Cohen, Leonard - One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The New Yorker – extracted from the article in the October 17, 2016 Issue Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker By David Remnick
Cohen has played thousands of concerts all over the world, but it did not become second nature until he was in his seventies. He was never one of those musicians who talk about feeling most alive and at home onstage. Although he has had many successful performance strategies—wry self-abnegation, drugs, drink—the act of giving concerts often made him feel like “some parrot chained to his stand.” He is also a perfectionist; a classic like “Famous Blue Raincoat” still feels “unfinished” to him.
“It stems from the fact that you are not as good as you want to be—that’s really what nervousness is,” Cohen told me. “That first time I went out with Judy Collins, it wasn’t to be the last time I felt this.”
In 1972, Cohen, now accompanied by a full complement of musicians and singers, arrived in Jerusalem at the end of a long tour. Just to be in that city was, for Cohen, a charged situation. (The following year, during the war with Egypt, Cohen showed up in Israel, hoping to replace someone who had been drafted. “I am committed to the survival of the Jewish people,” he told an interviewer at the time. He ended up performing, often many times a day, for the troops on the front.) Out onstage, Cohen started singing “Bird on the Wire.” He stopped after the audience greeted the opening chords and phrase with applause.
“I really enjoy your recognizing these songs,” he said. “But I’m scared enough as it is out here, and I think something is wrong every time you begin to applaud. So if you do recognize this song, would you just wave your hands?”
He fumbled again, and what at first had seemed like performative charm now appeared to signal genuine anxiety. “I hope you bear with me,” he said. “These songs become meditations for me and sometimes, you know, I just don’t get high on it and I feel that I’m cheating you. I’ll try it again. If it doesn’t work, I’ll stop in the middle. There’s no reason why we should mutilate a song just to save face.”
Cohen began singing “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.”
“I lit a thin green candle . . .”
He stopped again, laughing, unnerved. More fumbling, more deflective jokes.
“I have my rights up here, too, you know,” he said, still smiling. “I can sit around and talk if I want to.”
By then, it was apparent that there was a problem. “Look, if it doesn’t get any better, we’ll just end the concert and I’ll refund your money,” Cohen said. “I really feel that we’re cheating you tonight. Some nights, one is raised off the ground, and some nights you just can’t get off the ground. And there’s no point in lying about it. And tonight we just haven’t been getting off the ground, and it says in the Kabbalah . . .”
The Jerusalem audience laughed at the mention of the Jewish mystical text.
“It says in the Kabbalah that if you can’t get off the ground you should stay on the ground! No, it says in the Kabbalah that, unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne, and somehow the male and female parts of me refuse to encounter one another tonight—and God does not sit on his throne. And this is a terrible thing to have happen in Jerusalem. So, listen, we’re going to leave the stage now and try to profoundly meditate in the dressing room to get ourselves back into shape.”