Moved To Tears: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen

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If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will

The music of Leonard Cohen first entered my spectrum thanks to the prominence of “Everybody Knows” in the 1990 film Pump Up The Volume. The movie starred Christian Slater as a pirate radio DJ who used the song from Cohen’s album I’m Your Man as a theme to his illicit broadcasts. Watching as a teenager, the anti-establishment themes of the movie were compelling but it was that song, “Everybody Knows,” that was anchored into mind.

Cohen’s hypnotically unaffected baritone was captivating and the lyrics he sang in “Everybody Knows” were cutting and sincere. I continued to occasionally hear the song and that unmistakable deep voice on the radio in subsequent years, further etching itself into my mind. It wasn’t until a few years later, as my musical palette expanded and I was further exposed to Cohen’s songs, that I developed a deep appreciation for the talented Canadian.

During the cultivation of that appreciation for Cohen’s songs and songwriting I was exposed, like many, to covers of his compositions, often in other films or television shows. Yes, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” is truly something special, but so is Leonard’s original version from his album Various Positions. It’s that subterranean voice speaking truth. Others can sing his songs, but no one else can speak his words the same.

I suppose that makes me a somewhat rare Cohen fan in that it was his vocals that especially stood out to me, along with the exquisite poetry he added melodies to. That’s why it didn’t matter to me that he was 78 when I saw my lone Leonard Cohen performance at the Key Arena in Seattle in November 2012.

I was two days away from turning 32 years old and, along with my wife, was one of the youngest audience members in attendance. The marathon, two set, nearly 30 song performance was magical. Despite producing a more grizzled version of that unmistakable voice, Cohen still commanded the stage through his microphone from the first notes of “Dance Me to the End of Love” to the third encore rendering of “Closing Time.”

By the fourth song I got my “Everybody Knows” and could have gone home happy. The show progressed with favorites of mine “Who By Fire,” “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” “Anthem,” “Tower Of Song,” “Suzanne” and “Democracy.” Later the main set ended with a powerful trio of “I’m Your Man,” “Hallelujah” and “Take This Waltz,” each more poignant than the next.

That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

The idea of a musician’s performance moving an audience to tears is both a cliche and legitimate marker of sharing something emotionally demanding. Few of the many concerts I’ve attended have produced real tears, from real emotions stirred by what I was witnessing on stage. That night at the Key when Cohen sang “If It Be Your Will” – the closing track on Various Positions – I couldn’t help but be overcome by the beauty of the completely honest and vulnerable performance in front of me.

When I wiped my eyes clear I saw not only Leonard Cohen, but an artist and human being determined to share his raw feelings with anyone who would intently listen. I shed more tears when I learned of Leonard’s death. I know at 82 he lived a long and rich life. Still, knowing I no longer had him in the world I lived in filled me with despair. Thankfully, I had his records then, and forever, to help guide me in and out of the darkness.

From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing