Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

Q&A With Liel Leibovitz, Author Of A Broken Hallelujah

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Liel Leibovitz, author of the just published A Broken Hallelujah,1 may be familiar to ongoing readers from references on this site to his essays on Leonard Cohen published in Tablet magazine where he is a Senior Writer.2  He also teaches at New York University and is the coauthor of Fortunate Sons, Lili Marlene, and The Chosen Peoples.

Liel Leibovitz Q&A

Ritual Questions:

1. How did you decide to write a book about Leonard Cohen?

When I first listened to Leonard Cohen’s music, I was fourteen and broken. My father had just been arrested for a string of bank robberies, shattering our family’s comfortable upper-middle-class life. Lacking, like all adolescent boys do, the vocabulary to inquire after my emotions and offer their support, my friends stopped by the house and brought me CDs they thought would comfort me. Most were terrible. One was Songs of Leonard Cohen. My English wasn’t good enough then to capture the immensity of his ideas and the beauty of his language—I was born in Israel and lived there until a decade ago—but snippets of songs stuck and gave me immense comfort. Thinking about what it meant to be almost young, or how to avoid reaching for the sky just to surrender, was more than a mere distraction; it was a spiritual awakening, and I remained faithful to Cohen ever since. Three years ago, then, when my friend and colleague Jonathan Rosen suggested I write a book about Cohen, the idea seemed both startling and immediately familiar. A few weeks later, sitting at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto and thumbing through Cohen’s hand-written high school notebooks, letters from Hydra, early stories, and other treasures, I knew that I would now put my own life on hold and slip into the life of another who I’d always admired.

2. How long have you been working on this project?

I started working on this book exactly four years ago this month.

3. Who do you see as the primary audience for A Broken Hallelujah?

While I think Cohen’s dedicated fans—the men and women who read your blog as faithfully as I do—will find the book of particular interest, I hope that its themes will appeal to a larger audience interested in the book’s seminal question, namely what is it about Cohen that propels him, at 80, to ever greater heights while his contemporaries are all either long gone or resigned to sad nostalgia tours. The answer, I think, has to do with Cohen’s spiritual preoccupations: almost alone in American popular culture—a marketplace that rewards audacious dreamers, utopians, and impatient visionaries—Cohen insisted on a spiritual message that was considerably more somber but infinitely more sustainable. While his peers took a lot of drugs and tried—to paraphrase one of them, Jim Morrison, who I discuss at length in the book—to break on through to the other side, Cohen preached a vision of subtle mindfulness, of working hard to be kind to one another, of embracing both the carnal and the divine. I think anyone curious about rock n’ roll and the vast changes it has experienced over the last six decades will find something in the book to like, as would anyone seriously interested in the intersections of religion and popular culture.

4. Would you describe the sort of research you did for this book?

The research I did for this book was threefold. First, I read everything I could find by or about Leonard Cohen. Fortunate enough to have his archive at my disposal, I pored over decades of correspondence, reams of unpublished poems and stories, and scores of journals, trying to capture not so much Cohen’s chronology but his emotional and spiritual preoccupations and his growth as an artist. I also read, watched, and listened to any interview I could get my hands on, although I wish I had the benefit of Jeff Burger’s excellent book [Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen by Jeff Burger - see review]. Secondly, I interviewed at length a few of Cohen’s collaborators and friends, from his close childhood companion Morton Rosengarten to his sometime producer John Lissauer, all of whom were extremely helpful in illuminating Cohen’s work. Finally, because my book’s focus is on Cohen’s ideas and their cultural resonance, I immersed myself in the intellectual background that forged his worldview. I read the works of the men who had been his mentors and friends and who had shaped his early writing—Irving Layton, A.M. Klein—and studied everything from the words of the Biblical prophets to the abstractions of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. I hope all three avenues of research inform the book and its insights.

5. A number of books about Leonard Cohen have been published in the past few years and more than a half dozen are scheduled for publication in 2014. How does your book differ from other books about Leonard Cohen?

First of all, let me tell you how happy I am to see so many new books about Cohen coming out. Because I consider him, like I know you do, a major artist, I look forward to the day when I can walk into a bookstore and browse as many books about Leonard Cohen as there currently are about Bob Dylan or the Beatles. As for my own book, it is interested primarily in Cohen’s ideas, particularly the ones informed by his religious and spiritual beliefs, and in the way these ideas—one is tempted to say these old ideas—have shaped so much of contemporary culture.

