As ongoing readers know, baotzebao, who usually posts at a vànvera, Heck Of A Guy’s Italian sister blog, has served as this site’s foreign desk, reporting on the Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert held September 24, 2009.3 This report is the culmination of baotzebao’s thoughts on that event – probably.
More specifically, this post was once the culmination of baotzebao’s thoughts on that event. At that point, it was written in Italian. It was then translated into something sorta, kinda resembling English by Google Translation Tool. Finally, it was interpreted, corrected, and edited by me. To compound the potential for confusion, baotzebao writes in particularly lyrical style which lends itself to neither simple translation or editing. I hereby apologize, on behalf of myself and Google, for the inevitable mutilations of meaning and stylistic transgressions consequently inflicted on baotzebao.
Nonetheless, I am pleased with the result and proud to offer it as today’s Heck Of A Guy post.
If nothing else, it’s the best damn first-hand account and analysis of the Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert available online or in print that was first written in Italian, then translated by the dominant force in the cyber-world, and then edited and recomposed into Chicago-accented Ozark English.
Leonard Cohen’s September 24, 2009 Performance In Israel – Observations And Analysis By baotzebao
Leonard Cohen ends his 2009 concert in Israel as he did his performance in Venice on that warm August 3rd evening in Piazza San Marco when the rain had stopped only a few minutes before the show. Three hours after punctually starting the performance with one of his most romantic songs, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” Leonard Cohen blesses the audience, reciting a shortened version of Birkat Kohanim – this time in Hebrew, of course.
The audience of more than fifty thousand cannot hold back the emotion; the silence that accepts the blessing and the applause that greeted the offering of the musicians is more than a signal of appreciation – it is a union.
The Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert Background
Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv sold out in half a day when, a few months ago when, after many announcements and denials and despite Internet petitions opposing the concert, disputes and some ill-considered statements, tickets for the Leonard Cohen concert went on sale. Heated political discussions worldwide, demonstrations, and a call to boycott the concert were heavily covered in the press, but failed to stop Cohen’s performance.
Cohen, determined to “not … take a single shekel earned from the concert out of the country,” has directed the receipts to be donated to the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace, a charity created in conjunction with this event and dedicated to supporting bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families “who have paid the price and still continue to do what they can to achieve reconciliation”
Shortly before the concert, representatives of the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace held a brief press conference to explain its goals and activities. The writer, David Grossman, outlined the ideas behind the Fund and thanked those who had brought it into being, a group with included not only Cohen but also his manager Robert Kory, AEG Live, and Sony Music.
For those wishing to know more about this aspect, I recommend Nothing on his tongue but Hallelujah, the excellent article by Ben Jacobson in the September 21, 2009 Jerusalem Post, a piece which recreates the political path and spiritual journey of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian author and the singer “born with the gift of the golden voice,” as a force majeure, a man of carnal and spiritual love – a true poet.
The Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Performance
The rest – the everything – was music and words.
Visionary ecstasy and toughness, carnal and spiritual love, reaching out to others and selfishness … While the themes of Cohen’s lyrics seem, at times, contradictory, they lead to awareness. As the wise know, every moment has its truth, and the truth embedded in individual and social human experience often conflicts with legal percepts and common morality.
The message of Cohen’s poetry is not delivered as a didactic lecture but as an inspired – and inspirational - series of scenarios and stories set to simple and compelling modern music by a writer unafraid of using traditional forms such as the blues ballad or the waltz.
This is, indeed, the case for the lovely “Take This Waltz,” a desperate love song whose voluptuous, exotic Hispano-Viennese evocations transform the utilitarian sports stadium at Ramat Gan into an grand Rococo palace dizzily aswirl with rounds of waltz.
The same notion holds true for “Hallelujah,” not Cohen’s best but certainly one of his most interpreted songs, which begins with the “a secret chord/That David played, and it pleased the Lord” but soon becomes a poignant account of profane love, an updated version of the Song of Songs.
The Impact of Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Identity
And so it continues. In many (all?) of Leonard Cohen’s works of poetry, art and music, one can find traces of his Jewish heritage and identity. Is “Leonard Cohen the most Jewish musician in the world?” as was suggested in a radio show. As one might infer from the show’s title, “Sounds Jewish,” the idea is deliberately provocative, but this not an idle or trivial question.
