Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Beautiful Lovers

Leonard Cohen lived just down the road from me. The road from Ottawa to Montreal, that is. Strangely, he didn't exist for me until the summer of 1969, when someone sang "Hey, that's no way to say goodbye" at Camp Galil in Pennsylvania. Since then, it's been a love affair. My love for his eternal words and music.

I saw him twice. Once, in concert in Jerusalem (Binyenei Hauma, 1972 or 1973). He walked offstage halfway through a song towards the intermission. He told the packed audience that the music wasn't right and that if he couldn't get it right he would refund the tickets. The worried impressario came on stage at intermission and asked us to show him our affection and sing him a song when he came back on stage. Boy, did we ever. He sat down on stage and listened to the audience sing "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem" for him. The rest of his performance was awesome.

The second time I met him in person was in 1984. It was at a party in his honor thrown by the Canadian Embassy at a posh Tel Aviv Hotel (not the Chelsea). I remember him well. He was so pleasant and unassuming. I told him that I had always wanted to be a musician. He told me that he wanted to be a scientist. We called it even. I was so excited that I forgot to ask him the critical questions of my existence here on Earth. Who really were the Sisters of Mercy? More importantly, who was the guy in "Famous Blue Raincoat" and why was he building his little home in the desert. Was he a kibbutznik (sometimes I imagined him milking cows in Yotvata, and writing his memoirs)? These are questions that not even Stephen Hawking can answer.

What sticks in my mind in particular is the conversation I had just completed with R.S., a professor of literature at one of our universities. He lamented that Leonard Cohen had turned into a songwriter, abandoned his 'promising' career as a poet. After all, why inhabit the beating hearts of hundreds of millions of beautiful lovers, when you could be critically appraised by a couple of thousand lobotomized intellectuals ?

Sing on, Leonard.

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