Book-specific Questions:

1. The first line in the Preface of A Broken Hallelujah is “This is not a biography of Leonard Cohen.” You go on to elaborate on that idea, but why is this point so important that you open your book with it?

I think anyone picking up a book with Leonard Cohen’s name and picture on the cover is going to have a reasonable expectation that the book would tell him something about Cohen’s life, and I wanted to make sure such a reader knows right away what kind of trip they’re getting into with A Broken Hallelujah. My book does contain bits of biography, but its main focus, again, is Cohen’s work, the ideas that inspired it, and the affect they’ve had on popular culture. For sheer biography, one can hardly ask for anything better than Sylvie Simmons’s tremendous I’m Your Man [see review].

2. What are the most common and most important fallacies about Leonard Cohen addressed, directly or indirectly, in your book?

I don’t know that I would call it a fallacy, but one misconception I’ve always held, and which my research proved absolutely wrong, was that Cohen, like Dylan, stumbled into his themes and preoccupations as he went along. Reading his unpublished work and his letters, I was amazed to discover a young man who had not only clarity of vision but the courage to pursue it. When he realized poetry was too inadequate a vessel with which to deliver his ideas, Cohen abandoned it, throwing away a successful and lucrative career. When novels failed to capture his range of beliefs, he abandoned them, too, and that despite being compared to James Joyce. From his own rabbi, Federico Garcia Lorca, he learned that the only art worth making was that devoted to the duende, or the deep soul; he was a mere teenager when he made that realization, but for that moment on, he resisted the temptations of technical mastery or earthly rewards or critical praise and went on looking for the one way he could be true to his own passions. He found it the moment he picked up a guitar and started writing songs, and he remained true to it even when the singer’s life took its toll.

3. A major theme in your book is the significance of Leonard Cohen’s Jewish heritage, an issue that has been frequently addressed in the popular press and scholarly articles. How would you summarize the role Cohen’s Jewishness played in the development of his art?

I believe Judaism played an immense part in shaping Cohen’s worldview. Having grown up listening to his grandfather, the rabbi, read passages from the prophets out loud, Cohen, I think, realized his core preoccupations early on. And they are very Jewish preoccupations: one of my book’s set pieces is a description, based on Cohen’s own notes, of a lecture he gave in the Jewish Library in Montreal in 1964. After decrying his community’s obsession with wealth and might, Cohen, sounding every bit like a modern-day Isaiah, makes a distinction between priests and prophets. While the former, he says, are here to serve the status quo and keep us all in check, the latter have no choice but to chase the truth, no matter what form it chooses to take or how wild it may seem. Cohen concludes his talk by saying that his role was to become a prophet, and that it was a duty he could undertake only by going into exile—only the lonely are free to pursue the spirit in its purest form, unencumbered by commitments to family and friends and employers. And a prophet he became, espousing, I believe, a very Jewish worldview. Unlike the Christian messiah, the redeemer by whose grace alone the faithful are delivered from their primal sin, the Jewish messiah is an odd cat: he will only come, the rabbis tell us, once all the Jews are pious and kind to each other; but once all the Jews are pious and kind to each other, we won’t, of course, need the messiah. This is the earthly vision that Leonard Cohen had always advanced, urging his listeners to forget the perfect offering and realize instead that the crack they’re eager to mend is actually how the light gets in. That’s a profoundly Jewish idea.

4. You examine Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre in the context of pop music. How does his music fit in or stand apart from rock & roll cultural history?

It doesn’t fit in at all. And that’s the amazing thing about it. Roughly speaking, the history of rock n’ roll is the history of artists seeking wilder, freer takes at transcendence. We see it in the polite equilibriums of the 1950s giving way to the psychedelic ecstasies of the 1960s, and then to the libidinal thrusts of glam rock and the primitive howling of punk in the 1970s. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that rock is one protracted effort to break free of society’s constraints, applying different artistic sensibilities at each turn. And then there’s Cohen. Much more old religion than new age, he has no illusions about what it is that humans can and cannot do. Our only hope, he realizes, is, as he so beautifully put it, the minor fall and the major lift, namely the realization that human life is as sacred as it is profane, as unbearable as it is precious, as somber as it is joyous. While his contemporaries kept pursuing the rapturous, Cohen offered a much more sober vision. Redemption, he told his listeners, would take much more than merely ingesting some drug and holding someone’s hand and believing in peace and love and happiness. It would take a lot of work, work that’s unglamorous as it is difficult: being kind to each other, being forgiving, learning how to treat love not as a sport or a vice but as the most profound of our undertakings. No measure or faith—in a savior or a rock star or a deity—could get us there quicker; we are the ones who have to learn to redeem ourselves. I think this message, and the unadorned yet gorgeous music that Cohen composed to deliver it, was very hard for most Americans to accept, accustomed as we are to more cheerful and sunny stuff. But after the dust settled on rock n’ roll, after all of its messiahs had died prematurely and all of its lights dimmed out, we noticed that one man’s words resonated more than ever. That, to me, is the magic of Leonard Cohen.

