Everybody knows that it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth...

I went to see Leonard Cohen at Rod Laver Arena last Thursday and I’ve been delaying writing about it since, fearing, perhaps, that my choice of words would paint me as the giddy fan boy I almost certainly am. In the past couple of months my appreciation of Cohen has steadily increased as I delved into more and more of his work, and I still have much delving to do.

Last year Cohen, now 74, came out of a 15 year retirement after his manager allegedly pilfered his retirement funds. The impression Cohen leaves in his interviews and his art is often of a man who places little emphasis on wealth or possessions. His music was never commercial; his words were written with laborious perfectionism (it's legend that Cohen would spend weeks or months working on a single line); his poetry often spiritual. In 1996 he was ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk, and I remember one interview where he said happiness arrived in his life when he “stopped expecting to win.”

Bummer about his manager, but I’m chuffed that Cohen came out of retirement because the show was just extraordinary – I’m tempting to spray this sentence with superlatives, but it’s probably enough just to say, on the record, that this is the best concert I’ve ever attended. Cohen played all his well known songs, though only one of them, Hallelujah, ever reached widespread international fame, even if there are many other greats – including The Future, Everybody Knows (currently featuring on anti smoking ads), Tower of Song, Democracy, First We Take Manhattan, I’m Your Man and Dance Me to the End of Love. They’re all terrific songs and I recommend curious parties check ‘em out on Youtube or better yet get your hands on a copy of The Essential Leonard Cohen, a superb double CD compilation of much of his work.

Cohen’s hoarse, velvety voice was sublime. He's 74 but it’s hard to believe it’s ever been better. His banter with the audience was great too: at one stage Cohen reflected on when he was 60 years old (“back then I was just a kid with a crazy dream”) and noted that he’s always been interested in religion “but cheerfulness kept creeping in.” He was sweet, endearing, carefully spoken and a consummate performer. I’ve never seen a show quite like it. For an idea of what his voice sounds like nowadays, check out this Youtube video of a rendition of Tower of Song with U2 (for those who don’t like U2, just focus on Cohen). It was filmed last year and is from the documentary I’m Your Man.

For those who’ve never read a Leonard Cohen poem, hows about popping your cherry by reading the piece below - it’s a typically self-deprecating Cohen poem that reflects on his title as a poet, a singer and a ladies’ man. Enjoy.

I had the title Poet
and maybe I was one
for a while
Also the title Singer
was kindly accorded me
even though
I could barely carry a tune
For many years
I was known as a Monk
I shaved my head and wore robes
and got up very early
I hated everyone
and no one found me out
My reputation
as a Ladies’ Man was a joke
It caused me to laugh bitterly
through the ten thousand nights
I spent alone
From a third-storey window
above the Parc du Portugal
I’ve watched the snow
come down all day
As usual
there’s no one here
There never is
the inner conversation
is cancelled
by the white noise of winter…


  1. twas an absolute pleasure to be your date to this one bucky. what a guy! such a great performance - he practically skipped on stage, didnt miss a note and was charming to boot! definitely a very special concert i felt lucky to be in the audience of.

  2. I understand the desire to not sound like a "giddy fan boy", but it's true that I've never experienced such a wonderfully generous, warm, loving night at a gig.
    Please take the time to look at this, thoughts from another fellow audience member;


  3. John: what a terrific review. Thanks very much for letting me know about it. I love it when people mingle critical appraisals with the tone/vibe of the art they're writing about. I've wondered in the past what it would be like to read a film review in the form of a poem; though I don't think I could do this myself without a lot of practice first as my poetry skills are nowhere close to yours. Kudos my man; I think Leonard would be happy with this.

    L. Buckmaster

    p.s. did you hear that Cohen and his tour donated $200,000 to the bushfire appeal?