2009.05.13 Paying tribute to L. Cohen

Written by David Green.


Oh, ye of little faith...

My wife suspected I might be driving to Detroit for nothing Saturday night. I knew I was going to the Fox Theatre for a rare performance by Leonard Cohen. She thought I was just a sucker.

I went to a few concerts back in my college days, then it pretty much dropped off. I remember seeing Roberta Flack in Ann Arbor a year out of college and then Harry Chapin the next year.

I was living in Saginaw; Chapin performed at Saginaw Valley College, as it was called at the time. It was a fantastic concert, perhaps a show to end all shows, because I never went to another large-venue performance after that day in 1974.

That’s troubled my wife off and on through the years. Colleen has tried to get me to shows when one of my odd favorites was in Ann Arbor or Detroit, but I never would. I figure I’d rather use the money to buy their music and enjoy it forever rather than listen for just one night. Silly reasoning? Sure it is. I learned that Saturday night. It’s not just the songs passing through my mind; now I can also see Cohen in my mind forever.

I let Leonard Cohen pass by in 1993 when he last visited Detroit. This time, in what might be his last tour, I was feeling some heavy pressure to go. Sybil Diccion knew I was a Cohen fan and she working pretty hard on me. Colleen joined in.

One day I finally went on-line to take a look at the ticket options at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. I wasn’t interested in the thousand-dollar seats in the front row. Even the mid-section seemed quite expensive and I figured the gallery in the back might be too far away to see much.

I tried eBay and found a pair in the front row of the front gallery. I put in a bid and few days later the tickets were mine. As I was telling daughter Maddie about my plans, I said to myself, “Well, here we go.” I hadn’t told Colleen any details because I knew she would think I was nuts.

She asked if I had received the tickets yet and I had to tell her they weren’t being mailed to me. I would pick them up at the Fox before the show. I tried to convince her the deal was legitimate.

“He even offered to fax a photocopy of the sales receipt and his driver’s license,” I said.

“And you didn’t ask for it, did you?” she said. Ah, she knows me well.

Eventually my seller did fax it over, along with a note giving me permission to pick up the tickets on my own, if necessary. I really wanted to meet the guy, but I had expressed some concern about the possibility of getting stuck in traffic and arriving late.

Colleen agreed to go with me, but she wasn’t sure she was really up for three hours of Leonard Cohen. I checked with a college friend, Deby MacGregor, who could easily endure him for an evening.

My seller, Chris, was to drive up from Athens, Ohio, for the show. He sent a link to Google Street View and suggested we meet under the word “Hamburger” at Johnny Rockets near the Fox.

Maddie dropped Deby and me off, then drove off to meet up with a friend. I soon noticed a problem. Since the Street View camera drove by to record the scene, Johnny Rockets had disappeared. There was no Hamburger sign, just a completely different restaurant.

We walked around the area looking for someone who resembled the grainy fax photo. Since we would be searching for someone, I had made a sign showing a word search with the guy’s name highlighted, along with the words “Fox” and “Cohen.”

I walked along the sidewalk and aimed the sign at likely people, but there were no takers. I finally realized we weren’t where the word “Hamburger” once appeared. We moved to the spot, I flashed the sign and there was Chris, with his wife pointing at us.

And who is Leonard Cohen? you ask. The Canadian songwriter was never much of a popular culture performer. He was already an established poet when his first and only radio hit, “Suzanne,” was released in 1967.

I asked the guy in his 20s sitting next to us at the Fox what drew him to the Cohen. It was the song “Hallelujah”—sung by Jeff Buckley and used in the movie “Shrek”—that caught him initially, then he dug deeper and discovered 40 years of intriguing lyrics.

Cohen has a voice that not everyone enjoys, but his words are used by many. From Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to Harry Belafonte and the Neville Brothers, dozens and dozens of others have recorded his music.

Enjoying Cohen often seems like a solitary endeavor, but now I know there are at least 5,000 enthusiastic fans in the area because the Fox was packed.

Leonard Cohen is now 74 years old, but he gave a remarkable performance that lasted nearly three a half hours, his voice still strong and resonant.

As he closed the show, he hinted that he might not be back to the beautiful Fox. He wished us all to be surrounded by family and friends, or if we preferred, blessed in our solitude.

From his melancholy but somehow hopeful songs, that’s Leonard’s life—wishing for warm company and too often finding himself alone.

“But let’s not talk of love or chains

And things we can’t untie

Your eyes are soft with sorrow

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.”

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