5. You also look at Cohen’s place in Canadian poetry and the influences other Canadian poets had on him – and his impact on other poets. What insight does this perspective offer to Cohen’s poetry and his work in general?

Cohen arrived on the scene when Canadian literature was still very much busy being born, and became one of its most radiant practitioners. I think that in contemplating Canada—a nation struggling, then as now, to come together—Cohen found many of the themes that would later apply to his view of humanity at large. Canada, he said in one interview, “has an experimental side to it. We are free from the blood myth, the soil myth, so we could start over somewhere else. We could purchase a set of uninhabited islands in the Caribbean. Or we could disperse throughout the cosmos and establish a mental Canada in which we communicate through fax machines.” He was joking, but not only: this idea of people eager to find common ground, to create shared mythologies (and compare them, as the title of his first book suggests), and to bridge physical and emotional divides is both deeply Canadian and wholly universal. It’s also the reason why Cohen threatened to punch the Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler when the latter suggested that Canada ought to become a part of the U.S.: to Cohen, giving up your national identity, however precarious, however uncertain, meant giving up the essence of who you were.

6. The Prelude to A Broken Hallelujah comprises a detailed account of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, culminating in Cohen’s appearance there. Why did you choose this opening?

As I was preparing to write the book, I knew I wanted it to begin with a scene that captured all of its themes and its emotions. The Isle of Wight episode couldn’t be more perfect: here, after all, is rock n’ roll literally on fire, with half-a-million hooligans setting the stage ablaze. And here are all of rock’s icons—Morrison, Hendrix, the Who—trying to calm the audience down and discovering that when you’ve spent an entire career being wild, breaking boundaries, and preaching the absolute abandonment of restraints and inhibitions, you’re inevitably going to end up with violence and very bad vibes. And then, as everything’s burning, as people are about to run for their lives, Cohen takes the stage. He’s a decade or so older than all the other performers, and with his unkempt hair and safari jacket he looks more like Jim Morrison’s accountant than his peer. But calmly and courageously, he talks not at the audience—as all the other rock stars had done throughout the festival—but to them. And within minutes, half-a-million rowdy fans sit down, huddle for warmth, and listen. To me, that is the perfect embodiment of Cohen’s gift: he is, as I write in the book, a man whose pores absorb the particles of beauty and grief and truth that float weightlessly all around us yet so few of us note. Back in the day, we called men like him prophets, meaning not that they could foresee the future but that they could better understand the present by seeing one more layer of meaning to life. This is what makes the Isle of Wight festival such a powerful scene, and what still turns every Cohen concert into something very close to a religious awakening for so many fans.

7. A Broken Hallelujah carries two different titles for different markets.

7A. The North American version is “A Broken Hallelujah: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen.” What does Leonard Cohen have to do with “Redemption” in the US and Canada?

7B. The UK edition is titled “A Broken Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen’s Secret Chord .” What is this “Secret Chord?” Is it something that only Brits can hear?

I love this question, and am greatly intrigued by its premise, but have no way of answering it intelligently. Both subtitles were composed and approved by my respective editors on either end of the Atlantic, and as I cannot even begin to divine their intentions—both are giants from whose wisdom I am fortunate enough to benefit—I can only accept the subtitles as they stand, and trust that us Americans will seize upon redemption while our friends in the UK will indeed hear the secret chord meant just for them.

8. A Broken Hallelujah ends with these lines from Going Home:

I want to make him certain

That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
Which is to say what I have told him
To repeat

Why did you choose these lines as your book’s finale?

