In the Canadian Film Board movie, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen, you wrote something on the wall while you were sitting in the bathtub.
"Caveat Emptor, or buyer beware. I I think it's good advice. Especially these days. Not specifically from me, but ... umm ... I let anybody judge me by the severest terms they choose ... I simply think that on both sides of the underground railway there is a lot of occasion to exercise our skepticism."
As Cohen speaks it becomes readily apparent that meeting people is only one reason for the tour. Another, more important reason is that for him "tours are like bull-fighting. They are a test of character every night." And that, as he says, "is something I am interested in examining."
One purposely unpublicized aspect of the current U.S.-Canada tour has been the stops at various mental hospitals. Cohen has initiated these concerts, he insists, not from any sense of charity, but because he enjoys them. There is none of that "sense of work, of show biz, of turning people on." He does it because the people there are really in tune to the songs. "Those people are in the same landscape as the songs come out of. I feel that they understand them."
In his way, Cohen has explored many terrains, physical and psychic. Success as a songwriter and performer has allowed him to wander to many places: from Montreal, his home, to Cuba, Hydra, Paris, Nashville – and back to Montreal. He left Greece, he says because, "I was ready to leave. Whether the regime changed or not. As a matter of fact. Greece is a very peaceful place to be in now."
Carrying visions of the Spanish Civil War in his head, he went to Cuba to defend Havana during the Bay of Pigs. Slowly he came to realize that he "was exactly the kind of enemy the Fidelistos were describing: bourgeois, individualistic, a self-indulgent poet." He began hanging out with people who were out of work and on no side, "procurers, pushers, whores and all night movie operators." Amid the Chinese and Czechoslovakian technicians, he found himself the only tourist in Havana.
In Paris during the O.A.S. riots and in Montreal during the so-called "occupation of the city" he felt the same stirrings. He is bothered by the fact that what he reads in other parts of the world about events he's seen usually has "very little correspondence with the actual ambiance of the place. None of those reports correspond at all to the reality that I perceive."
he Berkeley Community Theater was very nearly packed when Cohen came on stage 15 minutes late. The audience was young but mixed. Streeties mingled with Cal frat men and their pin-mates. Only occasionally were they interrupted by a well-experienced face. He started "Suzanne," but stopped and walked offstage accompanied by much good natured applause. The audience was his before he came to the theater. Smiling like an expectant mother, Cohen, the self-proclaimed arch-villain, returned to invite those in the back of the hall to fill up the empty seats and space in front of the stage. Naturally enough, very little encouragement was necessary. A large number of people scrambled forward. He called for the house lights. "We should all be able to see one another."
He began again with "The Stranger Song." His voice was surprisingly well defined and strong. After another song the Army appeared. Two more guitars, bass, keyboards, and two female voices.Elton Fowler, Susan Musmann and, that night, Michelle Hopper, made up the rest of the group. They all started into "Bird on the Wire."
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