Barbara Whitney (USA), Liz Madder, and Ray Webster (UK)
Leanne Ungar (California), Natalie Fuhr (Alberta)
Aaron Bouschor (Montana), Bill Van Dyk (Ontario),
Dick Straub (New Jersey) at Moishe's
Anne Jayne (Alberta) is getting jammed
between the camera crews
Dominique Clausse, Herve Cesard, Chantal Cras, and Natacha Cras (France)
From Alex Dillon, Massachusetts:
We were fans, but not sycophants. By that I mean that we admire Leonard Cohen for good reason, because his work has inspired us and lent meaning to our lives, but I don't think any of us would pay a thousand dollars to acquire Leonard Cohen's toothbrush and keep it at home in a glass display case. (However, I admit that after being inside the former Cohen home, I felt like a pilgrim returning from Lourdes.)
Before I left for Montreal, the first thing most of my friends asked me was, "Is Leonard Cohen gonna be there?" A couple of friends even told me that they couldn't understand the point of such an event, where the artist himself would not be present. Looking back, it is clear to me, and not at all surprising, that Leonard Cohen would choose not to attend. Who would want to spend three days with 160 people who not only talk about you almost constantly, but also would desperately want to glimpse you or touch you if they had the chance?
Moreover, I believe that Leonard Cohen's physical absence from the event was better for us as well. Had he been there, we would all have wanted to experience being near him; some of us might have found ourselves envying those we imagined got to experience more of his him than we did. And I wonder if many of us would have felt disappointed afterwards, convinced we did not get enough of a chance to make clear to him PRECISELY how much his work meant to us ("No really! You dont understand - The Window turned my life around!", etc. etc.).
But the other ways Leonard Cohen sent his presence to us were very gratifying, and very much bore his personal mark. (The moment I saw the intertwined-heart design of the pin, I remembered a New Yorker article on Leonard Cohen from several years ago, in which the author recounted getting a similar pin from him personally.) The words of greeting from his manager, recording engineer, and his sister, made me feel that, as his audience, we mattered to him. It was as if Leonard Cohen's corporeal non-presence at the event was a necessary reality, for the benefit of both him and us, and any regret arising from that could easily be overridden by a little trust and good feeling (perhaps like lovers who must separate to avoid driving each other crazy). Opinion was divided as to some specific aspects of the event; for example, the performance of the Damn Personals. Though the consensus seems to be that their interpretation of First We Take Manhattan was worthwhile, many were not impressed overall. (I dont know about you, but I also liked their rendition of Suzanne, and their performance in general. Is anyone with me on that?) During the intermission, I asked Esther Cohen what she thought, and she said, "Well, I like the way Leonard does it better." Of course she does - we all do! But I enjoyed the concert tremendously, and had a wide smile on my face throughout.
For the fact that this garage-band could perform so many songs of Leonard Cohen in their own way (good or bad) shows that his work constitutes something like a shared cultural heritage, with which other creative minds can interact, and on the basis of which many people who otherwise have little in common can interact with each other. This is really one of the purposes of art or culture in general, and I believe the academic panel that spoke on Saturday morning touched upon that. Indeed, all of us exercised that shared cultural heritage as we sat on the steps outside Moyse Hall, singing Leonard Cohen songs together.
Yet the fact that other artists cover Leonard Cohen's songs, or make references to his work, does not make the original work any less his, and his alone. When Emily Dickinson wrote about the lovely tree, was she taking "possession" of that tree?
There is one thing that I thought might be nice for a future event. Many of us are creative people ourselves, and enjoyed the opportunity to display our creative talents to each other, both at the "open-mike" night and the "Poetry Jam." However, Iím sure there are others who would have liked to express themselves somehow, but did not, either because they were shy, or time was short, or they felt they had no talent to offer. That is why I think it would be nice, at a future event, to have a session where whoever wants to could have the microphone, say for two or three minutes, and tell everyone who they are, and either how they first discovered the work of Leonard Cohen, or how and why a specific Cohen work or line has special meaning to them, or some life experience relating to a work or line of Leonard Cohen. I suppose this is what the newsgroup does regularly. Wouldn't it be fun and interesting to do it live, in each others presence? This would further prove how Leonard Cohen, willingly or not, has given us one of the greatest gifts that an artist can give: a body of work around and through which we can interact and enrich our own lives.
Cheng-yi (James) Chan
Paola Pigozzi, Italy