So long Leonard……



leonard-cohenOh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

I am sure many people feel about Leonard the way I do, so to many, these thoughts and words will be nothing new. Yet, every Leonard Cohen fan has his or her own memories of the songs,  his stories and  of the man himself, and  everyone feels strongly that those memories are their own to hold and no one else can adequately understand  the depth and significance of those. This is what Leonard did, he made everyone feel that he was sharing his stories and his sentiments with each individual.  And so it should be. That is the undeniable power a poet, writer, singer,  artist possesses, he or she makes you become part of them.

My memories go back to the early 70s when Leonard became part of my university life; his records in the Sydney University library, available to those who booked a seat with headphones, were a welcome break, long or short, from going to lectures and studying. Suzanne, So long Marianne and That’s no way to say goodbye were particular favourites at times of unrequited love episodes, stress due to assignments to be done and exam study left to the last minute. Leonard was there to tell me I wasn’t the only one feeling sad. A fill of his beautiful poetry and soothing melody made me feel better despite the lingering sadness of the sentiments of his songs.

After university, Leonard’s songs and music took somewhat of a back seat in my life; there were other songs, other music, other  countries, different people, life took its own meandering ways and stops. For many years I found his music quite depressing, despite the loveliness and strength of his poetry. I wanted more upbeat music and so for a while Leonard was relegated to a group of CDs at the back of the cupboard, to be listened to sometime in the future. Little did I know then that I would come back to his music with renewed passion. His life too, although I would never be so presumptuous to compare it in any way to mine, took him on many different paths, journeys and changed his writing, music and ways of being. Yet, the essence of his words never changed – there was love, goodbyes, redemption, hurt and even politics, often represented as human failings and the power of hope.

I fought in the old revolution
on the side of the ghost and the King.
Of course I was very young
and I thought that we were winning;
I can’t pretend I still feel very much like singing
as they carry the bodies away.

You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had

Sometime in the early years of the new century a friend said to me he had seen Leonard perform in concert and what a magnificent performance it had been. The words stayed with me and then another friend gave me a CD and DVD of his live performance in London and I fell in love with this man, his music, his words, his life and what he had gone through. His voice was now much deeper, more mature and in lots of ways more appealing, with  both velvety and gravelly nuances woven through it, perhaps the effect of drink and cigarettes, it has been said. The words to many of his songs were familiar but the voice and his appearance had changed. There were new songs too, or at least songs I had not heard during my hiatus from his music.  I listened to the CD and watched the DVD over and over. And then in 2008 an announcement in the newspaper had me booking tickets the day they were released.  I couldn’t wait for the concert.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China

From the moment he stepped onto the stage in his dark suit, wearing his signature hat until the time he sang the last encore I was mesmerised.  I now understood what my friend meant by his performance being magnificent. Here he was at the age of 74, playing , singing, getting down to his knees and back up again with the energy of a 34 year old. His songs, the newer ones and the old favourites, all sung as if he were singing to each individual in that audience. His band and supporting singers, all  consummate professionals, totally in tune with their master. And a master he was. The emotion portrayed, the notes, the words, the in-between songs talk, they were all perfect. I had tears in my eyes more than once. And then it hit me, there was so much similarity, not just his face but also in his body language, between him and my father. Once I realised this, everything Leonard did brought back memories of my dad. The similarity was most prominent in the gentle voice when he spoke to the audience, the gentlemanly demeanour and the way his face lit up when he smiled.

Les Allemands étaient chez moi 
ils m’ont dit “Résigne-toi” 
mais je n’ai pas pu 
j’ai repris mon arme 

Following the concert, I downloaded many of the songs I had not heard before and he became a favourite walking and travelling companion. I never got tired of listening to that voice. In 2010 I couldn’t believe my luck when another concert was announced for Melbourne and so of course,  bought tickets. This time I would take my grown children to see if he could weave the same magic for them. Yes, Leonard was a favourite with the whole family. My daughter, who was 20 at the time, tells me he was actually a favourite before the concert.

The doctor’s working day and night
But they’ll never ever find that cure,
That cure for love

Even though I knew now what to expect from  Leonard Cohen concert,  his performance was beyond expectation. Two more years had not made any difference to his voice or physicality, he was still able to perform with the same energy and passion, including yet again getting down to his knees and back up. The audience, made up of young, older and old, loved him of course. Many of the younger members of the audience, sang along with him, something which annoyed me immensely. I was there to listen to him and only him and didn’t want this experience marred by others. But perhaps that’s an unavoidable sign of the times and perhaps my age and selfishness. I am sure at other festivals and concerts they go to this is very common but on this night I just wanted Leonard all by himself .

