Some people win the lottery -- and some get luckier. On Sunday, May 3, 2009, I went to the Leonard Cohen show at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. The show sold out almost immediately after being opened on Ticketmaster, and I also had some sticker shock: the lowest ticket cost $80. So I hedged, hawed, and drove down at about 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show.
Had to find an ATM after I talked to a guy with a ticket. Took out $120 -- a reasonable budget. I returned to see the line of people gone, and two lone scalpers left. "Need a ticket?" a middle-aged guy asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I've got a great one. Make me an offer. It's second row middle, the best you can get."
"Well, I don't know. I'm on a budget. I only have $100," I said.
"Okay, that's really low. This ticket is $250 face value."
"I'm on a budget, sorry. I was just talking to a guy who was going to sell me a ticket for $80."
"How about $125?"
"Uhh, how about $100?"
"Let's flip a coin."
"Is it two-sided?" I asked; he showed me a nickel. "Heads," I said. The coin said heads.
I bought a Heineken tallboy -- the $20 difference allowed this -- and I went in and found I had missed the first song, "Dance Me To The End of Love." I checked with the usher. "Where am I sitting?"
"You're going to see the spit on the stage," she said. Hmmm.
The song ended. I went down to the very front and showed the ticket to the usher. "You're in the middle," he said. Second row, middle, holding a ticket that said "$253.50" that I bought for $100. Unbelievable.
I had read this review of the Cohen shows, and apparently the shows are pretty structured. So the set list above, that I got after the show from a roadie, is exactly as the show went. No kidding -- it was W3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUUsZ">a three-hour show with four encores. Every song I could think of, and only a couple I had not heard, and all of which I loved. And I was within 20 feet of the rail-thin, 74-year-old Canadian Jewish-Buddhist-monk folk artist whose only peer in songwriting is Bob Dylan. And he got on both knees to sing "Chelsea Hotel #2":
A man near us was excessively excited throughout the show. "Leonard!" he'd holler. Cohen heard him say "1993," after the singer said "It's been a while since I've toured....I was 60. Just a kid with a dream."
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."
I felt the same as the very-excited middle-aged guy. "That's my guy" is what I thought to myself, thinking of Cohen.
The show was complex but simple; there were three backup singers, a keyboardist, bassist, drummer, saxophonist, Spanish guitar player, and Cohen. It felt at different parts like a sermon I could groove to, then a cabaret show, then a late-night jazz club session. Each word took on a significance I had sensed but not felt in my Leonard Cohen album listening -- a mix of immediacy, wryness, humility, and literary pathos. And his singing was in tune and not off-putting at all.
Sharon Robinson, Cohen's collaborator on his albums from the last decade or so, was amazing in person. (It's her set list I have.) The backing band musicians and singers would do solos and Cohen would remove his hat and listen intently. He twice introduced the band with much eloquence.
Like a true storyteller, single words from Cohen took on poetic depth. In "The Partisan," a song about a French soldier on the run from German Nazis:
I had a vision of a French peasant woman tortured but angelically resistant.
An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.
There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.
Cohen remade the lyrics to a number of songs; the words pass me by, but I remember the lyricism. Some of the songs are just titanic for me, and I got to hear the inflection and emphasis from the man himself, like in "Famous Blue Raincoat," a song about infidelity:
Cohen's poem reading is seriously good, like hearing poetry read in a bygone era. He introduced the song "If It Be Your Will" as a poem to begin:
It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record.
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?
Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene
And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife.
This came out offering the sensation of a recitation of the Nicene Creed.
If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
Leonard Cohen's voice can go so low! From "Tower of Song," he sang, "I was born with the gift of a golden voice...."
So, I won the lottery with the Cohen show. I remember him raising his hat and looking to the balcony with the light hitting his eyes, acknowledging a standing ovation. And then his closing wishes to the audience were insightful: "I wish you all the love of friends and family, and if solitute is your way, may it be light."
I hope that I am that cool when I am 74:
I dreamed about you, baby.
It was just the other night.
Most of you was naked
Ah but some of you was light.