The Gray-haired, Gravel-voiced Grandee Of Graciousness
I confess to being unaware of the most elemental musicological knowledge, I am ignorant of the basics of songwriting, and I haven’t a clue about iconicity. I do, however, know graciousness when I’m overwhelmed by it.
And, Leonard Cohen may be the most aggressively gracious person on the planet.
From What Leonard Cohen Told Me Backstage In Chicago by Allan Showalter AKA DrHGuy
The Continued Tale Of Roses, Stethoscopes, Boxing Gloves, Polka-dot Blouses, A Great French Restaurant, Icons, Leonard Cohen, And, Most Of All, Graciousness
The preceding post, Gracious, That’s Leonard Cohen, included three episodes in which Leonard Cohen received roses from fans. Writing in response to the first of those, Adrian du Plessis, business manager for Allison Crowe, offers an account of a rose offered to another icon, Bob Dylan:
Your post on the fate of the long stem rose at Leonard Cohen’s Nashville concert brings to mind a very different experience some thirty years ago.
In 1978, I had my first opportunity to go to a Bob Dylan concert. My girlfriend and I were devotees, and camped out for over a day/night, as was the custom in those days, in order to get front row centre seats for Dylan in Vancouver. Lori brought a long stem rose and placed it on the stage. Now, Dylan, upon sighting the rose, picked it up, and tossed it away, underarm, as if clearing garbage from the stage. I know Lori was hurt by this, and it didn’t impress me, either! Of course, the concert itself was so crappy, and such indifference to music and audience I’ve rarely witnessed from a performer. It was one of the worst shows in my life – and, so, the rose indignity became a symbolic footnote.
It is certainly nice to see an artist/band, who appreciates the gesture and beauty.
One cannot, of course, pretend to make a valid comparison between any aspect of the stage manners of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen by cherry picking incidents from across their long-ranging careers. For all I know, Dylan’s fans may be able to document any number of demonstrations of high courtesy on his part. And, in fact, I juxtapose Dylan’s treatment of the rose from a fan with Cohen’s reactions in similar circumstances only because of its convenience (thanks to Adrian’s volunteering of the incident) and the poignancy it imparts.
Moreover, I could easily enough find far more egregious violations of fans’ loyalty and adoration by musical stars – as well as movie and TV stars, sports stars, … .1
In fact, Dylan’s behavior in this specific case is more cavalier than malignant – which makes it, from my perspective, more effective as a point of comparison to Cohen’s actions.
There Shall Be Showers Of Blessings – And Polka Dots
Yeah the women tear their blouses off
and the men they dance on the polka-dots
From “Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen
Ongoing readers may recall the episode described in Oh My Cohen! The Women Tear Their Blouses Off At Closing Time Of Leonard Cohen San Jose Concert
Yes, what you see is what happened – a fusillade of feminine apparel is launched from the audience onto the stage, whoops are whooped, the legendarily unflappable Leonard Cohen loses his place in the song (1:18), and, in general, a good time is apparently had by all.
Leonard Cohen – Closing Time (San Jose, 10/13/2009)
Video from albertnoonan
I confess that I’m not so hot myself about the concept of thrusting flowers, polka dot blouses, hotel room keys, stethoscopes, undergarments, etc on stage. Further, I am not a proponent of unsolicited singalongs, shouted conversations between a star and those in attendance, and other audience participation in concerts beyond well-timed applause and the occasional, warranted standing ovation.2
I am, however, quite fond of many of the folks who take part in such shenanigans at Leonard Cohen concerts so I find my attitude has modulated to something akin to that of a chef I saw interviewed on TV who, when asked by the reporter why his restaurant prepared a flaming dessert at table-side rather than using the far more efficient method of cooking it in the kitchen, replied “Customers like it, and it doesn’t hurt the food much.”
Such endeavors also make, I admit, for interesting and popular Heck Of A Guy postings.
My own confessions aside, there is some evidence that Cohen has not always been an enthusiastic supporter of audience behaviors that could interfere with his presentation. Consider this excerpt from the Bird On A Wire Documentary in which a sarcastic but ultimately forgiving Leonard Cohen makes it clear he would prefer not to compete with self-congratulatory applause from the audience triggered by their recognition of the song he has started.3
Leonard Cohen admonishing concert audience
Now, Leonard Cohen is, as we know, one complex dude, so it’s not surprising to find
… there is also 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.”4
My point is that Leonard Cohen, known as a perfectionist and a low-amplitude but intensely serious control freak when it comes to the presentation of his concerts, is likely to harbor ambivalent feelings regarding potentially disrupting behaviors – like, oh I don’t know – being bombarded by enough blouses to stock a medium sized thrift store.
