Save the last dance for me

1 Dec

When a performer has reached the age of  seventy-nine one can be forgiven for fearing every appearance might be his last, and it was clear at Leonard Cohen’s concert in Brisbane last night that thought has also crossed his mind.

Though he is enviably fit (he drops to his knees with strength of feeling, and there’s not a catch in his voice when he rises again without even putting his hands on the floor) and his voice has thrillingly deepened since I saw him last some three years ago, he is an old man and I have prepared myself for last night to be the final time I see him.

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey 
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 
Oh in the Tower of Song

The man was on stage for well over three hours, finally remarking that he really wouldn’t mind if we all decided to go home, but nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to leave him,  and we stamped and clapped and yelled “More please, more please,” like two-year-olds presenting our empty bowls for refills.

And refill them he did. Perhaps it’s to do with his sojourn in a Buddhist monastery, but Cohen has a talent for living in the moment that allows him to sing every song as if it’s the first performance, with a freshness and passion that lets the audience hear the lyrics anew, even though some of us can recite them in our sleep. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who can do exactly the same thing, performers for whom Cohen expresses the most gracious respect, granting them time and space to shine as he steps quietly away, his hat doffed, his head bowed in deference to artists such as Javier Mas, the “sublime” Webb Sisters, and long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, whose breathtaking interpretation of Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving” I present here for your pleasure.

Music is, of course, from and for the emotions, but it takes a rare talent in any genre to convey the kind of feeling that deeply moves the heart, mind, body and spirit. Cohen and his fellows share the ability to imperceptibly nudge their audience out of the everyday into the realms of poetry, that is, to evoke meaning over and above the prosaic, the obvious. Cohen stirs the emotional imagination, the man can’t help it, a brief account of his journey through the Brisbane tunnels on his way to the Entertainment Centre becomes a metaphor for life. The tunnels were therapeutic, he says. He entered them feeling not so well but by the time he emerged he was feeling splendid. Through darkness into light: there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Although Buddhism became a significant part of Cohen’s life, like Bob Dylan he is also fascinated by Christian imagery, and often references the traditions of that faith, especially in his latest album, “Old Ideas.”

I have to add here that there’s not much else Dylan & Cohen have in common attitudinally. Cohen assumes everybody likes him and won’t hold it against them if they don’t. Dylan assumes everybody is his enemy and especially hates them if they like him. I could write a thesis comparing the two, and I might well one day.

“Old Ideas” has the feeling of a man preparing for the end of his life, especially the quite lovely “Come Healing:” Behold the gates of mercy in arbitrary space, and none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace…

Yet it is a measure of Cohen’s astounding talent that he can imbue the 1960’s Drifters classic “Save the Last Dance for Me,” recorded by, among many, Dolly Parton, the appalling Michael Buble, Ike & Tina Turner, Harry Nilsson, Emmylou Harris et al, with such poignancy, as he performs it as his last song of the evening (no matter how much we shout and plead he’s skipped off stage, yes, he skips, and he won’t come back) and the familiar song takes on the quality of a farewell to the audience that he loves, but knows he must finally leave, and he wants us not to forget him, he wants us to save our last dance for him cos he loves us, oh so much.

Ah, Leonard. Right back at ya.

16 Responses to “Save the last dance for me”

  1. 8 Degrees of Latitude December 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Ah, Jennifer, that’s beautiful. And so is Leonard Cohen.


  2. 8 Degrees of Latitude December 1, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on 8degreesoflatitude and commented:
    This is a great read. It’s about a great performer.


  3. Anonymous December 1, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    “Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back.

    They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track,

    But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone …

    I’ll be speaking to you sweetly …

    From a window in the Tower of Song.”


  4. paul walter December 2, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Funny state of affairs we have come to, when normality or humanity becomes so rare that it becomes comment worthy.
    Springsteen, the blue collar Cohen, also typifies an affection for honesty that has seen him, paradoxically given the current zeit giest, survive. In fact a whole group of survivors from the rock era have succeeded and prospered despite or because of, their weltanschuang.Their consciousness has served them well against the dominant strand of cynicism and conformism and I’d even include the ultimate naughty boy, Jagger, because they and he have had the human equipment somehow, to cope with flattery and repudiate dishonesty and conceit, to reason and then say some thing about life, the status quo and humanity and how things work.


  5. paul walter December 2, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    I suppose,when I say honesty, I mean the ability to comprehend that adversity is also part of life and fundamental to meaning and value creation. The view rejects a Brady Bunch or “comfortably numb” world view and proposes instead that we are subject of and to process and processes beyond control; there is consequence and rarely, grace, a phenomena that is not cornucopic, as “sitcom world” has proposed.
    Sadly it has suited too many to maintain the deceit and embrace the illusion, but the cognitive landscape, once perceived, has THEN the power to set us free once we no longer demand of it what it can’t bestow. If there is no relief from this point we can take comfort from the certainity that death ends grief, for all flesh.


