…A sip of wine, a cigarette, and then it’s time to go. I tidied up the kitchenette; I tuned the old banjo. I’m wanted at the traffic jam. They’re saving me a seat. I’m what I am, and what I am, is back on Boogie Street...
—Leonard Cohen, Boogie Street
There we are, exiting the New Jersey Turnpike on a Friday afternoon, traveling at great speed under the overpasses of Hoboken. Slowing down as we reach Lincoln Tunnel. Snaking our way left and right between car and tourbus, tourbus and car. Winding down and down and down, spiraling as we get closer to the tunnel. Stopping. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The New York skyline just ahead through the windshield – hazy and hot for May. A giant hole resides where the towers used to be. And as I watch and wait for traffic to start up, Leonard’s song shuffles onto the iPod. And there I am. Back on Boogie Street.
It’s been 10 years since Hubby and I ventured to NYC – 10 years. We traveled there then to visit friends in the fresh bloom of our romance. We’d only been dating a month at the most. The bloom wasn’t yet off the flower as they say. And actually it still isn’t. But back then we didn’t know each other as well and so tiptoed around one another as new lovers do. Hesitant, questioning. A bit afraid to show the other our true self. I was a different person 10 years ago. More afraid. Less sure and quick to jump in with both feet. Back then it was one toe in the water, if at all. Although I’d been to NYC numerous times, 10 years ago the place still frightened me. It was a place of hide your purse and watch your back. But as I would learn over the course of a short weekend, things change. It started with that wait at the Lincoln Tunnel. Where before my heart might have started beating faster, this time it actually slowed. As I gazed at the skyline, oddly, New York felt like a homecoming.
We drove up specifically to see Leonard Cohen, who, after his manager ran off with his money Madoff-style, was forced out of a self-imposed-Buddhist-monk-retirement-existence into touring again. At age 75, Leonard would be performing at Radio City Music Hall. Since Hubby is a rabid fan, he scrambled to get these “last chance before he’s gone” tickets. I just wanted to go to New York again. Leonard? Eh. I just wanted New York.
And as we strolled Manhattan that weekend, doing all those cliched New York things like watching the yacht races in Central Park, eating smoked fish at Barney Greengrass, gazing at sculptures in the Met, and walking the streets of Chelsea, right by the hotel in fact, I felt (corny to say) reborn. I was a different person in New York THIS time. The city finally fit me. Before it felt too big, too intimidating, too fast. Now it was just right. I felt like I was running the city, the city wasn’t running me. I felt like a better, fuller version of myself. Like I had finally grown into my own skin. My fear was gone and instead of anxiety, I only felt enjoyment.
Even the enormous crowds at Radio City didn’t phase me – where 10 years ago I would have hyperventilated and made a beeline for a bathroom stall. This time I just breathed it all in and rode the wave – let the crowd and the feeling of being in the crowd wash over me. And the show? It was incredible. Leonard was simply amazing – so amazing I felt like a complete idiot for suggesting to Hubby that Leonard’s music resembled something you’d sing at a FUNERAL. Well, yeah, it does, but live? Here the songs come to life. Leonard brings them to life. Not only does his deep baritone resonate right to the heart of your soul, but he is so engaging and childlike you become caught up in the happiness he is feeling. Leonard skipped around that stage in his suit and fedora like a six-year-old boy, gleeful and mischievous like he’d just won at a game of marbles by cheating.
It was then I realized Leonard isn’t a depressing person. He’s just in love. So deeply in love with women, and love, and sex, and life that every song reflects it. He’s not singing sad, he’s singing love. He’s the Pablo Neruda of pop – all his songs dripping with so much innuendo I found I needed some air when intermission rolled around! And when he’s not singing love, he’s singing justice, and spirituality, and loss, and death, and wonder, and all the things philosophers have been pondering for thousands of years. In his fedora and suit, skipping around, going down on one knee to pray and then to arise and sing and skip some more. He was like a playful mix of Pan, Tom Jones, and a Zen Buddhist priest all rolled into one. And Pablo Neruda. And Bugs Bunny. With a little bit of superhero thrown in for good measure because the man sang for THREE HOURS.
Yes, THREE hours. He sang for an hour, took a 12-minute intermission, then sang for two more. At age 75. I couldn’t even go up and down on one knee without a great deal of agony much less sing for three hours and I’m almost half his age! Maybe it’s all that Buddhist meditation he’s been doing, but the man was spry.
And when he wasn’t spry, he was grateful. Thankfully for the jumbotrons we were able to see it. Several times when he began to speak or sing the crowd went wild, yelling, clapping. We were grateful too. To have Leonard back on Boogie Street again. Right by Chelsea. In New York again. Everyone knew why we were clapping and it made us clap harder. And Leonard just basked, his face a beaming smile of gratitude. Bathing in our appreciation. Taking it all in. Remembering it.
The biggest yells came during Everybody Knows when he sang, “Take one last look at this sacred heart before it blows…” The crowd went wild. And I started to cry. Because the irony of the statement – that this would more than likely be the first and last time I’d ever see him on stage – washed over me in a flood of emotion I didn’t expect. Which is why the concert was so mind-blowing. All those surprises. New York City. Leonard. The weekend. It was all just too awesome.
I cried at least 5 times during his show. When he performed 1,000 Kisses Deep as a spoken word rather than a song. When I realized he looked just like my Pop-Pop in that suit and fedora. When I realized how much love emanated from this man. And when he beamed at the crowd for the last time during the third encore. Amazing. He wore a face of gratitude that in my wildest dreams I could never hope to emulate. Does that come from meditation? Or does he feed on the love from the crowd? Or does he just live in the moment? I don’t know, but in this day and age, we should bottle it, because hell knows, we sure could use more of it.
I am so floored by the man’s aura (for want of a better word) I haven’t even mentioned the incredible musicians he surrounded himself with – drummer, bassist, backup singers, a one-man horn section. And probably the most beautiful Flamenco guitar playing I’ve ever heard in my life – whole sections of melody so complicated, fast, yet light as a feather it was like his fingers were butterflies alighting on the strings. And oh yeah, that playing made me cry too – and I don’t think I was the only one. The entire audience was rapt the whole three hours. Never have I been to a concert so silent when you’re supposed to be. Not one cell phone, not one ignorant bastard whispering when they should be appreciating. It was GREAT.* And on the walk home it began to rain……hard. We laughed, running under an awning to wait out the storm. Another cliched New York moment. Except we had just seen Leonard Cohen at Radio City Music Hall. Neither one of us could stop smiling.
Needless to say I too am now a rabid fan. I walk around humming Everybody Knows under my breath. When things don’t go my way (or when they do) I sing Boogie Street. I feel cheated I came to his music so late. But so grateful that when I did it was with a wallop. I saw him where it all began, at the height of his fame (2 sold out shows tells me that) and in Radio City, a place so architecturally decadent, so ultra-Art-Deco-New York, I can’t imagine seeing him anywhere else. And I saw him at a time when I was the “new” me, the better me, the stronger me. The me that is unafraid and so can take it all in as it happens and be in the moment too. Thank you Mr. Cohen.
Leonard Cohen’s Setlist
May 16, 2009
Radio City Music Hall
New York City, NY
Dance Me to the End of Love
Ain’t No Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Waiting for the Miracle
Tower of Song
Sisters of Mercy
Take This Waltz
I’m Your Man
1,000 Kisses Deep
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
I Tried to Leave You
Whither Thou Goest
* Find myself running out of words to describe this show, but hopefully you get the idea…