It felt right to me to let Cohen have the last word, and “Going Home” struck me as appropriate: having followed him through decades of struggling to write and produce and records songs, to perform them in front of audiences, and to keep up with a music scene that was not always kind to him, we finally get to see Cohen find his stride and win not only earthly rewards but also the calm and confidence that had eluded him his entire life. It took him 80 years, but he finally learned how to live with Leonard Cohen. Hallelujah to that.

  1. See A Celebration Of Leonard Cohen’s Significance: A Review Of A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz []
  2. See Wall of Crazy (Tablet: December 11, 2012) and St. Leonard’s Passion (Tablet: Jan 31, 201s) []

A Celebration Of Leonard Cohen’s Significance: A Review Of A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz

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Full Disclosure: I read this book in pre-publication form and offered notes to the author, who has retaliated by writing extraordinarily nice things about me in the acknowledgements and footnotes.

Coming Attractions: The Q&A With Liel Leibovitz will be posted tomorrow

A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz

A Broken Hallelujah by Liel Leibovitz1 is a difficult book to categorize.  It is not, as the author points out in the opening sentence of the preface, a biography – although it does include a significant amount of biographical data. Nor is it, strictly speaking, a book of literary criticism or literary theory – although the language and concepts of these fields certainly populate the text. The blurb at the W.W. Norton website labels A Broken Hallelujah a “meditation,” which risks being read as off-puttingly  New Ageist or off-puttingly classicistic and is, in any case, so encompassing a term as to be simultaneously irrefutable and useless as a classification.

At the risk of damning with faint praise, I suggest categorizing A Broken Hallelujah as an appreciation, albeit a particularly nuanced specimen of the species. This designation denotes not only an understanding of the subject but also an acknowledgement of its value and benefit. Further, an appreciation carries the connotation of the author’s intense personal investment in the presentation.

Leibovitz examines Cohen’s prose, poetry, and songs within the contexts of literature (especially Canadian literature), music (especially rock and roll), and culture (especially Jewish culture). He points out, for example, the consequences of Cohen performing as either a prophet Vs a priest. In another instance, he contrasts novelist Mordecai Richler’s declaration that he “look[ed] forward to the day when [the border between the US and Canada] will disappear and Canadians will join fully in the American adventure” to Cohen’s unequivocal Canadian nationalism which led him to condemn Richler’s stance as “an outright betrayal.”

This strategy is especially effective in presenting an extraordinarily sophisticated but comprehensible perspective on the influences of Judaistic thought, beliefs (sometimes conflicting beliefs), and history on Cohen’s writing. This accomplishment alone would justify the price of the book.

The downside of the contextual comparison tactic is that it is not always clear why certain juxtapositions are offered rather than others. A section given over to Keith Emerson’s2 forays into progressive rock in the 1960s does illustrate a contrast to Cohen’s musical style but nothing in the text presents a compelling reason for selecting Emerson instead of a number of other rockers for this role. More to the point, extending that exposition to more than a page in length to make the point that Leonard Cohen used less elaborate instrumentation than Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, who shipped “200 separate items of equipment, valued by Customs at just over $100,000″ (including 13 different keyboards) for a Madison Square Garden show, verges on overkill.3

On the other hand, such idiosyncratic choices are part and parcel of the personal aspect – and appeal – of such a book, engaging the reader in the author’s process.

Further, Leibovitz provides more than analysis; he also offers several pieces of information, garnered from Cohen’s archives, that were previously unpublished – or at least were unknown to me. Yesterday, for example, an article, adapted from this book, about “the previously undiscovered speech [bolding mine] that launched Leonard Cohen’s career” appeared in The New Republic: The Prophet in the Library.

A Broken Hallelujah is not a casual read. One would be ill advised to pick it as the book to take on spring break to pass the time on the beach between tequila shots and wet t-shirt contests. with Jimmy Buffet on continuous play in the background. Nor is it hard labor. A Broken Hallelujah is well crafted and captivatingly written.

Most of all, it is rewarding.

A Broken Hallelujah, Liel Leibovitz’s appreciation of Leonard Cohen, rewards the reader not only with information, enlightenment, and entertainment but also with a celebration of the significance of Cohen’s work to the individual.

Book Information

Note: A Broken Hallelujah sports different titles, book covers, publication dates, and not coincidentally, publishers in the US and the UK. It is, however, otherwise the same book between those different covers.

