lobby all on his own as his entourage were checking out!

I was far too terrified to do anything, but my dad, a man of decisiveness who gets what he wants, decreed that we were going to talk to him and pretty much dragged me over. "Leonard!" he started. My mother and I both agree we'd have gone with "Mr Cohen", but he didn't seem to mind at all. We just told him how much we'd enjoyed the concert and thanked him for touring after all this time. We shook hands, and he thanked us for coming and said it really meant a lot to him. He was ever so nice, and seemed quite pleased even, or at least he's good at politely faking it. His voice really is that fabulous in person. I didn't want to ruin it by asking for a photo or an autograph, which I felt would have been intrusive. After a few more words we left him alone to carry on checking out. Then by the time we'd collected our luggage and were leaving the hotel (after I'd gone off for a little bit of screaming and jumping up and down in private of course), he was standing outside about to get into a car, and he smiled and gave us a little wave! In all seriousness, this was probably one of the defining moments of my life. I've met my idol and he was actually not a disappointment!

I tell you what though, I fluffed my chance to run off with him. You may or may not have heard of the concept of a "Celebrity Shag List", whereby you and your partner agree that in the unlikely event of meeting one of a named shortlist of famous people, and them agreeing to it, you are allowed a free pass to go off and have sex with said celebrity with no recriminations from your other half, because of course it's never going to happen. Mr Cohen, is, of course, on mine, and I didn't even proposition him! Opportunity wasted there, but I think the boyfriend is quite relieved.

So thank you, Mr Cohen, for touring at all, for a truly wonderful concert, and for being so gentlemanly to your trembling fans. You are a legend.

1 comment:

Original Ting said...

Mr Cohen reminds me of an ex-boyfriend who listened to him almost constantly. Maybe it's time I reclaim him?