Saturday, 19 July 2008

Ladies Love Cool Cohen

Myself and herself went along to the Leonard Cohen love in this week on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. Got last minute tickets on a slightly tipsy whim when I was alerted to a last minute allocation going on sale the week before the gig. Pals and family had gone to the Dublin and Manchester shows. By the time I realised the only tickets available were expensive "hospitality" tickets I was completely committed to seeing him. So, a pile of money and seven days later we found ourselves guzzling free champagne (well, insfoar as it came free with a £75 ticket!) in a covered pod at the back of the open air auditorium.

My memories of Cohen permeate most phases in my life. My father loved his records and I remember him being played and his songs sung when my folks' parents stayed late drinking wine. I remember "Famous Blue Raincoat" as played by the busker opposite the O'Connell Mall soundtracking tearful ruminations after a drunken teenage drama on the night of my 18th birthday. The rain pouring down and my tearstained frustration at a thoughtless insensitive remark that ruined my own evenings entertainment.

My grandmother, in the later stages of her alzheimers, paranoid we were poisoning her, slipping crushed up anti-anxiety meds into her tea still remembered she hated Leonard's "Mrrrhm, mrrrhm, mrrrhm" droning down from my fathers teenage bedroom.

Cohen's music means things to people. It clearly meant a lot to the lady sat beside me. She stood up and shouted "YOU, JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP" to a gent three rows back who was chatting softly to his mate through the first song. Scary stuff! Clearly she understood Leonard better than everyone else.

The passion that Cohen inspires amongst women of all ages is staggering. The overwhelming impression of carnal quasi-religious fervour was epitomised as a woman dressed in white walked up the aisles in front of the stage like a bride to get a snap of our hero sauntering his way through "That's no way to say goodbye".

The strange sexual undertone was heightened for me by the two women behind me whispering every line of "I'm Your Man" into my ear creating a kind of sexy invisible Greek Chorus alongside Cohen's beautiful baritone. The intensity of the "hear a pin drop" reaction to his reading of "One Thousand Kisses Deep" was a real highlight with a palpable waft of lust in the air.

His band were fantastic if you're into the kind of glistening, virtuosic Adult Oriented Lobby Jazz de rigeur for late period 60's icons. Being a snooty pretendy-avant-gardian git I'd prefer to have had Leonard playing with acoustic backing and treating us to doomy readings of Blake and Burns. But that would require a time machine and an audience of about twenty. This was, despite the wrong-headed myth of Cohen as some sort of tortured hermit, entertainment in the broadest sense and the experience was all the better for it. The crowd were there to enjoy themselves and my apprehension that we'd be stuck with inattentive liggers proved completely wrong. A couple from Shetland offered some of their wine to the people around them and apart from the early intensity of the cultist beside me everyone was friendlier and more open than a lot of trendier gatherings.

Despite not playing any of my four favourites (The Partisan, Famous Blue Raincoat, Last Years Man and Chelsea Hotel #2) the two and a half hour show didn't disappoint with Tower of Song, Hallelujah, Suzanne, One Thousand Kisses Deep and the rambunctious closer Closing Time being the dazzling gems in a cave littered with treasure.

Cohen's chops as a poet seems to have inspired some great work. I stumbled across genius Julian Gough material in comments on a Guardian BookBlog about Cohen. This is number IX in a series of X written late at night and made my heart sing.


You get up at five in the morning
And write poems about poetry for an hour and a half.
You are forty and you have no money and your trousers have split and nobody reads poetry.

But your wife is beautiful.
And your daughter is beautiful.
And you’re wearing a great shirt.
In a few hours you will all have coffee together.

You make a note at the top of a new page
“Write to Leonard Cohen and thank him before he dies.”


I have fond memories of Gough's old band Toasted Heretic, particularly "Songs for Swinging Celibates" which my cousin and I used to sing along to. I'm glad I've managed to master my enthusiasm in recent years as I fear my "genius" idea of singing "Galway Bay" at my wedding to my father in law may have contributed to recriminations that probably would have necessitated another fiver in a buskers' guitar case and a request to "Just play "Raincoat" man".

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