Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pondering the Return of Leonard Cohen

Hopefully my illness isn't contagious, but my love of music is!

My friend and Radio or Not contributor Jim Bleikamp sent in this piece about a concert he was one of the lucky few able to attend. Enjoy....

It's been about 36 hours now, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it was I witnessed, and exactly what I heard, at a vintage music hall brought back to life just days ago. But I know it was something I shouldn't soon forget. And I won't.

He came to Manhattan ...he came back...he lived there once...but it could have been Berlin--after all, he once brought them together in song--but it could also have been London--or Paris--or Madison, or a thousand other places where the curious ponder his musings and hope to hear his voice again.

He checked in a half-century ago with all those folk singers in the East Village. But he was never quite like them. More cleaned-up. More town-house than coffee house. Came from the far north-all alone at a crowded time when everyone wanted to hold your hand, but sometimes you thought twice about holding his--we were'nt quite sure just what his angle was. Walked among us for years--back in the tall grass. Could hardly see him at times. But he was there, and we might have paid more heed.

For awhile we thought it was over. He disappeared. Went to a spot little-traveled--a mountaintop--in search of the BIG QUESTIONS. But oh sweet Jesus, do we ever need him now. Because you can't follow the signs the way you used to. The bank might not cash your check now. Yesterday's party has ended, today's was canceled, and all tomorrow's parties are on hold. For so long, the dogs were quiet at night, but now they bark again. Even a fresh bone won't shut them up. The sweet puppy is vicious now.

But Leonard warned us--warned us years ago. It was the last thing before he left. We might have thought that it was just a good song--or maybe a song about another time. Or maybe just a good song for an altered state of mind. As much as we loved it, we really didn't want it to be about Our Time. But perhaps it was. Perhaps it is:

"Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it's lonely here, there's no one left to torture"

Oh, and that's hardly the end of it:

"Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul."

Overturning the order of the soul? No party here. This is not the 19th hole. No song for the radio. Not even the smart FM station at the low end of the dial. This is Darkness. This is Hell. He came to tell us again. To remind us. But he didn't preach. Never preachy. No, it was almost like he prayed with us. On one knee. Almost pleading. All this from a man who looks only slightly like a dark agent.

Yes his suit is simple and black. But he wears a fedora. And there's a just slightly-crazed smile there. Crazed yet warm. Real warmth. And he's got that aging movie-star thing going on. He's old, but even now, the youngest girls still take a second look, and even a third, and all the women still want his number. Even though he once tried to convince us otherwise:

"You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception"

Yes, he can be dark as the basement in winter, but he never failed to get the joke. Got it better than all of us. Still gets it. A musical genius friend of his says that Leonard once looked into the abyss--and did nothing more than laugh.

He always moved a little oddly among us, but he always had A GIFT. A couple of gifts. One was black-coal dark, but the other was lighter. Maybe even radiant. White light, maybe. And often, the darkness and the incredible lightness would happen together. Not exactly merge, mind you. But maybe a light verse soon after a dark one. Even after a blizzard warning:

"I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all,
but love's the only engine of survival"

or how about this, after a long season in the mud?

"it's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again."

One of his friends from the Underground says we are so lucky to be alive in Leonard's time. Maybe even blessed.