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Ladies and Gents, Leonard Cohen

Page 4 of 5

The association of Leonard Cohen with the Army was fortuitously arranged through the good offices of Bob Johnston. They provide just the right musical superstructure for his songs. Expertly but not overpoweringly they give his ideas a range and versatility his previous records have lacked. After the concert they would go back to Nashville with him to lay down the last track for the new album. If tonight's concert is a proper indication, ...several tracks will have a definite country sound.

Meanwhile, having found less space than bodies to fill it, the crowd began settling in the aisles. Aisles-sitting, though – as everyone knows – is illegal. An announcement was necessary. "I've had some crucial news from the authorities," he began facetiously, then broke into a spontaneous song:

"It's forbidden to sit in the aisles
As for me I couldn't give a damn
I don't care where you sit
I don't care where you stand, either
or recline in any position you wish

Nonetheless, I feel it is my civic duty
To tell you to get out of the aisles immediately
So come up on the stage instead
And they came up on the stage
And they won't go back again        

And they came up on my stage
And they won't go back no more
Oh, I promise to do anything
But they won't go back no more.
No, they won't go back anymore."

And, clapping, laughing and singing, the audience once again moved forward. The Army was engulfed. Only Cohen stood out as if people were afraid to get too close. A few murmurs of discontent were heard from the expensive seats, but they were to no avail. Not only was the stage filled, but the aisles remained jammed.

Another announcement of some seriousness was imperative: "It is with no regret that I bear the final tidings in this sordid drama  ... They say we've got just one more song ... If the aisles aren't cleared by then the concert will end." Someone behind Cohen shouted, "Make it a long one." He replied, "I don't think they'll be taken in by our cunning. In a while they'll kill the power and then start on the rest of us ... I don't care what happens myself because I feel really good ... I can't concern myself with these details. I'm not in the business of clearing away people."

As the song began, something truly remarkable happened. Hestitantly, a few people began to filter back to their original seats. Appreciative applause from the seat-bound majority led even more people to reconsider the moral implications of being in the way. A general retreat commenced. And at that very moment, the police, who allegedly had been grouping for action, relented by giving permission for people to sit in the aisles. Cheers filled the house. Leonard Cohen was still grinning when he left the stage for intermission.

Intermission? He and the Army stepped into the wings, looked at one another, and wordlessly returned to the stage. "That was intermission. This is so good, why stop now?" Although the concert was billed as an evening of songs and poetry, only two short poems were recited. Cohen sang several new numbers confidently. He was obviously pleased and his pleasure was returned by the audience.

The band couldn't leave without an encore. Tired, but game, Cohen returned to sing "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy." He explained that he wasn't sure if he could remember the song. Nancy's spirit was clear enough, but they hadn't done it in a long time. For help he invoked her memory by telling her story. They knew one another in Canada, long years ago. In 1961. Before there was a Wood-stock Nation or hip newspapers. When to be strange was to be on your own. Nancy's father was an important judge, but she lived near the street. Her friends told her she was free. "She slept with everyone. Everyone. She had a child, but it was taken away. So she shot herself in the bathroom."

After that, the crowd wanted still more. But Cohen would only come back to bow. The concert was over. Back stage road manager Bill Donovan searched everywhere for Cohen's already missing guitar. Leonard greeted some familiar faces and some he couldn't remember. Gracefully he edged from person to person towards the exit. Clumps of people stood around speaking low with much affirmative nodding of the head. The guitar was found to have been stuck in the wrong case.

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Song Stories

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