Wasn’t hard to love you
Didn’t have to try
Wasn’t hard to love you
Didn’t have to try
Held you for a little while
My Oh My Oh My

In the last interview he gave about his  You want it darker album, Leonard did seem a lot frailer and I knew then there would be no more concerts, despite my  fervent wish for another chance to see him perform. His message to his Marianne, two days before her death, seemed a premonition, but one I did not take seriously, after all he was not ill. So his death came as a shock to me and the millions of his world wide fans. It made a horrible week even worse and perhaps he and his gentleness and love of the world as he knew it, could no longer face an uncertain and seemingly changed world. Or perhaps he was just following Marianne. RIP Leonard – you will not be forgotten.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.


Travel -then and now

Travel then and now

I am sure she meant no malice and perhaps I have said or thought the same at times. Yet the comment “I have seen it all on Facebook, so don’t need to ask you” came as a disappointment. Maybe she was preoccupied with her own life issues at the time so when I asked why she hadn’t asked about my last trip overseas that was the answer I got.

Once the disappointment of a perceived lack of interest lessened somewhat, I started thinking about how travel and recollections of travel have changed over the years. Once upon a time when our parents, and some of us (depending on our age group) travelled, there was no instant sharing of travel, no looking at exotic or familiar locations, no drooling over other people’s meals from the comfort of sitting in front of our computers or scrolling on our mobile tools.

In the past, there were eagerly anticipated postcards or if lucky,longer aerograms which had to be opened ever so carefully, pre-booked telephone calls of various audible quirks and qualities and long waits for snail-mail (Poste Restante) at the American Express offices in various capital cities. If disasters, big and small, occurred, we could not instantly call or text family to send money, rescue packages or a return ticket home. When bookings at hotel were not available because a person had made an error and there was no computer to blame, we had to trudge to the next hotel and the next… and in extreme cases sleep at the train station. It was considered normal to not communicate with one’s family for weeks at a time and the motto ‘no news is good news’ was the mantra for worried mothers and fathers of young, intrepid travellers. When communication was established it tended to focus on safety, availability of food and accommodation and often, on the vexed issue of running out of money. Communication was rarely about sights visited, pubs and restaurants frequented, people met or philosophising about one’s growth through travel; the cost of telephoning prohibited such verbal luxuries. These were all saved for the return home, with the developed and eagerly awaited photos or slides accompanying the stories which family and friends had not heard before. Of course, some stories were best left behind, no need for parents to hear about the hitchhiking or the climbing back into the hostel through a first floor window.

Phoning from a telephone box whilst overseas is now a thing of the past

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So while travel and communication are a lot easier today and we have real time access to travel adventure stories, romances, meals eaten and people met, what happens when people come back from their travel? We have seen the photos of the good and the not-so-good experiences, we have seen the photos of the sprained ankle or broken foot, we have been privy to conversations between our friends and their other friends, in fact, we almost feel like we were there with them. The photos have shown us the sights they visited and what their impressions were, the incidents best kept private are not many. In academic writing, the use of social media platforms to share leisure and travel experiences is known as performative leisure and has become a  recent research topic of interest (Future Foundation 2013).

What about us as travelers on our return home, do we get to recount and embellish our stories as our parents did in the past? And heaven forbid what if we were to stage an evening of photos and video clips a la slide nights of the 70s and 80s? Would the responses be similar to my friend’s, and if so, what about our need to share stories and photos with those close to us?

I am sure families and close friends would still listen with interest and perhaps they would try to jolt their minds for the accompanying photos they may have seen on social media. But in lots of ways, travel has also lost its currency as a point of interest, even difference, it is after all so very easy to travel these days. And what of the real-time curation and archiving of travel experiences, food, sights, people encountered; are we in effect leaving a legacy in cyber – world and on our computers, rather than in old photo albums and boxes with slides and 8mm film reels? Does that lessen the wonder of going through old boxes of black and white and washed-out colour photos and remembering people, places and stories long forgotten? Maybe, but perhaps the wonder lies in the sharing of these as they happen and the feeling of being connected with others wherever they may be in the world and surely that is a good thing too.

PS. A day after I wrote this reflection an article in The Age “The subsistence of memory” expanded on this theme.

“Are we forgetting the art of remembering now our devices do it for us ?”Paul Biegler, The Age September 18, 2016

Future Foundation.(2013).Performative leisure. Accessed August 24, 2015, from