  6. paul walter December 2, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I wasted my own time, because I had missed the other thread on this. I want to go back and play with “sublimity” for a while.


  7. Darrell December 2, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Thanks Jennifer..
    And, here in response to your ode to Leonard, I begin with a quote from the last chapter of James Hillman’s book ‘Re-Visioning Psychology’..

    Since this contrast between northern Reformation & southern Renaissance is archetypal, it is fraught with perils. Some of these archetypal considerations are noted.. The north-south pair brings with it the psychological symbolism of the upper & lower polarity, so that the opposition of Reformation & Renaissance immediately takes on more than historical significance. One of the root metaphors of the field of Renaissance studies is just this polarity. “The Renaissance” easily becomes an instrument for attacking “the North”: Reformation, pietism, modernity, rationality, practicality, Superego, & so on. Again Nietzsche provides the overstated maxim for this idea of the Renaissance: “Does anybody at last understand, will anybody understand what the Renaissance was? The transvaluation of Christian values, the attempt undertaken with all means, all instincts & all genius to make the opposite values, the noble values triumph.. there has never yet been a more decisive question than the Renaissance.”

    Yes, Leonard, a master who speaks from depths of the anima within us all, like an Ode to psyche or Soul.. Talk about a Renaissance Man.. And, speaking of artists, here I am about to write my latest blog about Psyche & Soul.. the anima within us all.. The Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi…. And, meanwhile all this too while also earlier reading some more from James Hillman’s classic work on the human psyche, titled *‘Re-Visioning Psychology’.. Hillman of course also being another recent renaissance figure, as a champion or warrior for psyche.. While speaking of “death” or one’s own mortality, Hillman also recently left this world towards the end of 2011.. And, then all this with my recently listening & watching, & being immersed in a series of lectures with Richard Tarnas, author of Passion of the Western Mind, & Cosmos & Psyche, from a course on Hillman & Archetypal Psychology.. And, speaking of “dancing”.. To whom is it we are all seeking to dance, none other than our own psyche, or Souls.. Hillman, as Tarnas says, was also truly an artist, with words, & with a deep appreciation for the power of language, just like Leonard. They both share a poetic allegiance to the “Fallen world”.. And, meanwhile all this too as I also listen to an mp3 recording titled *‘Healing Storm’….

    While I also of course once again in the Spirit of Jung, I turn to note the symbols for the Ascendant at this time of my having finished reading this little ode to Leonard, beginning at *14degAqu.. A TRAIN ENTERING A TUNNEL.. The ability to short cut the process of natural evolution by the exercise of will, mental skill & physical Self discipline.. While also moving towards the next degree, at *15degAqu.. TWO LOVEBIRDS SITTING ON A FENCE & SINGING HAPPILY.. The blessing bestowed upon personal achievements by the Spiritually fulfilled Consciousness of the Soul…..

    *NB: The Sabian Symbols taken from Dane Rudhyar’s book ‘An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformation & Its 360 Symbolic Phases’…


  8. doug quixote December 3, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    I suppose that at the age of 79 one may as well go on doing what one has been doing for 60 years or so!

    He is truly remarkable. I enjoy his poetry as poetry, and setting the poems to music is an excellent way to present them. In this he is exemplary.

    Inspirational and truly a living treasure.


    • garpal gumnut December 20, 2013 at 12:10 am #

      While not denying Leonard Cohen’s gift with words, I have found his music monotonous and slumber inducing, suited more imo to praying nuns, priests and love capable males and females lacking assertiveness.
      He is a cave to which the common man or woman, retreats for shelter from a real world. An echo, without narcissus or water.
      Cohen is now just gifting you his largesse because of reported financial problems with dodgy managers and the the GFC. Global Financial Crisis. He lost a motza in 2004 and his present tour, I believe, is more about repairing his finances at $168.60 a throw from the believers, than any musical or poetic statement.
      This is religion writ large, and like all religions, garners it’s believers like a Pied Piper as at Hamelin.
      I can think of better ways to spend $168.60 rather than on a pleonast performing to a background of sibilant mumming zimmers.
      I am alone in this view according to Mrs Gumnut and have emailed Leonard, to write a suitable ditty entitled “For Garpal” to assauge my pain.


      • hudsongodfrey December 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

        Yet if I had the $580 reportedly required to see Mick & Keith stoll their bones past hanging rock then I’d be happy to part with it. Bit steep tho’ for my blood!


      • doug quixote December 21, 2013 at 12:11 am #

        Pleonast, Gumnut? Hoist on your own petard.

        Why bother to attack – just to annoy?


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