the Leonard Cohen concert

It is Day Two of a three-day weekend. On Friday night a friend and I bussed down to lower Queen Anne to watch Leonard Cohen play at the Key Arena. It was a fitting prelude to what has become the most sedentary few days of this year. Between paragraphs of All the Pretty Horses, I’ve stayed up late watching Doctor Who, played Halo 4 with my 3rd Hill brothers, absconded to a 24-hour breakfast joint, and listened to Christmas albums with friends while sharing the parts of our lives that need a Christmas the most. The skies begin to dim by at least 4:30 pm, making more than half of the day night. Veni, Domine Jesu.

After my friend and I exited the bus at our stop, picked up some Americanos at Caffe Zingaro, and browsed a wonderful used bookstore, we walked a couple blocks to the arena. A cloud of white hair had descended in front of it and was slowly being sucked in. My friend took a final drag of her cigarette and puffed out the smoke before we entered the cloud.

It wasn’t just old people. There were middle-aged people, a few other college students, and we even saw one young family with two kids that had to be under ten. After picking out our tour t-shirts—mine with a sketch of a very haggard looking Leonard, hers with a beautiful bird perched on a branch—we found our seats in the upper ring. Out came the man with his old school backing band, Sharon Robinson, and the Webb sisters. The speakers weren’t blasting like most concerts I’ve attended, and the audience was fairly dead (we clapped in time for one song and most people only sang along in the chorus of Hallelujah, when the sound technician kindly aimed the stage lights at us for a queue.)

After the first half of the nearly four hour-long concert there was an intermission. The kind couple behind us who were in their upper fifties/lower sixties engaged us in conversation. “What brings you to a Leonard Cohen concert?”
I suppose that is a fair question. 19 year-olds aren’t his primary demographic. When I told my friends what act I was going to see, the most frequent response was a blank stare.

I found Leonard Cohen my junior year of high school. The song Hallelujah was experiencing it’s umpteenth revival in popularity. It was one of the go-to post-theater everyone is feeling spiritual so lets sing deep songs songs. We found every possible harmony. I turned to youtube to find the original, and I was quite shocked to find what I found. Gravel, gravel. I was shocked by the gritty deepness of his voice mixed with the eclectic accompaniment of Spanish guitar, backup singers, and old-timey electric piano/organ. I fell in love, so I gave my dad his cd Live in London for his birthday.

Leonard Cohen’s music is primarily about God and sex, holy and human, divine and profane, whichever spectrum you prefer. It is also considerably influenced by his lifelong battle with depression. His music resonated with my sadness and longings for intimacy with God and others. He was my Virgil, leading me through hell and purgatory in pursuit of heaven.

Last year in one of my classes, the professor brought in ‘Closing Time’ by Leonard Cohen to demonstrate how Plato’s separation of body and soul have continued to influence thought and art through the centuries. When he asked if anyone knew Leonard Cohen, I’m fairly sure mine was the only raised hand. He started reciting ‘Everybody Knows’ and I joined in. Later in a meeting with him, he asked me the same question the couple asked me. “What is someone your age doing listened to Leonard Cohen?” After that discussion, he encouraged me to write an essay for class about Plato and Cohen’s views on pain. He told me I might need to use the word ‘I’ a couple times in it. The idea of writing about my pains for others to read altered the course of my life.

Back to the Key Arena.

“What brings you to a Leonard Cohen concert?”

“Young people have problems, too.”

Everyone laughed.


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