A Broken Hallelujah Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen  by Liel Leibovitz
US Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Now listed as “In Stock” at Amazon

A Broken Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen’s Secret Chord by Liel Leibovitz
UK Publisher: Sandstone Press Ltd
Release Date: May 15, 2014

  1. Liel Leibovitz may be familiar to ongoing readers from references in posts on this site to his essays on Leonard Cohen, such as Wall of Crazy (Tablet: December 11, 2012) and  St. Leonard’s Passion (Tablet: Jan 31, 201s). []
  2. This is the Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, not the Emerson who wrote Self-Reliance and was the correct match for “Transcendentalist” on your high school English exams. Ralph Waldo Emerson is, however, also mentioned several times in A Broken Hallelujah. []
  3. Yes, I’m aware that me criticizing some else’s prolixity may call to mind the aphorism about the pot calling the kettle black. []

Read “The Prophet in the Library” – Adapted from A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz

Jack Robinson

The Prophet in the Library The previously undiscovered speech that launched Leonard Cohen’s career by Liel Leibovitz (New Republic: March 29, 2014) is adapted from A Broken Hallelujah, a book by Liel Leibovitz.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Jack Robinson

Now Online In Its Entirety: Songs From The Life Of Leonard Cohen

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This is the complete classic 1988 BBC video documentary (70 minutes) just uploaded to YouTube. The footage includes clips from Cohen interviews, segments from Judy Collins and Jennifer Warnes, Cohen family home movies, and portions from other Cohen videos such as Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen.

Songs
From 1988 Tour

First We Take Manhattan
Suzanne
Chelsea Hotel # 2
Take This Waltz
Hallelujah
Who By Fire
Bird On A Wire
Red River Valley
So Long Marianne
Famous Blue Raincoat
The Partisan
Joan Of Arc
Ain’t No Cure For Love
Tower Of Song
Dance Me To The End Of Love

Songs From The Life Of Leonard Cohen
Video from Jon Renes

“[Leonard Cohen] is fully engaged in producing a new album to be released next year.” Robert Kory

koyreject

 

Kayla Frost posted this image of the “polite rejection” (of an unspecified request) she received from Robert Kory (“rbk”), Leonard Cohen’s Business Manager, via Statigram on March 26, 2014.

Her caption follows:

What a polite rejection! Well, I tried… :) Also, I love that his manager said he’s not my man cause Leonard has an album called “I’m Your Man.” Intentional?

According to Kory’s note (dated March 25, 2014) – which is exceedingly polite – Cohen’s “new album [is] to be released next year.”

Credit Due Department: Thanks go to Linda Sturgess, who alerted me to this post.

Why Leonard Cohen Got A Violinist In 2012 Instead Of 2008, The Chinese Tour Proposal & More

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Alex Bublitchi Interview Covers Recruitment, Rivals, Tour Plans, His Violin, …

„Trăiesc unul dintre cele mai minunate momente ale vieții“ Interviu cu Alexandru Bublitchi by Larisa Turea, Valeriu V. Turea is a lengthy interview with violinist, Alex Bublitchi, who joined the Leonard Cohen Tour in 2012.  The interview was published in the Nov 2012 issue of Observator Cultural. The interview was conducted and posted in Romanian. The excerpts below were generated by first processing the text with Google Translate and then editing the result into vernacular English.  The headings were not part of the original article but were created and added by me for reading convenience. Finally, much of the original interview, including, for example, content about  Bublitchi’s violin, his training, and Cohen’s personal praise of his work, is not included below but is accessible at the link.

“Who is the boy with the violin?”
The Recruitment Of Alex Bublitchi

Interviewer: Tell us how you Cohen recruited you.

mario-mas

Mario Mas

Alex Bublitchi: Well, life is interesting. I played in the theater orchestra but always wanted to do something special, especially something other than classical music. I played ​​in Barcelona with a friend by the name of Mario Mas. We played the Flamenco song he wrote, that is to say world music. I made ​​a little demo for Mario and his father, Javier Mas, an exceptional musician.

Interviewer: One of the most famous guitarists in the world.

