The Future Has Arrived
May 5, 2009, 3:39 am
Filed under: Chicago, Music, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

I am heartened by the extent to which Leonard Cohen has been adopted as a beloved cultural icon by my generation, mainly because I think he is one of a divinely sanctioned few who have genuinely earned the title.  Although I had of course heard of him before that, I finally stumbled into his music in spring of 1992 in the midst of an emotional crisis.  His voice and melodies drew me in, but the words and their ever-changing shades of meaning are what have made Leonard Cohen’s songs so enduring.  A perfect example is “Democracy,” which is from 1992 but rings more true in my ears now than it did at the time:

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Of course we cannot be too self-congratulatory, because to hear this song also forces us to recognize that it has taken us seventeen years and a lot of harsh lessons to get to this point.

Not coincidentally, these last few years have also taught Leonard Cohen a few harsh lessons.   Everybody knows he wouldn’t be touring if he didn’t need the money, but that’s how it goes.  Wednesday will be my second time seeing him, as I was lucky enough to catch his Park West show in 1994 (not 1992, as I may have mistakenly written elsewhere).  We had seats near the front and this was his last U. S. tour with Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, so I felt blessed and blissed indeed to be there.  I assumed it had been my one and only chance to see him, but now his fiscal misfortunes have compelled him to give things another whirl.  To see this show is an extravagance we can hardly afford, and I was initially baffled by the mad ticket frenzies that ensued when both Chicago shows went on sale.  Only since then have I really grasped that at least one more generation has wholeheartedly embraced his music since that 1994 tour, and for them it is not only their last chance to see him but also their first.

The great thing about seeing Leonard Cohen perform live is that he knows he is no musican.  He does LC as no one else can, but he also surrounds himself with outstanding musicians who provide a sweetly melodic counterpoint to his time-gravelled tones.  This is why his live albums are uniformly excellent, despite my habitual disdain for the form.  Cohen frequently directs attention to his band during shows in a way that shows he knows how good they are, which makes the whole thing even more of a mutual appreciation society.  The positive energy flows in all directions at a Leonard Cohen show.  The audience appreciates both Leonard and the band, Leonard appreciates the band and the audience, and each band member plays as if they are thrilled to be there and know they have an integral role in the proceedings.  Cohen’s whole approach to performing speaks of a deep respect for the audience, right down to the email reminder I received today that he will take the stage promptly at 8:00.  I appreciate the care and preparation this reflects and will accordingly return this respect by being in my seat at the Chicago Theatre well before showtime on Wednesday May 6, ready to give my full attention to a man who has earned it several times over.

Here’s a clip of “Democracy” from his new live video, filmed in London in 2008.  Leonard may admittedly be a bit more grandfatherly than he was in 1994, but I’d still hit it:

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