To me, the life and works of Leonard Cohen are Jewish in the expressions, in the quotations, in the references. Nor, given his training, reading, studying of the teachings of Judaism during his youth in Montreal, could it be otherwise.
But one cannot limit Cohen’s perspective to solely Jewish issues without denying the universal applicability of his spiritual and ethical approach and its deepest aspiration – to provide hope – an especially needed quality in these days! The motif running through Leonard Cohen’s songs is the tension between what every human being wants to be but, except in extraordinary circumstances, cannot be. It is this sense of profound individual awareness juxtaposed with the cultural acceptance of ones responsibility despite irrevocable human limitations that is, in my opinion, one of the fundamental principles of and offerings from Judaism.
And Cohen is this: a man, born and raised a Jew, who honors the life of every human being. Listen carefully to “Anthem:”4 the crack to which he alludes – and through which the light enters - is an experience of a sort common to and indistinguishable among individuals, nationalities, religions or races.
Cohen is an artist born and raised in Judaism who sings and write about – and for – all humankind.
In this context, the theme Cohen chose for this fund-raising performance takes on special significance – while the Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv event concert, as its politicized detractors would have it, may be flawed, an imperfect offering to paraphrase Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” this is, indeed, How The Light Gets In.
The Tel Aviv Audience And Set List
The lineup holds few surprises for the well-informed audience, comprising people of all ages (many of whom were younger than any audience members I saw in Venice) who sing almost every line, often anticipating the next words.
Any potential language barrier is avoided by subtitles that translate the songs on large screens, which also make Cohen and his musicians visible to those located away from the stage. (Given the prevalence of English-speaking Israelis, I suspect the subtitles are necessary for only a small fraction of the crowd, but their use is in keeping with Cohen’s concern for the audience) The sound quality, as promised, is excellent.
There are many women whose facial expression betray their obvious seduction by this 75 year old lover.5
We are treated to such well known songs as “Suzanne,” “First We Take Manhattan” (during which green fluorescent lights punctuated each bar like illuminated crests of waves on the sea throughout the darkness of the stadium), “I’m Your Man” (the dream and the vain promise of every lover), “Marianne” (sung loudly throughout even by those who, like me, were occasionally out of tune), and “Bird On A Wire.”
But also featured are several less frequently performed, more discrete songs, such as “Famous Blue Raincoat (behind me a girl is hugging herself, rocking and crying thinking – who knows? Her abandonment, her love affairs ended because of human imperfections, … ), and “Chelsea Hotel.”
In short, it is, throughout, a most beautiful concert made even more special for its occurrence in Israel, where certain allusions do not need to be explained, where injuries and courage, suffering and determination have been elements of everyday life for some 5770 years.
The concert ends with that special blessing that a Cohen can offer,6 but which Leonard Cohen has given only once before, in Venice.7 I want to think that this event will help unite my native land with its spiritual heritage in the same way that Leonard Cohen’s concert proved to be the means by which your impromptu reporter was brought to Israel for the first time in 55 years.
There is a time for … you know what I mean, c’mon - everybody knows …
- Except the final photo, Cohen’s Blessings, which is a screenshot from a video. [↩]
- AKA Allan Showalter [↩]
- After 20 Year Absence, Leonard Cohen To Perform In Israel Today
- Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert – Photos Of Sold-Out Ramat Gan Stadium
- En Route To The Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert
- Report, Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert In Progress
- Leonard Cohen Arrives In Israel
- Those who have not had the pleasure and thrill to hear Cohen in person may wish to obtain the “Live in London” CD and DVD, which features tracks a similarly structured concert from the current World Tour [↩]
- Editor’s note: The use of the word “betrayed” may be misleading. To clarify, my personal experience is that most women in the audience seduced by Mr. Cohen do not attempt to hide their infatuation and, indeed, tend to flaunt their affections for the man. Of course, the only time I observed this phenomenon in person, the Canadian singer-songwriter and, yes, icon, was still an impetuous youth of 74. [↩]
- ”Cohen” means priest in Hebrew. [↩]
- According to the network of Cohenite enthusiasts who systematically monitor such matters [↩]