Wednesday, 12 September 2012

There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen on stage at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

But last night, Leonard Cohen took Dublin by storm with the first of his four concerts this week in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, with a sell-out capacity audience of 10,000.

Many of the songs last night came from his latest album released earlier last January, Old Ideas. It was a cold and damp evening, as he tripped onto the stage promptly at 7.15 in his pinstripe suit and black fedora, and went straight into Dance me to the end of love.

It was not a balmy evening, like his concert here in 2008. Nor was it pouring rain, as in Lissadell House, Co Sligo, two years ago. Whatever summer we had is gone, the evening was chilly, and my €88.50 seat was damp.

“Thank you for sitting in the cold and damp to hear my melancholic dirges. I really appreciate it,” he told us. But there was no need for him to be apologetic. For, as he sings himself, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

It was a concert to rival that in Kilmainham four years ago, and throughout the evening he kept us captive with his songs old and new, his lyrical poetry and his self-deprecating humour: “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”

All through the evening, he thanked his musicians, his backing singers, the stage crews and backup trams, his cowriter the “incomparable” Sharon Robinson, and the “sublime” Webb sisters.

He and they stayed on stage – with only a 15 or 20-minute break – until 11, entertaining us with over 30 numbers, until it came to Closing Time.

There were old favourites -- Bird on the Wire, The Sisters of Mercy, Waiting for the Miracle, The Tower of Song, Suzanne, So long Marianne, and, of course, Hallelujah. “I’ve heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord …” And it’s always more pleasant to hear this from the maestro than from any television show contestant.

At times, his music could be Greek, and at others it could be European Jewish folk music, Romanian, or Spanish, and he introduces the poetry of Federico García Lorca and CP Cavafy to new generations.

Last night Sharon Robinson sang Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving, which I introduced to a class on Byzantine studies in Kilkenny eight years ago as a vivid reworking of Cavafy’s poem, set in Alexandria, The god abandons Antony.

Later, there was spontaneous dancing to Take this waltz, with echoes of Lorca in Vienna … and even the overzealous security teams could not suppress this dancing.

Leonard Cohen stayed on stage last night from 7.15 until 11 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Leonard Cohen is deeply spiritual; his lyrics are laced with Biblical imagery, and even when he is lusty he can echo the language of the Spanish and Italian mystics. At first, My Gypsy Wife sounds like yet another sad song about unfaithfulness, love lost and love spurned. But last night it sounded like a retelling of stories told by Hosea and other Old Testament Prophets.

And there were songs from his new album, Old Ideas, including Going Home. From this album, the Webb sisters sang Come Healing:

O, gather ’round the brokenness
Bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carried
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
Of cruelty or the grace

O, solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O, see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O, troubledness concealing
An undivided love
The heart beneath is teaching
To the broken heart above

And let the heavens utter
Let the earth proclaim
Come healing of the altar
Come healing of the name

O, longing of the branches
To lift the little bird
O, longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb.


The ‘sublime’ Webb Sisters and the ‘incomparable’ Sharon Robinson on stage with Leonard Cohen at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We began last night with Dance me to the end of love, and I’ve joked in hope that I want to hear this as my coffin is carried out of the church at my funeral. .But perhaps, at the moment, I feel his song that is most moving spiritually is Amen on Old Sounds, and which he sang last night:

Tell me again
When I’ve been to the river
And I’ve taken the edge off my thirst
Tell me again
We’re alone and I’m listening
I’m listening so hard that it hurts
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me you want me then
Amen.

Tell me again
When the victims are singing
And Laws of Remorse are restored
Tell me again
That you know what I’m thinking
But vengeance belongs to the Lord
Tell me again…

Tell me again
When the day has been ransomed
and night has no right to begin
Try me again
When the angels are panting
And scratching the door to come in
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again…

Tell me again When the filth of the butcher
Is washed in the blood of the lamb
Tell me again
When the rest of the culture
Has passed thru’ the Eye of the Camp
Tell me again…


And you can sing it to me again, and again. Amen.