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Songwriter Leonard Cohen passes this way one last time

By Maria Saporta

When Leonard Cohen came out on stage at the Fox Theatre Tuesday night, he told the audience: “I don’t know when we’ll pass this way again, but I promise you that tonight, we will give you everything we’ve got.”

And Cohen, accompanied by an incredible collection of musicians and singers, did just that.

For nearly three-and-a-half hours Cohen, defied his age of 75, singing songs from all phases of his musical career — one spans more than four decades. Few songwriters have been able to do what he’s done — compose songs that have resonated and gained fame during each decade.

Tonight’s concert began with “Dance Me to the End of Love,” which came out in 1984. He then sang “The Future,” which came out in 1992 as one of three songs that was featured in the film Natural Born Killers. And then he sang “Like A Bird on a Wire,” which came out in 1969.

What a career. The songs have kept on coming — poetry put to music all featuring his distinctly ultra-deep voice that penetrates the sound waves. More recently, Cohen has softened his sound by adding the beautiful voices of three talented singers, each of whom took center-stage at different parts of the show.

One of the singers is Sharon Robinson, who Cohen referred to as his collaborator. In fact, she has written several of the more recent songs that he’s performed, such as “Everybody Knows.”

Usually, it’s others who are singing Leonard Cohen’s songs, such as Judy Collins singing “Suzanne.” And yes, Cohen played “Suzanne” along with “Hallelujah,” which has been recorded by too many artists to name.

The other two singers — the “sublime” Webb sisters who actually did cartwheels on stage — sang one of the most beautiful songs of the night: “If it be your will.”

One of the most phenomenal musicians on the tour is Javier Mas, of Zaragoza, Spain, who played with a Flamenco-flavored 12-string acoustic guitar, a bandurria, laud and archllaud.

Another tremendous musician was Dino Soldo, who play the saxophone and several wind instruments always introducing the perfect sounds to go with each song.

But it’s Cohen who is the center of gravity for all the musicians. At times he recited poetry, tinged sexual references and innuendos, which are prevalent in many of his songs.

Take the song: “I’m Your Man.”

If you want a lover
I’ll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I’ll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I’m your man

Later, in “Tower of Song,” he makes the rare acknowledgement that his finer days of love are behind him.

Well my friends are gone and my hair is gray
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day in the tower of song

One of the high points and surprises for me was when Cohen sang “Famous Blue Raincoat” as one of his encores.

It’s a letter to a male friend who has had an affair with Cohen’s girlfriend.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free
Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried

There’s something about Cohen’s songs and voice that I find so moving.

I remember the first time I ever heard his music. I was sitting in the Yale University dorm room of my sister’s then boyfriend, Flip Kunsberg. Flip played the record “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” which came out in 1967. Somehow Cohen’s songs became intertwined with Flip’s emotional intensity, and I was hooked.

Francie, my best friend then and now, shared my enthusiasm for Cohen and his songs.

Many of those songs still resonate: “Suzanne,” “The Stranger Song,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “So Long Marianne,” and “Hey That’s No Way to Say Good-bye.”

So seeing Cohen at the Fox Theatre with Francie and other friends who also grew up with him was a special moment in time. As Cohen foreshadowed at the beginning of the concert, he does not know when, or if, he’ll pass this way again. We are all getting older having to learn to appreciate the present because we are aware that there’s an expiration date for all of us.

As Cohen closed out the concert Tuesday night, he gave us all another one of his double-entendres.

“Good-night my darling. I hope you’re satisfied.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


1 Comment

  1. Ken Edelstein October 21, 2009 7:13 pm

    Great review, Maria — mainly, of course, because I agree with it ;-). Cohen managed to be a poet even when he introduced the members of his band to his audience. His delivery, his lyrics, the talent of the individual band members, the tightness of the band as a whole … and the goodwill he exhibited despite his downbeat lyrics. Wow.Report


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