Leonard Cohen, one of the few true poets to ever cross the musical charts -- he has also written some of the sharpest "political" songs ever -- called his induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame on Monday night an "unlikely" event, surely the understatement of the week. Perhaps, as he once sang, "Democracy is coming to the USA." (more below)
His fellow inductees included Madonna and the Dave Clark Five. Iggy Pop performed. Lou Reed, former god of "Heroin" who has published a few poems himself, gave Leonard's induction speech, although Bono is considered Cohen's greatest rock fan. To top it off, The New York Times reports today that Leonard will be launching his first tour in ages, June 6, in Toronto.
Reed read some of the inductee's lyrics/poems, and then Leonard, grey-haired and dapper in a tux, recited his "Tower of Song," with the audience cheering individual lines, such as "I ache in the places/ where I used to play." For one night he was truly "back on Boogie Street." No songs followed. Poetry reigned, for once.
I've been a Cohen fanatic for 35 years, from back in the years when I was senior editor at the legendary Crawdaddy. One of the most memorable concerts for me ever came in the mid-1970s, when Leonard appeared at, I believe, Carnegie Hall. His backup group included a trio of lovely women in white -- probably including Jennifer Warnes.
As some may know, Leonard was known as, shall we say, a ladies man (he later recorded an album, with Phil Spector, titled Death of a Ladies Man). Let's just say that he lived with actress Rebecca DeMornay back when she was considered virtually the most beautiful woman in the world. I recall the party for Leonard at the Plaza Hotel after a concert. I have never seen since such a public display: one striking woman after another surrounding him (Judy Collins was one) like moths to a flame, for over an hour. John Mayer, eat your heart out.
But back to the lyrics. I can't or won't try to do justice to them here, from "Take This Longing" to "Hallelujah." In my new book, I even manage to quote a couple of his lines, applied to Iraq and the media, such as "a scheme is not a vision."
But since this is Huff Post, let me close with a few lines from the aforementioned "Democracy." Obama campaign, sign this one up!
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A....
It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat...
Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.
It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq (Union Square Press). He is the editor of Editor & Publisher.
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