Cohen Concert Comportment

Performance-Enhancing Audience Manners

A Supplement To A Leonard Cohen Primer: The Not Too Big, Not Too Little Pyritic Book Of Leonard Cohen

Cohen On Concerts

You definitely go into a concert with a prayer on your lips. There’s no question about that. I think that anything risky that you do, anything that sets you up for the possibility of humiliation like a concert does … you have to lean on something that is a little better than yourself I feel I’m always struggling with the material, whether it’s a concert or a poem or a prayer or a conversation. It’s very rarely that I find I’m in a condition of grace where there’s a kind of flow that is natural. I don’t inhabit that landscape too often. … Well, I mean this in a kind of lighthearted way. When you walk on the stage and 5,000 people have paid good money to hear you, there’s definitely a sense that you can blow it. The possibilities for disgrace are enormous.

-Leonard Cohen1

The DrHGuy Corollary

While the possibilities for disgrace as an audience member may be less than enormous, neither are they trivial.

-DrHGuy

How To Be Leonard Cohen’s Friend2

While this post, like all the Leonard Cohen Primer offerings, is specifically addressed to new fans of Leonard Cohen and those unfamiliar with Cohen who may be persuaded to attend one of the concerts in the upcoming Leonard Cohen 2008 World Tour by a Cohenphilic friend, lover, or family member, the principles of concert behavior discussed extend to most performers and audiences.3 In keeping with the underlying premise of the Leonard Cohen Primer, these concepts of concert behavior are few in number and simple in content:

1. Play Nice With Others4

While I suspect this lesson may be less necessary for a Leonard Cohen crowd than it would be for, oh, a Stones concert in the 60s,5 it bears repeating that unless one is fortunate enough to constitute the entire audience at a Leonard Cohen performance, one incurs certain responsibilities vis-a-vis other attendees.

These responsibilities can be summarized in a concise albeit awkward declaration: Avoid unnecessary behaviors that interfere with others enjoying the performance.

Or, again as Dad told you, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Examples of proscribed behaviors include

  • Standing throughout the concert directly in front of the folks in wheelchairs.
  • Whacking the guy in front of you with a tire iron or other blunt instrument – unless he has been standing in front of you throughout the concert and you are in a wheelchair.
  • Repeatedly shouting, “Play Freebird,” especially if followed by a prolonged pause for laughter that, if there is any organizing force in the cosmos, will never come.
  • Flashing your bare bosom – unless you are a voluptuous, attractive young woman endowed with a pert bosom, and the flashing is done tastefully.
  • Mentioning more than once – regardless of how pseudo-casually you work it into the conversation – that you were at Cohen’s 1974 Manchester Concert, his appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, the 1988 Reykjavik Concert, etc unless you first persuade at least two other folks seated within five feet of you to sign a notarized affidavit formally requesting a recitation of your experiences.

2. Be Attentive To The Performer

This idea goes beyond listening to the songs (although that seemingly obvious axiom is violated in a surprisingly large number of cases) to include adjusting ones behavior in accord with the performance. The steps leading to this principle follow:

  1. A Live Performance Implies A Live Performer. The difference between attending a live performance of a singer-songwriter and listening to a recording of that singer-songwriter is – well, that the music is produced by a living, often sentient creature in the former case and by an inanimate system in the latter . Still with me? OK.
  2. Live Performer + Live Audience = Interaction. The fundamental consequence of an audience and a performer being simultaneously present at a live show is the potential for interaction that can significantly enhance or detract from the performance.
  3. Optimal Interaction Is A Moving Target. The optimal interaction between the audience and performer depends on the audience and, especially, the performer. It seems unlikely, for example, that the optimal interaction between James Taylor and his audience is identical to the optimal interaction between Metallica and their audience. Further, the optimal interaction between audience and performer typically shifts during a single performance. An attuned audience reacts differently to Springsteen offering up a near-whispered version of “Devils and Dust” than it does to the same guy belting out “Radio Nowhere” with the E Street Band blaring and still differently than it does to Bruce reaching back for one more iteration of “Thunder Road.” And, special situations within concerts, such as the performer’s first entrance, the finale, the guest star, the encores, … all have implications for crowd responses.Hey, nobody said enjoying a concert is easy.On the other hand, it ain’t rocket science.
  4. The Bullseye Of The Moving Target Is The Performer. Just as a practical matter, setting the tone for the show is more efficaciously accomplished by the person(s) on stage than by, say, the 36,000 members of the audience in the stadium. More to the point, the performer is typically the only person in the house who actually knows where the musical journey is supposed to be headed. There would seem to be certain advantages that would accrue to following the participant who drew the map.

