I once heard Leonard Cohen, the much heralded Canadian singer, tagged as the “godfather of gloom” with his musical leanings towards melancholy, anguish and loss of love. It seemed rather harsh. I recently got a copy of his two CD album with 25 songs “Live in London” recorded last year at the O2 Arena in London on July 17, 2008. His voice has become deeper and more mellow over the years- a huge plus for his haunting lyrics of romantic love, personal confession and acceptance of change that characterise much of his singing.
All memorable songs are there. Hallelujah, Everybody Knows, Suzanne, Tower of Song, Democracy, My Secret Life plus some well hearsed and delivered with aplomb some short quips that he employs on his world tour.Cohen engages with his audience unlike Mr. Detachment himself, beloved Bob Dylan. After a long absence from the stage, Leonard Cohen, with his years of Zen practice (and later months with the non-dual teacher, Ramesh Balsekar in Mumbai, he came out of the monastery and found that his entire savings of $8.4 million had disappeared leaving him $150,000 due to withdrawals of his manager. He also had huge bills from the lawyers trying to sort out his misssing wealth.
His loss proved to be the gain of his fans as it took Leonard on a world tour to earn some money. Actually, lots of it. He commented to a packed hall and at many other concerts about the long time since he had been on a world tour. “It’s been a long time. Maybe 15 years. I was 60 years old then: just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of Prozac,Wellbutrin, Effexor, Ritalin. I also studied deeply religion and philosophy but cheerfulness kept breaking through.” (his quip generated much applause from the audience).
He then added: “I can say there is something that cannot be easily contradicted. There ain’t no cure for love.” I would not disagree with that for a moment. Leonard (born 1935) has had many decades of romantic involvement with beautiful women. The Buddha would also agree that there ain’t no cure for love.
During the late 1990’s, Leonard Cohen persuaded the then music critic of the Los Angeles Times to sit a retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, USA. I asked the critic, who was attending my retreat there; “Why did you fly from the West Coast to the East Coast to sit a nine day retreat at IMS rather than on the West Coast?”
The critic said that Leonard Cohen had heard that IMS was the “Boot Camp” of meditation centres. (Boot Camp is known as a severe training centre for the marines). I laughed and replied. “No, it’s not. It’s the Boot Hill of centres.” (Boot Hill was the graveyard of cowboys in Tombstone, Arizona, in the time of the Wild West).
Leonard made an indirect reference to his very, very elderly Zen teacher,Sasaki Roshi who lives on the West Coast of the USA as abbot of a Zen Monastery where the singer spent best part of three years.
“I was drinking with my old teacher…he’s 102 now,” Cohen told the audience before introducing “Tower Of Song.” “He was 97 at the time. I poured him a drink, he clinked my glass and said, ‘Excuse me for not dying,’ and I kinda feel the same way…I wanna thank you for the many years that you’ve kept my songs alive.” Another huge cheer.
Thank you, Leonard, for living in the tower of song.