Alex Bublitchi: Right. Javier listened and wondered “Who is the boy with the violin?” Mario said, ” A friend ” and Javier asked for my phone number. He contacted me and told me he has two projects with music by Leonard Cohen. [Javier Mas was the musical director and arranger of Leonard Cohen's tribute concerts in Barcelona in both 2006 and 2007.] He asked me if I know who Leonard Cohen is. I answered honestly that I have no idea. This happened in 2005-2006. Then he asked me to meet and bring my violin. He spoke about his Cohen project, and I talked about music. He asked me if I can improvise. I said yes, and he asked me if I could help him with the project. And I accepted, even though it meant that he had to lie to the service because the theater had me under contract. I was on vacation, I had a program to perform … But I wanted very much to participate in Javier’s project so I told them that I am worn out. It took a bit of theater, but I finally got out of the situation. They gave me two weeks off, said hurry back. I said good-bye, got into a car, and we went straight to rehearsal …

Interviewer: The theater later found out?

Alex Bublitchi: No … Maybe they found out, but they did not say anything. The project was well publicized. I was trying to hide. In many photos, everyone else smiles but I’m just a dude standing to the side with his hand over his face. No one from the theater said anything to me about it, but it’s curious that the day after the project, I got a call, asking “Feeling better?” “Yes …” “Good, come to work.”

Alex Bublitchi Meets Anjani Thomas Who Mentions Leonard Cohen’s Unrequited Search For Violinist

At that project, I was introduced to Anjani Thomas, Cohen’s faithful collaborator, who arrived with his son, Adam Cohen. We did a rehearsal and Anjani said, “You know, Leonard has been looking for a violinist for many years, but he can’t find one.” I, believing these stories are molded from a glass of wine, said yes, yes … But she continued, “Look, could it be …” To which I replied that, in principle, in theory, yes, I would be interested. Afterward, it seemed a nice thought, a kind word as an excellent project ended with everybody happy. That was in the summer.

The next winter, we launched a project again, a kind of Spanish Tour with Cohen’s music sung by Spanish stars, using arrangements by Javier Mas, our musical director. This gave Cohen’s original songs a Mediterranean flair, so to speak – The Gypsy ‘s Wife in a gitano flamenco singing style. It was intriguing and interesting. Master liked it very much, I realized.

Anjani and Adam Cohen said Leonard would like to go on tour and more than likely the original members of the band would accompany him on tour …

My life continues; it’s business as usual. Javier is gone.

Auditions For Tour Violinist: Christine Wu

Cohen began rehearsals and auditions for a violinist in the U.S. Many came and played. The audition was won by a very talented lady, Christine Wu, a great classical violinist. but perhaps not given to improvisation. Here you have to be very flexible. For example, when you start to play, they tell you, play something, look, in the middle of this song, come on, play something, but play it like this, you know … And clearly , if you did not improvise like a jazz player, you lose … I mean, I never played jazz seriously, but I listened to it all the time. I was always a jazz enthusiast, but if you are not trained this way, then you don’t know how to do it … Unfortunately, many musicians practicing classical music just read the notes. However, they accept it. But after two weeks when it seemed they were satisfied with her performance, Cohen said, “Thanks, but we won’t need you … ” It was a tremendous blow. She had already signed a contract and, I believe, then sued. Finally, it was resolved.

Auditions For Tour Violinist: Rafi Hakopian

They called a famous Armenian violinist, Rafi Hakopian, who played with Cohen in the ’70s and ’80s. Curiously, he does not speak a word of English although he has lived in Los Angeles for about 40 years. He came with his son, who translated, and played what he wanted. Cohen said, “Look, we have an arrangement. Please play here and do not play here.” He said, “Yes, yes” and played everywhere. Again, after two weeks, it was “Thanks, but this is not what we need.”

Call The Guy From Moldova

Then Cohen visited Javier and said, “You know, I’ve listened to the recording made ​​in Spain, I liked the arrangements, everything was great. That violin boy … who is he?” “Well, he’s a guy from Moldova who plays in Barcelona … ” “Call him and ask him if he wants to come.” Javier called me and explained the situation, finally asking if I want to come … I was in the Asturias, where I had to play in a concert with the orchestra, so I say, “Obviously I want to come …”

International Complications Arise

I was contacted by Cohen’s lawyers, who told me that he’s very difficult to contact, that there are several “filters.” I explained that, as a native of a country that is not a member of the European Community, there will be difficulties … But the Americans said, “We will be careful to do this correctly,” i.e., going through the proper court procedures … It is clear that the I will have to end my work in the theater, I could not combine the two activities … I said, “Thank you very much, I absolutely loved working here for three great years, but now I want to do something else.” I went to Madrid and at first, it was easy. I quickly obtained the U.S. visa. Complications arose when it came to visas for the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. No reasons were given for the refusals. One of the managers told me later it was impossible and they could not do anything despite a huge effort.

