Tuesday, April 14, 2009


At the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles last weekend, we saw the great Leonard Cohen in concert--an absolute delight! I've been an ardent fan since my college days, when I saw him play solo in a small Chicago club. Canadian by birth, Cohen grew up in a Jewish family in a wealthy neighborhood of Montreal. A lugubrious romantic, his somber songs have always been more popular in Britain and Europe than in the United States (I remember hearing his gravelly voice droning from a phonograph in a Paris neighborhood when I was going to school there in 1975).

But unlike many listeners, I've never found his music depressing. Even his most bitter song ("Everybody Knows") has a jokey joyousness, an undertone of pleasure. This cosmic sense of acceptance seems to have only increased with age. His last time out, fourteen years ago, we saw him perform at the Wiltern Theater in LA. Since then he spent five years in seclusion at the Zen retreat on Mt. Baldy. It appears to have done him some good. He seems less melancholy--dare I say even happy?--and could be seen at the Nokia literally skipping across the stage. Many of his most impassioned songs were performed on bended knee, and his voice seems to have grown even deeper and more resonant. At times in the large hall of the Nokia, he reached the sustained, guttural lows of a Tibetan Gyuto monk. Cohen is 74 years old.

From the Nokia concert, someone YouTubed this cell phone video of his performance of Hallelujah. It's one of his most famous and frequently covered songs. He discussed it in 1997 in this interview with Chris Doritos, where he also played a unique and thrilling Flamenco version of the song, performed by the Spaniard Enrique Morente. For years the recording was unavailable; now you can listen to it HERE. Crank up the volume, close your eyes, sit back and relax like a monk--I guarantee you'll be catapulted into transcendent realms of bliss. Hallelujah!