Wednesday, May 06, 2009

An Evening with Leonard Cohen

Last night was our expedition to the gorgeous Chicago Theater in the Loop to see my all-time favorite, Leonard Cohen, in concert. I've spent some time trying to think of a way to explain Leonard Cohen to people who aren't familiar with him. I guess the best I can do is say you probably are familiar with him — you just don't know it. He has written many songs that other singers made lots of money with. I think the first was Judy Collins, singing Suzanne. His most recent "hit" is something called Hallelujah, which was covered by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright (the better of the two). You heard Hallelujah in the movie Shrek. His music has been called a collaboration between Thomas Merton and Jacques Brel, and that sounds just right.

Leonard has been around for a while. His first album was released in 1967, and I'm pretty sure I was a fan before that. Seriously.

Leonard stopped touring during the 1990s and spent five years as a monk in a Buddhist monastery. He left that, he said, because "it was too hard." Besides, "cheerfulness kept breaking through." When he left the monastery, he discovered that his business manager had stolen his money. So much for cheerfulness, I guess.

Now in his 70s, he had to go back on tour. I really wanted to see this show, and so did Suellen, who became a Leonard fan in the 1970s when she met a strange guy she was later foolish enough to marry. The story of getting tickets is told here. Thanks again to our friend, Ted.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to get there. We could have driven, but finally decided we'd take the L downtown, and a cab home. The L is a couple of blocks from our house, and three blocks from the theater, which is about the outer limits of Suellen's mobility right now, but she wanted to do it this way. Riding downtown at 6:45 p.m. looks like this:

The train was pretty empty because most people were riding in the other direction. Once we got downtown, I took some pictures on the way, just to give non-Chicagoans a feel for the trip.

That's the Loop L tracks over Lake Street on the right. Finally, we turn a corner, and voila!

Inside the theater, I had some time to take pictures. You may notice that most of the audience is about my age, which is to say, they have achieved their prime. Or, as Leonard says, "My friends are gone and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play."

Yes, we had front row balcony seats! And below are some of the poor chumps who didn't!

So here are some pictures of the 3-hour concert.

I said Leonard is in his 70's; he's 74, to be precise. People in the music business had to work on him for several years to get him to agree to tour again. He didn't think people would turn out. This concert was a sell-out the first day tickets were available, and a second night was quickly scheduled -- which also sold out. While talking to the audience, Leonard reflected that the last time he had been on stage in Chicago was 15 years ago, when he was "just a crazy kid with a dream."

He's quite dapper. The following verse got a big cheer from the women in the audience.

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.

— From Chelsea Hotel, a song about Janis Joplin.

After several encores, at 11:30 the crowd poured onto State Street. Suellen was feeling okay and didn't want to take a cab. Too expensive.

So we took the L back home again. We had enough company to feel quite comfortable.

We walked in our front door at 12:30 a.m. We had a wonderful time, but I'm glad I don't do this every night.


sjm said...

If I see no other live music in my life, I will be content with having seen Leonard live. Hard to believe that when I first heard him in 1974 (on those vinyl records that we lost in the basement flood), that it would take until 2009 for the "live" experience.

troutay said...

How lovely! I am so glad you had a wonderful time. Wish I could have gone.

Jeannelle said...

What a wonderful post. I wanted to climb right in and ride along in one of those empty seats on the L. Since the concert was sold out, I'd have settled for wandering around downtown Chicago....would that be safe? The only thing missing from your post is the sound of Leonard Cohen's music. Alas, I am one of the folks unfamiliar with him. Sounds like he's had an interesting life. Will check on YouTube.

Jeannelle said...

Oh, land, I feel like an DID have YouTube links in your post....I hadn't checked them yet. I thought they were reviews "covered" by reporters. Forgive me.....

MikeH said...

There's a long interview (42 min.) with Leonard Cohen on CBC's QTV Channel on Youtube. Listening to the man speak is riveting. I think he has definitely earned his position as part of a Canadian living cultural heritage.

Anonymous said...

I was in the center right floor seating in row 12, and was quite content with that until I saw the view that Bob and Suellen had. But not to mope too much. This may sound like a strange comparison, but Leonard and Patti Smith are alone intheir own orbit, in my estimation, as poets and msuicians whose genius and depth and courage makes them both forces of nature. And I have never before described people in those term.

Thanks for the great pictures. You remain a photographic virtuoso!