"There ain't no cure, there ain't no cure, there ain't no cure for love..."
When I was 14, I discovered mountain climbing. By 17 that was all I could think about; it's the same today, 5 decades later. Two of my climbing partners played the guitar and banjo whenever we were together, and that relationship with folk music became part of the whole mountain experience. I took guitar lessons and bought a little Martin "New Yorker". Woody Guthrie was the spiritual guru, although he himself was in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital as a result of Huntington's Chorea. We sang his songs, classics like "This Land is Your Land" and "Deportees"; I must have memorized dozens of them. The folk revival of the late 40's through the 50's had the effect of producing a number of popular musical groups, principally The Weavers, and later The Kingston Trio. Pete Seeger of the Weavers became a populist hero for his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, on the grounds that it would violate his First Amendment rights. His songs caught on, and I remember Curt Hawkins singing "The Bells of Rhymney" with his Martin 12-string guitar, the very same that Pete used. We would spend a good portion of the summer mountain climbing in the Tetons, where Bill Briggs, the famous Exum guide, would preside over 'Teton Tea Parties', singing and playing all night long. It was a memorable era; my friend Pete Sinclair in his book called us "The Last Innocent Americans."
1967. I was by then a graduate student at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, studying Near Eastern languages, a far cry from the Tetons. But I still loved folk music and attended concerts as far away as Boston just to hear singers like Michael Cooney, still singing I hear. Somewhere, I heard the song 'Suzanne' by Leonard Cohen and had to have the album, "Songs of Leonard Cohen", with its black cover and Leonard in sepia.
Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she let's the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind...
And the haunting "Sisters of Mercy":
I played the record until the groves were rounded. I still have it. Over the years each time I saw that Cohen had made a new album I bought it and memorized the songs. "
As the years passed, Leonard's voice dropped, sounding deeper, more monotone, more fatherly. The later albums, "I'm Your Man", and "The Future" had similar poetic qualities that touched my soul and forced me to play them over and over again. By now he had a great band and a group of singers who harmonized with him and at times seemed to take over the music, but never the lyrics.
(C) 1987 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
Years went by. The closest I came to Cohen was driving down the Alcan Highway through Canada on my long 1000-mile per day marathons on my way to the "Lower 48". Leonard Cohen CD's were for sale at every gas station, alongside Gordon Lightfoot. The Canadians were proud of their guy. So, imagine my surprise when I saw advertised in the summer of 2006 as a coming attraction at the Bear Tooth Bar and Grille in Anchorage, Alaska, "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man", a documentary of one of my favorite singers. The film was a tribute to Cohen, mostly based on a concert at the Sydney Opera House, where he is featured prominently, discussing his life, music, and books. He has such a dry sense of humor, particularly when describing the five years of his life as a Zen novitiate at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in California. The finale was his performance of "Tower of Song" accompanied by U2. All his life he has worn suits, and often a fedora; such a class act. No Beat overtones, no Hippy garb, just a respectable son of a Montreal haberdasher.
It is exquisite, the best thing he has ever done. The melodies are haunting, a pot pourri of his life's work. Clicking on the Google buttons I found that he has just started a world tour! So, in spite of living 4,000 miles away, I immediately bought tickets to his June 2 concert at the Red Rocks amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, where I can see him framed by the tremendous rock oucroppings of the Morrison formation, famous for dinosaur fossils. How fitting!
Click on the URL to hear Leonard's gravely voice purr out the latest "Suzanne" from London:
For a finale, listen to "Hallelujah", the song he sang to announce his return: