The incomparable Leonard Cohen performed last week at the Beacon Theater in
How great was the performance? National Public Radio called it “historic and a knockout.” Eric Alterman at The Nation Magazine reported it was “one of the hardest tickets to get I’ve ever seen in
At 74, Mr. Cohen is nine years Mick Jagger’s senior and two years older than John McCain. But he is remarkably limber, skipping on and off the stage during his three-hour show and repeatedly dropping to his knees to sing.
Mr. Cohen appears to see performance and prayer as aspects of the same larger divine enterprise. That may not be surprising, coming from an artist whose best-known songs mingle sacred concerns with the secular and the sexual . . .
“Hallelujah” has been recorded almost 200 times, with two different versions reaching the Top 10 in
About the meaning of those songs, Mr. Cohen is diffident and elusive. Many are, he acknowledges, “muffled prayers,” but beyond that he is not eager to reveal much.
“It’s difficult to do the commentary on the prayer,” he said. “I’m not a Talmudist, I’m more the little Jew who wrote the Bible,” a reference to a line in “The Future,” a song he released in 1992. “I feel it doesn’t serve the enterprise to really examine it from outside the moment.”
Jennifer Warnes, the singer whose 1986 recording of “Famous Blue Raincoat” helped revive interest in Mr. Cohen at a time when he was out of critical favor, said: “He has investigated a lot of deities and read all the sacred books [. . . ]. It’s for his own healing that he reaches for those places. If he has one great love, it is his search for God.”
Mr. Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. . . .
Zen has also helped him to learn to “stop whining,” Mr. Cohen said, and to worry less about the choices he has made. “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”
You can listen to 12 songs from the Beacon Theater concert, recorded live, by going to the NPR web site here. His remarkable voice, after all these years, is still moving, still in the Tower of Song.
As we head into Shabbat, here is Leonard Cohen singing "Hallelujah" in 1968, followed by his 2006 poem "Argument."
You might be a person who likes to
argue with Eternity. A good way to
begin such an Argument is:
Why do You rule against me
Why do You silence me now
When will the Truth be on my lips
And the Light be on my brow?
After some time has passed, the answer to these questions percolating upwards from the pit of your stomach, or downwards from the crown of your hat, or having been given, at last, the right pill, you might begin to fall in love with the One who asked them; and perhaps then you will cry out, as so many of our parents did:
Blessed be the One
Who has sweetened