My first introduction to the music of Leonard Cohen was in 1991. I was a DJ at my high school radio station which sat comfortably at the left of the dial. Big props to WPOB 88.5! I came across I’m Your Fan in 1991, a compilation of Cohen covers by the likes of R.E.M., The Pixies, James, Nick Cave and The House of Love. I was taken by both The Pixies cover of “I Can’t Forget” and James cover of “So Long, Marianne” and immediately sought out Leonard Cohen’s music. To be honest, it wasn’t for me. Simply not loud enough. I loved the melody, but I don’t think I was mature enough for the lyrics. It was only years later during my dark years of college while listening in the lonely, cold hours of the night did I truly learn to appreciate the poetry of Leonard Cohen.
Hallelujah. Now that’s a song I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times. Whether it be the original Cohen version or one of the numerous covers by Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Rufus Wainwright and even American Idol participant Jason Castro (horrid IMHO). Let’s just say that the emotional resonance of the song has long warn off. While it is arguably once of the greatest song of the past 30 years, for a long time now, it’s just been another song to me. However last night during Cohen’s performance as 50,000 Israelis sang along with him and he took his hat to chest and closed his eyes to take in the moment I couldn’t help but get enveloped by the strong emotions that clearly everyone in the stadium was feeling. I’ve seen hundreds of concerts in my day and it’s hard to say that I have experienced such a powerful moment during a musical performance. Cohen’s performance of Hallelujah completely transcended what I anticipated to be the pinnacle of cheese. He managed to achieve an intimacy in his performance that I didn’t think was possible in a stadium of 50,000 people.
I’m not sure what Mr. Cohen is like when he is not performing, but on stage he was full of class. During his 3 hour plus performance, Cohen often removed his signature fedora during solos by his band and granted them his full attention as a signature of both respect and awe. Clearly enamored by the incredible backing band he introduced them more than once and even brought his crew on the stage at the end to thank them and all involved with the tour.
As he was just about to step off the stage after his third encore Cohen recited Birkat Cohanim (the priestly blessing) which clearly moved the audience.
“They shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them.”