To Be Attentive To The Performer, one must be able to distinguish between a performer and an audience member. Consequently, Heck of a Guy blog offers …

Clues To Determine If You Are The Performer Or An Audience Member

  • Is your name on the marquee? If so, there is an excellent chance you are the performer. If the name on the marquee is not yours or an alias you recognize, you are probably an audience member.
  • Are you being paid for showing up tonight (probably the performer) or are you paying for showing up tonight (probably an audience member)?
  • Is there a jerk who keeps requesting that you sing “Freebird?” If so, you are the performer. (Unless the jerk is drunk, in which case his requests are of no predictive value.)
  • Do you find yourself declaring that you were born with the gift of a golden voice? You may be Leonard Cohen. Check your schedule. If today is a scheduled concert on your 2008 tour, you are the performer. If you find yourself declaring that you were born in the USA, on the other hand, you are not Leonard Cohen – but may be Bruce Springsteen.

Live Performance Scenarios

For an example of why it’s important to know what the intended effect will be – or to follow someone who does know, check out this excerpt from Ray Charles & The Raelettes at Estival Jazz in Lugano, Switzerland July 1, 1986

Ray Charles – “Out Of Time”

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Often the performer will cue the audience about the response desired from them.

I hereby confess to having attended not one but two Peter, Paul, and Mary concerts (with a gap of twenty years between those performances).

In the first of these encounters, Peter Yarrow prefaced their rendition of “Puff The Magic Dragon,” with

When we begin “Puff The Magic Dragon,” a little voice in the back of your head will say “Sing. Sing.”

Please don’t.
[my paraphrasing]

Subtle, eh?

In contradistinction to the example involvilng Ray Charles, other performers at other concerts invite fans to sing along, praising the results regardless of the skill level exhibited. This excerpt is from the Carole King Living Room Tour CD


Carole King – Medley from Living Room Tour CD

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Other artists, including the Artist Currently Known as Prince, are more critical and may coach the crowd, beseeching them to improve.

Prince – Las Vegas Concert

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Still others all but demand the crowd’s participation, as does Madonna in this excerpt from the ominously named fantasy, “Everybody Is A Star.”

Madonna – London Concert (September 26, 1993)

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But How About Leonard Cohen?

As we know, Leonard Cohen is one complex dude. Consequently, it will come as no surprise that one has to stay on ones intellectual toes because there is the sarcastic but ultimately forgiving Leonard Cohen, who would prefer not to compete with self-congratulatory applause from the audience triggered by their recognition of the song he has started.

Leonard Cohen in concert #1 (from Bird On A Wire Documentary)

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On the other hand, there is the Leonard Cohen who encourages his concert friends to take part in Hootenanny rituals. Kleeble reports in leonardcohenforum that “my most vivid memory of those days is standing on my seat, singing and clapping along to “You Are My Sunshine” at Manchester (Free Trade Hall I think) in 1974.”

Leonard Cohen in concert #2

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And that, friends, is why one has to Be Attentive To The Performer.

And finally, …

3. Use The Restroom Before The Concert

See above: “Don’t be a jerk”

Bonus: A Closing Thought On Concert Behavior

Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? All the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.

- John Lennon

  1. From An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Robert Sward. A Side. Montreal, Quebec – 1986 []
  2. Leonard Cohen has routinely addressed members of his concert audiences as “friends.” At the end of his final song, for example, he often utters a benediction, bidding the crowd farewell with something along the lines of “Good Night, Friends.” He rarely refers to his “fans” or the “audience.” []
  3. “Most,” in this case, includes those performers who aspire to a positive connection with their audiences. The notion of “optimal interaction between performer and audience,” one of the keys to to proper concert behavior, collides with catastrophic cognitive dissonance when applied to those performers (certain punk bands and performance artists come to mind) whose preferred connection to their audience appears to be mutual antipathy. []
  4. “Play nice with others” is how your mother put it; if your father taught you this principle, he phrased it, “Don’t be a jerk.” []
  5. That would be a Stones concert during the 1960s, not a concert when the Stones are in their 60s []

0 Responses to Cohen Concert Comportment

  1. Only two days until the first concert in Fredricton (May 11).

    It will be hard, but I’ll try not to show my pic with Leonard to too many in the audience when Linda and I get our first concert, Toronto, June 6.

    Keep the valuable tips coming good Doctor!

  2. Cohen On Concerts

    You definitely go into a concert with a prayer on your lips. There’s no question about that. I think that anything risky that you do, anything that sets you up for the possibility of humiliation like a concert does …
    -Leonard Cohen1

    Friend, thank you for the acknowledgment! –RS
    From An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Robert Sward. A Side. Montreal, Quebec – 1984