2008: Violin Out; Saxophone In

At that time, it was decided not to take a violinist on tour. Instead, a guy who played saxophone and many other wind instruments [Dino Soldo] played the solos written for violin . Anyway, it was well received by the public, everything was fine …

Violin Forgone But Not Forgotten

But the traditional songs of mourning need to be played by a violin … Leonard Cohen’s paternal grandfather’s birthplace was somewhere in Poland in the former Russian Empire … the violin fits his soul exactly.

The Tour was to last a year but went so well that it went on for three years instead. The Tour ended, and I went on with my life, they with theirs. Meanwhile, I have received Romanian citizenship.

Leonard Cohen Picks Up Prince Of Asturias Awards & Violinist

One day Javier calls me and says, “Look, the Spaniards are giving Leonard Cohen the Prince of Asturias Award [The ceremonies attendant to the Leonard Cohen's Prince Of Asturias Award took place in Oct 2011], and the Prince of Asturias Foundation wants us to perform a concert paying tribute that he will attend.” …”Yeah, no problem, with great pleasure.” And so I joined this project featuring violin, lute, Spanish guitar, percussion, and two girls singing. It sounded great.

He came, accepted his award, and listened to our concert. And then I think he realized what he left behind. After the concert, he approached each of us. He shook hands with me, and in his ​​serious voice said, “Beautiful playing, Alex. Beautiful.” And I looked down, as if I were embarrassed, ashamed of something. I did not even look at him … maybe because of what had happened previously. I thanked him but I kept wondering how to tell him that I now had a Romanian passport …

Alex Bublitchi Joins The Band

Afterward, the lawyers called to inquire about my legal situation as a new project was underway. I told them everything was fine, no problems getting visas, “so we can start … if you want …” Now, everything happened very fast. rehearsals were scheduled to begin on June 15, but we were all so excited and wanted to meet quickly. I arrived on May 2nd, and we met the next day … He’s extremely sensitive, stylish, and speaks very warmly. He said, “I’m glad you came, you know us by now.”

At the first rehearsal, we did not just replay the same songs. Rather our approach was sitting and talking for a time. Leonard began to play his guitar and to murmur something. The saxophonist sat nearby and began to play along with him. I took my violin and I sat. Then he continues the song, and when the time comes to improvise, he stares at someone. It sets the tone. He looks at me, nods his head, and I start to play, to improvise. He continues one stanza, again looking at me, I play again – the same song, repeating the verse. I thought that I would give way to another instrument, but he is looking at me a third time so I try to improvise something different. We all played and played. It took about ten minutes, it stretched out. Finally , he removed his glasses and said, ” Friends, this will be something extraordinary.” And everyone cheered … It was a kind of baptism by fire. You know, sometimes it happens that all the musicians are very good, but it just doesn’t work. But we knew that in this case there was a fantastic, special chemistry. I could not imagine anything better.

2013 Concerts Planned In South America, South Africa Three Year Tour Contract Extension?

Interviewer: And you signed on for a limited period …

Alex Bublitchi: Right. The contract is for 18 months. Obviously it all depends on his health … and after 18 months if all goes well, it is possible to extend up to three years. After the North American tour, there are concerts planned in South America, South Africa, all continents … He says: “We have to follow the sun.” At concerts in Dublin, I played outdoors in incredible cold, my breath turning to steam. Heaters were blowing hot air, but we still had to play dressed for winter. It was miserable. Leonard handled it very well, the rest of us not so well, H is durable physically, does meditation, arises early, eat little. He has a Japanese Zen teacher named Roshi, who is 105 years old.

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The Chinese Tour Offer
But There’s A Catch

Interviewer: Will you play venues other than, let’s say, traditional European locations … Asian, for instance?

Alex Bublitchi: Leonard Cohen has received offers from China, but probably will not go, because the Chinese ask him to change the lyrics about Tienanmen Square, for example, and he will not change the lyrics. India has made proposals for concerts. .. We plan to return to Europe in a year with a tournament. Then, we plan to hold concerts in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and maybe South America.

Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post is by Tomoyuki Furuta. A special thanks goes to Laurence from Paris who alerted me to this article.