The Half-Sister Of Mercy, Leonard Cohen, & Me


On The Sidewalk In Front Of The Beacon Theatre Before The Leonard Cohen Concert, …1

I met, among others waiting for the theater doors to open on that cold February night,

  • A thirty-something entrepreneur so intent on seeing Leonard Cohen perform that he had flown from South Africa to New York that afternoon with the  return flight scheduled to depart only hours after the end of the show
  • A mother and daughter, both of whom eagerly confessed to harboring lurid aspirations vis-a-vis Mr. Cohen
  • A native New Yorker who asked me if Leonard Cohen was indeed performing at the Beacon that night and, following my confirmation of the announcement on the marquee, promptly engaged a scalper in an animated and easily overheard conversation which concluded less than a minute later with her purchase of a baloney ticket for several hundred dollars over the original price
  • The Girl With The Leonard Cohen Tattoo

and, as the perceptive reader might deduce from  the title of this post, I met The Half-Sister Of Mercy (HSOM).

An Aside On Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters Of Mercy”

Leonard Cohen has often told the back story of his song, “Sisters Of Mercy.”2 This rendition is an excerpt from a December 4, 1974 interview quoted at Diamonds In The Lines: Leonard Cohen In His Own Live Words:

… like a lot of my material it’s [the song, “Sisters of Mercy” is] just completely documentary. It doesn’t concern high metaphysical questions but an accurate reportage as authentic and precise as I can make it, a description of exactly what happened on the interior landscape. And I was in Edmonton during a tour by myself of Canada, I guess this was around 67. I was walking along one of the main streets of Edmonton, it was bitter cold ; and I knew no-one and I passed these two girls on a doorway. They invited me to stand in the doorway with them. Of course I did. And some time later, we found ourselves in my little Hotel room in Edmonton and the three of us were gonna go to sleep together. Of course I had all kinds of erotic fantasies of what the evening might bring. … And we went to bed together and I think we all jammed into this one small couch in this little Hotel and it became clear that it wasn’t the purpose of the evening at all. And at one point, in the night, I found myself unable to sleep, I got up, and by the moonlight – It was very very bright, the moon was being reflected off the snow, and my windows were very bright – I wrote that poem by the ice-reflected moonlight while these women were sleeping and it was one of the few songs that I ever wrote from top to bottom without a line of revision . The words flowed and the melody flowed and by the time they woke up the next morning, it was dawn. I had this completed song to sing to them.3

The Mysterious DrHGuy Gets Lucky

More accurately, several instances of good luck were required for me  just to make it to New York for the concert. For example, were it not for unsolicited and unanticipated favors generously offered by not one but two individuals, I would not have been able to obtain a ticket. Similarly, someone who was by no means obliged to do so proved willing to cover my family obligation during my absence.4

Nor do I take for granted the nonspecific good luck of car services that transported me to the right place at the right time, uneventful passages through security checks, airplane flights which took off and landed when and where they should, hotel reservations that were not lost, … .

Such mundane good fortune, however, does not make for an intriguing narrative.

No, to engage the reader, a story needs an event that opens the door to future plot development – something believable but unexpected and something a tad more ambiguous than winning the lottery, something, say, like the discovery that, because of a miscommunication, two tickets rather than one are in the envelope awaiting me at will call.

The Mysterious DrHGuy Gets Really Lucky

An extra ticket in hand 45 minutes before the event named on that ticket begins  invokes a forced choice. Tickets, as we learned in 8th grade Economics, have time value.  Regardless of the desirability of a Leonard Cohen concert, the value of a ticket to that concert decreases precipitously and approximates zero after the concert if over. Decisions must be made.

My first thought, transforming a scalper into my personal Broadway ATM by selling the ticket to him, held substantial allure. Given the markups, the profit generated would be enough to take care of that operation Mom has been wanting, pay off the mortgage, or fulfill my dream of purchasing handfuls of $6 Diet Cokes and $10 almonds from the mini-bar in  my hotel room.

Unfortunately, I apparently have moral qualms about cashing in on a ticket to which I had access only because another’s special efforts.5

As I’m puzzling over my alternatives, the folks next to me in line are holding information exchanges of the sort  I’ve already  heard numerous times that night – where are you from, how did you hear about the concert, what songs do you think he’ll sing, … .

This latest round of  icebreakers has been occasioned by the arrival of a young (mid-twenties), tall, lovely, vivacious, companionless woman, who is a long-time Leonard Cohen  fan and who is, as one might imagine, most desirous of attending the concert.

Yet, doing so is no easy decision for her. It turns out that once one subtracts the expenses entailed in living in New York from the subsistence level wages paid yoga instructors, “splurging on entertainment” comes to mean picking up a sack of microwave popcorn to go with the video from Blockbuster, not buying tickets for Leonard Cohen’s first US concert in 15 years.

See what I mean – sometimes  the good luck just keeps on coming.6

To be continued

  1. This post about my experience attending the February 19, 2009 Leonard Cohen New York Beacon Theater Conference is in the same series as  The Leonard Cohen New York Beacon Theatre Concert Stories No Other Source Dares Print and The Girl With The Leonard Cohen Tattoo []
  2. Sisters Of Mercy Lyrics

    Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
    They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
    And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
    Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been traveling so long.

    Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
    It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
    Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
    When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

    Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them.
    They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
    If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
    they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.

    When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
    Don’t turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon.
    And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night:
    We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right,
    We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right
    . []

  3. To those readers who know me and are now beginning to panic, be assured that, mercifully, in the story of the HSOM and me, I do not write and certainly do not sing a song. []
  4. Even so, as late as 20 minutes prior to my departure, impending crises threatened the trip. []
  5. I know. I’m disappointed in me, too. []
  6. Two years ago, in Crosses & Windows And Getting Lucky, I wrote,

    It’s infuckingcredibly great to be lucky on the final exam in Internal Medicine

    which I now must revise to

    It’s infuckingcredibly great to be lucky on the final exam in Internal Medicine and at Leonard Cohen concerts []

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