But heck, the notion of graciousness is demonstrating kindness and generosity of spirit, especially in situations in which others don’t behave as one would prefer or as one would oneself behave. It requires no self-awareness, discernment, or effort to bask in entropic empathy with ones characterologic clones. The idea of graciousness connotes going more than halfway toward another person’s point of view to understand that perspective and respond with respect and humanity.
I offer an illustrative digression:
Leonard Cohen And The Waiters At Le Francais
I am not the only visitor to Le Francais (now lamentably closed) in suburban Chicago who rated it the best of restaurants. It was renowned for its great food and wines, achieving a five-star Mobil rating, numerous five Diamond awards, and accolades from periodicals that dealt with food and eateries. Bon Appetit magazine, in fact, designated it the Best Restaurant in the Nation in 1985. What I remember most poignantly, however, is not the signature lobster ravioli appetizer or the classic dark chocolate souffle with warm crème anglaise but the waiters who refused to let a customer commit an embarrassing error or feel uncomfortable. When one grows up in the Ozarks in a town where haute cuisine means the chicken-fried steak at the local truck stop, dining at a world-class restaurant featuring Vietnamese-tinged versions of classic French dishes can be an intimidating experience. Not so at Le Francais. From dozens of exemplars I’ve collected in my adventures there, I offer two instances:
Instance #1: At the appropriate moment in the meal, the waiter asked if I would like to order a liqueur for myself and my guests. I responded in the affirmative and immediately discovered that the gyrus of my brain responsible for storing names of liqueur had gone tabula rasa on me, a situation that held great potential for the future but was discomforting at that time as a table full of folks I hoped to impress awaited my decision. The waiter, whom I had never met before that night, picked up on my impending panic and without a discernible pause in his spiel, began reciting, as though it were the restaurant’s custom (it wasn’t), the appellations and descriptions of every liqueur in their stock, finally ending with an obscure selection he announced, in tones indicating that he had delved deeply into his vast knowledge of liqueurs to come up with a specimen that might interest a gentleman of my particular taste and evident sagacity, “might especially appeal to [me].”
It was grand.
The liqueur was good, too.
Instance #2: The entrées for our party of four were placed on the table beneath silver domes. When the waiter turned to summon other staff to effect the ritual of simultaneously removing all of the domes, one of my guests, unaware of the practice, began to take the dome off his food himself. The waiter noticed and with mock indignation warned him that “unless you can show me your union card, sir, you cannot remove that dome,” not only precluding embarrassment on the part of my guest but actually improving the mood of an already enjoyable moment.
Leonard Cohen would have been a great waiter at that great restaurant.
Leonard Cohen’s Polka Dot Manifesto
The punchline to this two-post essay is Leonard Cohen’s eight-line written response to the bombardment of blouses in San Jose.
Leonard Cohen sent this message to LeonardCohenForum a week or two after the concert:
Please thank all our friends
for the beautiful shower of polka dots
that we danced upon
in San Jose and over the many years before
when our step was not so high
With deep appreciation
I can’t find an official count, but I suspect few other stars send thank-notes for specific gestures by fans.
More significantly, I suspect that of those stars who are moved by silly, sweet gestures by fans to write thank-yous, those that take the time and effort (assuming they have the ability) to inscribe an elegantly poetic note of appreciation can be counted not just on one hand but on one finger of one hand.
In one section of “Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah: A New Biography,” author Tim Footman compares Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. It is his assessment that
… it will be Dylan’s music, rather than Cohen’s, that is seen as defining the second half of the 20th century.5
Footman then goes on to discuss the relationship of both men to their fans, ending the Dylan Vs Cohen discussion with this conclusion:
And Cohen? Well, Cohen is loved. And Cohen – and surely Dylan as well – knows which is more important.6
And, all I can add to that is, as we say back home in the Ozarks, gracious.
- Leonard Cohen has himself, especially at the start of his career, occasionally met diagnostic criteria for what we shrinks might diagnose as “acting like a jerk.” He once, for example, walked off stage in the middle of a concert and has had several confrontations with audience members. This history makes his current decency even more impressive [↩]
- Standing ovations have, all too often these days, degenerated into an obligatory response which signifies little other than the end of a performance – which may well be worth commemorating. [↩]
- For more on audience expectations from other artists, including Ray Charles, Madonna, Prince, Peter, Paul, & Mary, and others, see Cohen Concert Comportment [↩]
- See Cohen Concert Comportment [↩]
- Tim Footman, Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah: A New Biography, 2009, p 226 [↩]
- Ibid. p 228 [↩]