The most under-promoted artist in modern pop history comes to Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2012.
No fanfare, no wild costumes, no outrageous press conferences. This artist has been quietly astonishing listeners for decades upon decades. Songs like “My Secret Life” sound intensely personal, yet they seem to be a commentary on you, or on Zimbabwe or perhaps presidential elections.
To listen to Leonard, you have to learn a distinction that divides modern lyrics. Most lyrics are denotative. That means they say what they mean and mean what they say. When Lady Gaga says, “I’ll get him hot, show him what I’ve got,” there’s not much mystery. Especially since she’ll show just about anyone what she’s got.
When Leonard drops a verse, it drops hard and makes you mad that you forgot what made you human.
And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Don’t spend your time trying to overlay reality with this verse. It’s connotative. It means more than the words actually say. It digs stuff up you were keeping down inside you. It reminds you of two in the morning after a breakup or two in the afternoon walking through Times Square wondering if the guy in the clown makeup and roller blades ever stops posing and becomes a human being.
By the way, that skating clown is just across the street from the biggest billboard in Times Square, which has been up since way before the “Old Ideas” album came out. Leonard seems to be brooding over the shoulders of the tourists and the hookers and the hustlers as if to say,
Tho’ all the maps of blood and flesh
Are posted on the door,
There’s no one who has told us yet
What Boogie Street is for
So you’ve got your head full of connotative lyrics and the sights of Times Square Boogie Street rattling your eyeballs, and you’ve put on your Famous Blue Raincoat and headed for Madison Square Garden. What will you see in the Leonard Cohen audience? Old losers? Has beens that never were?
The audience is as unpredictable as a Leonard Cohen lyric. They have no age, they have all the ages, they seem to be after something. These are the hungry zombies of New York, the ones who feel they’ve been walking among the dead and want to come back to life.
These are people who know the lyrics to “Suzanne” and are just about to figure out what it means. These are really young kids who are way too old and old people who are way too young.
You know who you’re going to see at a Leonard Cohen concert?
You’re going to see yourself.