It was 1988 when my dad brought home the I’m Your Man CD. I was used to him listening to classic rock, contemporary country, and (don’t judge him) Michael Bolton, so my 11-year-old ears were not prepared for the sounds of L. Cohen. That booming voice, the angelic backup singers, the horns and the poetry.
My friends and I would play the album every time they came over, and we would laugh as we imitated the man — the man we considered ancient, even though he was in his 50’s – but as the laughter faded I began to appreciate the music. I didn’t quite understand it, but there was a depth and a truth that was missing from everything I had heard before.
It wasn’t until years later when I became a little obsessed, after delving into Cohen’s back catalog. The Songs… albums (of Love and Hate, of Leonard Cohen, from a Room) literally expanded my mind. Those new open spaces provided room for Tom Waits and Nick Cave to fit comfortably among all the punk and metal and hip-hop permeating my life as a young adult. Memories are full of holes, but I truly believe Leonard Cohen was the first songwriter to open my ears to what lie beneath the surface of popular music.
21 years after my dad brought that CD home, I bought tickets for us to see Cohen perform in Phoenix. We both had doubts as to how good the show would be. He was 75 years old and his last album had not been his best. My dad wasn’t even sure he wanted to go.
Leonard Cohen performed for over three hours that night. He hopped, skipped, and jumped across the stage, in his three-piece suit, while flirting with his backup singers and the crowd the entire time. Two full sets and four encores worth of material. “Bird on the Wire”, “Everybody Knows”, “Chelsea Hotel #2”, “Suzanne”, “Hallelujah”, and so many others were performed. He even played the two songs my friends and I used to sing when we were little kids — ”Ain’t No Cure For Love” and “First We Take Manhattan”.
To this day, that show is among the best I have ever seen. And L. Cohen will always be among my top ten artists of all time…right there with Nick Cave and Tom Waits.
R.I.P. man. You lived a full life and left us with so much. Well done.