Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
I once succeeded with an attractive older woman because we shared a poetry lovers' delight in Leonard Cohen's Suzanne.
A singer/composer who doesn't need U2 for background deserves a tribute by singers who do. Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man is an entertaining tribute documentary that took place in January 2006 at the Sydney Opera House. Album genius producer Hal Willner has arranged 13 performances in the "Came So Far for Beauty" concert. Although Nick Cave and the Wainrights among others could hold their own in concert, when they successfully cover Cohen's songs in Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, there's a slight disappointment that the basso gravel voice himself is not singing.
After all, he composed the poetry and melodies, in a distinctively soulful, weary signature style that says, "I did this. Let me tell you about it." So, you can anticipate both my praise and criticism: Cohen's songs transfer remarkably well to other singers, especially Cave (Even with a Vegas attitude his Suzanne is effective) and Rufus Wainright (His oft-performed rendition of Hallelujah reveals a song that can endure even Rufus's emendations). The singers carry an experience and innocence respectively, as Cohen does.
Cohen's conversations with director Lian Lunson are the most interesting parts of the documentary: his being a poet in Montreal, a hipster in New York, and a monk in a Mt. Baldy Zen monastery. All the time, however, he is cool enough to avoid revealing too much about himself, but then, that's the mystery of his songs as well. He just makes you long to know why he left his art and came back to it. He doesn't tell.
When Cohen finally sings Tower of Song, I knew why he was being feted, albeit too unctuously by Bono, and why he sings his compositions better than anyone else. Because he sometimes takes up to a year on one, the care and feeling show in his weathered voice and heavily-lidded eyes.
His smirk is not smug either: It mirrors a translucent soul that loves humanity in all its weaknesses, as he loves himself in all his. Deservedly.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com