Leonard Cohen Fans Say 'Hallelujah' To Upcoming Concert in KC
By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star
Leonard Cohen’s mix of musical styles has endeared him to fans worldwide. Here he performs at a recent concert in Papp Laszlo Budapest Sports Arena in Hungary.
Devoted followers of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, 75, consider his work elemental to the world of music. He has been called “King of the Melancholy Poets.”
The first time I heard a Leonard Cohen song, I was 15 or so. My older brother’s music tastes had graduated from Bob Dylan and John Prine to other master songwriters like Randy Newman, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen and his album “Songs From a Room.”
I was too naïve to appreciate the finer points of some of Cohen’s lyrics, but I noticed that grainy black-and-white photograph on the back of the smiling, bare-shouldered blonde, sitting at a typewriter in the corner of a room (his girlfriend, poet Marianne Ihlen). My ears homed in on certain lines: “Sometimes I see her undressing for me/ She’s the soft naked lady love meant her to be … ”
And then there was that voice. Deep and deadpan and usually off-pitch, it colored his melancholy and despair in various shades of blue. His music was mysterious and hypnotic, void of humor and light but rife with seduction, heartache and intimacy, a place where love never lasts and lust never sleeps. It wasn’t exactly unique, but it was unlike anything I’d ever heard.
I’d figure out in the ensuing years that the music of Leonard Cohen isn’t for everyone. He doesn’t write songs as much as he composes evocative poems and sets them to pop melodies and folk arrangements whose sweetness often betrays their dark moods and brooding messages.
You don’t play “Songs From a Room” at a party, unless you want people to leave the room; nor are you inclined to drop one or two of his songs into the middle of a party mix. “Its uses are limited,” critic Robert Christgau wrote. “Best for late nights alone.”
“It’s the soundtrack to a lonely whiskey drunk,” said Christian Hankel of the local band Alacartoona.
Monday night, Cohen, 75, will perform at the Midland theater. It will be his first concert in Kansas City, which is grand news to a lot of his diehard fans around here, many of whom will be seeing him for the first time. Though he is an acquired taste, to many of his loyalists, he is as elemental to the world of music and songwriting as Dylan or Hank Williams. Asked to explain their fondness for Cohen, several local musicians and music fans (via Facebook) expressed several reasons.
“I had read him as a poet before I heard his first album, so I knew he had the goods,” said Barry Lee, host of “Signal to Noise” on KKFI (90.1 FM). “There was something dark and mysterious about that first album that marked him different from Dylan, but no less profound.”
That first album was “The Songs of Leonard Cohen,” released in 1967, and it included many of Cohen’s most beloved songs: “Sisters of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne” and “Suzanne.” Two years later, he released “Songs From a Room.” In 1971, he released “Songs of Love.” That same year, three songs from that album made the soundtrack to the classic Robert Altman film “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.”
By then, Cohen had established himself as the master of his own voice and techniques. In his review of “Love and Hate,” Christgau wrote, “There are plenty of songwriters both naïve and arty (as well as page poets) with a fresher sense of language. But the poets can’t read like Cohen, the songwriters rarely combine his craft and maturity, and the man can really project.”
In his review of the just-released DVD “Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970” at HuffingtonPost.com, critic Mike Ragogna distilled Cohen’s rise to cult and college-dorm hero: “New York City intellectuals and all of the folky singer-songwriters — including the Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez trifecta — idolized him. By his second or third album, he was all but crowned King of the Melancholy Poets, sedately letting the wild rumpus begin in every one of his Songs of ... series that contained some of the best poetic pop any singer-songwriter previously had cognized.”