Once Upon A Time At The Rosemont Theatre In Chicago, Leonard Cohen 1st Played “The Other Blues Song”
On the evening of October 29, 2009, midway through the Fall 2009 USA Leg Of the Leonard Cohen World Tour, Leonard Cohen performed what is now known as “Feels So Good” to a packed house at the Rosemont Theatre in suburban Chicago. It was the first concert performance of that song.
Although “Feels So Good” would be played five more times before the USA Tour closed in San Jose less than a month later,1 this post focuses on the first time I heard it at the Rosemont.
The photo above not only captures an interesting perspective on the interior aspect of the Rosemont Theatre,2 but it also nicely displays where I sat (see seating diagram on right) when I first watched Leonard Cohen and his musicians play “Feels So Good.”
As it turns out, however, on that first occasion, the 4400 seat auditorium was occupied by a total of three people – me, my guest, and a representative from the Tour.
And, rather than the usual concert set list, Cohen and crew were going over various songs as part of the soundcheck before the official performance.3
Which brings us to …
“Feels So Good” Née “The Other Blues Song”
The soundcheck was already underway by the time we had been credentialed and had wended our way through the backstage labyrinth to the auditorium. Shortly after we had settled into our seats, Leonard Cohen4 brought the song they were playing to an end, saying
Let’s try the other blues song.
Following which, I heard – for the first time – the song beginning, “Feels so good, … .”
I heard it again, from better seats but in a less exclusive environment, during the concert that evening. The depth of my respect for Leonard Cohen is evidenced by the fact that when I recognized the song during that night’s performance from the first bars played, I did not arise in my seat, turn to the audience, and announce “You have never heard this song before – but I have.”
As we were leaving the concert, Albert Noonan called me and, during the course of the conversation, confirmed he had caught the new song on video. Not only did this information relieve my anxiety about my inability to recall the exact lyrics, but knowing that a well-done video would soon be available also meant we had the necessary elements to spread the word about the new song.
I had been disappointed when two other songs introduced during the Leonard Cohen World Tour, “The Darkness”5 (first performed during the heavily attended soundcheck in Venice) and “Lullaby”6 (first performed in concert in Austin but not captured on a recording until it was next played a couple of days later in Grand Prairie, Texas) sparked only moderate and, for the most part, short-lived interest within the Leonard Cohen fan community and received almost no attention outside that group.
And, as I have been advised by a trusted source who has repeatedly observed how Cohen handles the introduction of new material, “Leonard likes his songs to stand on their own.”
Indeed, when one considers the names and cover art for most of his albums, it seems likely that he would prefer shipping his music in plain brown wrappers with no names for the albums or the songs. Take, for example, the evocative album title, “Songs From A Room,” with its grab the customer’s attention art:
Clearly, if Leonard Cohen doesn’t choose to promote his own music, the smart thing for an admirer to do is behave congruently and present the content in a polite, respectful fashion.
On the other hand, if Heck Of A Guy did the smart thing and presented content in a polite, respectful fashion, the world might never have been blessed with the Leonard Cohen Bobble Head, the information about Cohen’s predilection for speaking Mock Swedish, or the improved Leonard Cohen Beach Towel.
Consequently, it will surprise few ongoing readers to find that Heck Of A Guy opted out of the smart thing to do, choosing an alternative approach I like to call …
Cohen’s Cryptic Classic – “The Other Blues Song”
Now, a promotion put on by part-time, unpaid blogger without any inside sources and working from a cash budget of zero has a limited scope of action. Payola, for example, turns out to be extraordinarily difficult to execute unless one can offer money, drugs, sex, or something else of value.
But there were some advantages. First of all, it is a great song. And, a high quality video of it was online the day after the Rosemont concert.
As I was writing my first Rosemont Concert post, it occurred to me that I might be able to spotlight the song, distinguishing it from other music in the marketplace, by referring to it as Cohen did during soundcheck, which is how the title for the first post to mention the piece became Leonard Cohen Premieres “The Other Blues Song” At October 29, 2009 Chicago Concert. (In concerts, the song was played without introduction and, until the final concerts, it was not included on the set list.)
In the words of George Washington Plunkitt, a powerful New York State Senator who was a fixture in the Tammany Hall machine, “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”
I flogged the song in several posts, left comments on other blogs wherever I could find a legitimate pretext to refer to it, and simply by sending the video and an explanation to music blogs, got it placed on a couple of these entities with large audiences.
And, Mr. Cohen did chip in by continuing to play this song or “The Darkness” during the remainder of the American Tour, varying the arrangements and lyrics each time, keeping fans interested in each version.
Did It Work?
Absolutely. Maybe. OK, I dunno. Although I have no statistical evidence, I’m convinced, based on my frequent forays across the Internet, that the three new songs, especially “The Other Blues Song,” received much more attention than, for example, “Lullaby” had previously, in pop music blogs and forums that only occasionally mention Leonard Cohen.
Even if that assessment is accurate, the amount of interest generated might have been as high if I had called the song, as most fans seemed to prefer, “Feels So Good” or if I had never mentioned the song at all.
But, I did see enough lines like this excerpt from TwenyFourBit to make me think it’s possible the name helped a tad:
In Chicago last week, Cohen performed his second new tune since the tour’s start and we’ve got a great quality video here or embedded below to prove it (via The Music Slut). Cohen didn’t supply a title or any info about it beyond cryptically referring to this instant classic as “the other blues song.” [my emphasis]
Regardless, that’s how the song came to be called “The Other Blues Song” for the first three weeks of its life. (After the name, “Feels So Good,” appeared on the official set list, I followed suit.)
And, what better way to end that account than with the video of Leonard Cohen’s performance of what was, for one brief, shining moment, “The Other Blues Song.”
Leonard Cohen – Feels So Good (Rosemont Theatre, Chicago, 10/29/2009)
Video from albertnoonan
Credit Due Department: The photo of Rosemont Theatre interior post is by C Jays Image.
- For details about the dates “Feels So Good” was played as well as lyrics, videos, and MP3 files of the performances, see Three New Songs From The Leonard Cohen World Tour – “Feels So Good” AKA “The Other Blues Song” [↩]
- The photo, by C Jays Image, was taken during the October 21, 2009 David Foster & Friends Concert [↩]
- Leonard Cohen invited me to the soundcheck and backstage buffet before the October 29, 2009 Chicago Rosemont Theatre concert. This has been covered in previous Heck Of A Guy posts: What Leonard Cohen Told Me Backstage In Chicago, Meeting Leonard Cohen And Falling In Love With Sharon Robinson, and How To Win Friends And Impress Strangers With A Little Help From Lorca & Leonard Cohen. [↩]
- Or, as I then identified him mentally, “That is really Leonard Fuckin’ Cohen” [↩]
- For details about the dates “The Darkness” was played as well as lyrics, videos, and MP3 files of the performances, see The Darkness [↩]
- For details about the dates “Lullaby” was played as well as lyrics, videos, and MP3 files of the performances, see Lullaby [↩]