A month or so ago, I received an email from author, editor and founder of the Al Purdy A-frame Trust Jean Baird who could barely tappy-tip straight she was so excited. (I kid you not.)
Reading between the lines between the lines, I gathered she'd snagged a pair of tickets to see Leonard Cohen in concert as a gift for her husband's 75th birthday (although George Bowering was already 75+1 day when the concert would take place Dec. 2nd @ Rogers Arena in Vancouver, but still . . .). What a gift! Natch, I shamelessly put both of them to work immediatement and requested the pair write a review of one of the last shows on what I've taken to calling The Never-Ending Tour (which, after an astonishing 247 concerts around the world in two years, concludes Dec. 11 @ the Coliseum in Las Vegas forever [I hope 'n' pray].
Natch, they didn't exactly jump all over the idea; but, that didn't stop me. (As if!) After the concert, there were me me me ipso-quicko in their e-mailboxes again: "Fork it over . . . or else!"
George buckled first:
"Mr Cohen went from 8:10 till 11:25 last night, with a break in the middle. The guy amazes all the reviewers with his stamina. I mean, 240 or so of these shows? Jean said I wouldn't be able to get up off my knees that often. Wow. My first impression, as we got there an hour early to soak up the experience:
"I have never been at a musical show where so many people there to be the audience were getting around with canes! I should have brought mine. I also forgot my Order of the Unfried Heart pin. Damn! Anyway, even though I had to go pee a lot of the time, I really dug this. Whew! You should have seen that nose on the jumbo screen! This was only my second ever music show at a hockey rink, the earlier one being decades ago, to see Cream at a rink in Calgary. I am glad to have added it to my life's experience. Sad that in three hours they didn't do my favourite song, 'Famous Blue Raincoat.' Douglas Todd, the religion writer for The Vancouver Sun, reviewed it, and praised Leonard, pointing out a few times that this is near the end of the guy's career. . . . I sensed you there sitting with us."
(I *was* there, in spirit, beaming to beat the bland! If you ever run into the cut-above scribe, Mr. Todd, please to tell him Leo's a baritone and the song is called "Bird On The Wire") . . . But, I digramble. (What else is news?) "That's it," I e-bugged Jean and George. "That's the entire review? Who did you see? What did he do? How was the performance? Details, details!"
George e-blabborates the next morning:
"I can cast my head back and say a few things about the LC event. Still remembering all those people with canes. Like everyone else, I am awed by L's energy. I mean, he's older even than I, and he is up and down, back and forth and after 3.5 hours, as you predicted, he skipped off the stage."
Told ya so :)! Next time someone addresses THE Boss, they can call him "Skipper," hehe . . . erp! Go on . . .
"The band is very tight and interesting. The mixture of instruments is a pop, I mean, on top, I mean, of what I kept hearing as a blues frame, despite the waltzes. And then those two sisters [The Webb Sisters] in the middle of one song, perform side-by-side cartwheels! While the master grins. LC is a nice subtle actor; and, you know, I am persuaded that he is dumbfounded by his own success, that he appreciates it. He is never above the crowd. And, you know - he CAN play a guitar better than you would think. I do remember that he had a country-and-western band at McGill [The Buckskin Boys] too.
"The audience was with him. You knew that they know all the songs; they have them at home on vinyl, they recognize all the opening hooks. You know which song got the biggest roar and handclapping from all those geezers? "Closing Time."
"Jean and I were pretty close, row 12 in the hockey seats, stage-left side. Jean wouldn't have been able to throw skivvies that far; but, we were under one of the high TV back-projected screens and I have to tell you - that is one big nose when there is a close-up on that big screen.
"Jean was paying attention! This was a happy crowd. A lot of people had to do something next day, but no one left after the first 1.5 hours, when the break happened. A lot of those people looked like squares - you know, your Mom and Dad's friends in whatever small town; but, they KNEW what was happening up there. As I said, I had only once before been to a big pop music\show in an arena. I loved it. I felt old and Canadian and poetical.
It was, I know for a fact, good for me. 'Good for you! I said to the poet in the suit.'"
That afternoon? Jean antes up in what Skipper <*waves to The Ol' Boss*> calls The Holy Game of Poker:
"Many years ago, I was blessed to hear Alberta Hunter [one of Skipper's Faves!]at The Cookery in NYC. She was, and in my mind still is, one of the most sensual woman I've ever seen. She was in her 80s at the time. A decade or so later, I heard Yehudi Menuhin in Lewiston NY. He had an escort at each elbow to get him onstage. He was frail, but once he put that violin under his chin, he was transformed. Me, too. George and I went to a concert in Vancouver with Ornette Coleman and a year later, to another with Sonny Rollins. Coleman was 78, Rollins was 79; but, both completed two-hour sets without once sitting down. How do they do that?
"The 8,000+ sell-out audience in Vancouver greeted Leonard Cohen's entrance, wearing his trademark suit and fedora, with a standing ovation. Cohen began with 'Dance Me To The End of Love," bended down on his knees, singing to the virtuoso bandurria player from Barcelona, Javier Mas. I repeat, on his knees. I was nervous. I mean, most folks that age go out of their way to avoid getting down on their knees; but, Cohen gracefully stood. I didn't count; but, in the first set he was down on one or both knees over and over. Then he announced a break and skipped off stage, waving over his shoulder. Ornette and Sonny have nothing on Leonard.
"It was that sort of night.
"It seems that Cohen has always been part of my life. 'Suzanne' was a hit the year I was ten. My kids knew all the songs from car trips. Like many others, Cohen's poetry is part of the fabric of my life. Years ago because of my art and literature magazine that published work by teens, I did a lot of public speaking about the importance of creativity in our lives. One of my favourite parlour tricks was to begin, let's say, a presentation to a Rotary group by announcing, We are going to have a short poetry contest because I know you are all big poetry fans and experts.
"I always got the expected nervous groan. I'll give you two lines and you give me the name of the poet. They all knew Cohen, and the trick made them realize they were poetry fans.
"And that's what most impressed me about the concert, that Cohen several times drew away from the music, reciting the poetry, reminding us - language and its power. Cohen shows such deep respect and awe of that power.
"On the way home in the car I asked George, How many children do you think that man is responsible for? George said he wasn't sure how many children Cohen had. [Two: Adam and Lorca.']No, I said, that's not what I mean.
"Two days later, several people at a party had also been at the concert. I asked the question again. Yes, said Linda, I wonder how many couples all over the world have made love to a Cohen album, or have romped in bed after an evening's concert?
"Or the next morning, grinned Linda's husband."
(Fedora tips, Marie Mazur, Jarkko Arjatsalo, J. S. Carenza III, Robert Kory, Sharon Robinson, Ed Sanders, Jean Baird and Birthday-Boy George Bowering [who took the road less gravelled <*beam*>].
(Exclusive photographs of "Skippy" as well as Leonard Cohen & Javier Mas © 2010 Joey Carenza. Exclusive photograph of George Bowering & Jean Baird at Al Purdy's headstone © 2010 Jean Baird. All Rights Reserved. Used by written permission.)