The vineyard is pinstriped with light and shade, though shade is scarce.
To the south, a fire will soon become a killing furnace yet here,
on the last day of the first month of the year, the news is good.
The Triffids play to all but empty grass. Paul Kelly’s quiet set calls
the faithful out from under tents and trees. When he leaves the stage
it’s almost dark. After the break, Leonard Cohen and his band walk out
to a standing ovation. It’s not the crowd but what it brings and receives
that matters. The man who wears an Armani suit to sweep the floor
and do his washing doffs his fedora, smiles, then steps into the opening
chords of Dance Me To The End of Love. Someone nearby is sobbing.
A man holds his daughter up as if to receive a blessing. When he lets
her down, the bottle of Ballantines we’d smuggled in is kicked from
my hand as I fill a glass. I pour another as the band goes into The Future.
Cohen’s sense of style and old world manners are evident and in
abundance. Often, as the Shepherd of the Strings, Javier Mas is soloing
on the banduria, sitting on the edge of a red armchair, Cohen kneels
before him, hat in hand, watching respectfully. This gesture is afforded
everyone, and often. There Ain’t No Cure For Love sets the tone
and spirit for the night. I overhear a woman say she’d been with him
in London. He prefaces songs with stories of depression, meditation
and how, in the end, after years of drugs and study, cheerfulness just kept on
breaking through. After Bird on the Wire, in the first intermission,
I walk through the crowd and listen. Up on the hill it seems too quiet
for a concert, with people standing around as if trying to remember
something they’d meant to say, or do. The stage is like a scallop shell,
with dark blue screens and Cohen’s own design: a heart with
a hummingbird in flight above it. As he introduces The Sisters of Mercy,
I want to shout something about George Johnston, but keep myself busy
and in check with a bottle and a glass. Leonard Cohen knows how
reclusiveness and shunning fellowship affect the head and heart.
At the end of If It Be Your Will and before I Tried to Leave You,
he offers his blessings to those returning with friends and family
and to those going home to their solitude. Then it’s over.
At 74 he won’t be back. Walking to the bus, I see an old friend
from Wagga. He’s off somewhere with the night in his head
and I will not interrupt him.
Anthony Lawrence lives in Newcastle. His most recent book of poems Bark (UQP) was shortlisted for the 2008 Judith Wright Calanthe Award and the Age Book of the Year Awards. The Welfare of my Enemy, a verse novel, is forthcoming.