So it finally happened, I saw Leonard Cohen in concert, it was two days ago and just now the energy is beginning to settle and I can start placing some words in sequence to describe my experience. Numerous people have asked me about it and I still haven’t answered them.
I have a long-standing wish to photograph Leonard Cohen in concert and though that wish has not yet been fulfilled, pursuing it is a story worth telling. I began acting on this wish last summer when there were first rumors about a possible concert in Israel. The concert was to be held on September 21st 2008 – and he was to arrive in Israel 3 days earlier on his birthday. I first wrote to Jarkko Arjatsalo the webmater of The Leonard Cohen Files website, and he told me that there is a very protective bubble of security around Leonard Cohen. This wasn’t very encouraging but I did send an email to Robert Kory (Leonard Cohen’s manager) – I got no response.
As the concert was finalized this year I again sent a number of emails (to Jarkko, to Kory and numerous emails to the wonderful people who worked relentlessly to bring Leonard Cohen to Israel). Nothing came of it.
The day before the concert I was considering if I was going to carry with me my camera gear to the concert, in the end I charged my batteries and decided to take it with me to keep my options open. As we were riding the train towards Tel-Aviv I wrote a short letter to Robert Kory in the hope that I would be able to get the letter to him and that there would be a window of opportunity for him to read it and make it possible for me to photograph the concert.
When we arrived a few hours early at the stadium I parted ways with my family and began wandering around the many gates hoping luck would point out to me someone to whom I could hand the letter who could pass it on to someone else on a path that would eventually lead to Robert Kory. After some time (I think it was about 20 or 30 minutes) walking around I began to feel that it wasn’t going to happen. Then something happened.
I saw someone with an inviting face wearing a staff badge around his neck. I asked him if he could help. He pointed north and said that the Israeli manager was just ahead and I should try him directly. I walked up to him, he shook my hand and I asked him if he would be willing to pass the letter on to Robert Kory. He said he couldn’t because Mr. Kory was very annoyed with him … but … he pointed south and said that Mr. Kory was giving an interview to the press 100 yards away and I could try him directly.
I turned to walk in that direction and within a few seconds I saw Robert Kory walking alone and in my direction – he was maybe 20 yards away. I approached him, he had a peaceful, clear & pleasant presence, he acknowledged me and shook my hand. I asked if he would accept the envelope with my letter, he did. I said that it would be great if he had time to read it before the concert and wished him a pleasant evening.
I walked away with a feeling of peace and serenity, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be using my camera tonight.
The concert itself took place despite violent efforts to prevent it. Proceeds from the concert went to supports peace initiatives – specifically projects involving bereaved Israeli & Palestinian families who continue to build bridges and pursue peace.
When the concert began I was drained and tired. This was out 3rd visit to the center area of Israel (we live in the north) in two weeks and my energy was pretty dissipated. I live a fairly quiet and monastic life and I don’t enjoy cities and crowds, they overwhelm my senses and disturb me. I sense much violence around me in Israel, it’s so subtly ingrained into so many things that it goes largely unnoticed, but it’s there. When I am closer to it, it tires me (which is why I live far from it).
In addition, luck would have it that earlier at my parents home, I found myself (again) engaged in conversation (with my family) that attacked me and the choices I have made in my life in recent years. Though these conversations are rooted in care and good intentions, I experience them as violent attacks on subtle and precious aspects of my life. So they too drained me of energy. Of course, I am grateful to my family because they invited us to this concert – and that’s the way life goes 🙂
I have never experienced the kind of violence that kills individuals and breaks hearts & families but I could relate to it and feel it’s deep roots reaching out and touching even my relatively isolated existence.
So, drained of energy, I headed out to a 3 hour gathering of 50,000 people, with some heavy traffic, my father’s aggressiveness behind the steering wheel of the car and my sister’s aggressive consulting behind my father 🙂
Then a 75 years old Leonard Cohen, touring the world for the last two years (“sent around the world like a postcard” is how he described it in one interview) walked on stage and gave a three hour concert. I was barely able to move in my seat and I recall thinking of Robert Kory and admiring (and appreciating with some envy) the protective bubble he created around Leonard Cohen to make it possible for him to appear.
Numerous times during the concert I closed my eyes and let the entire sound and space penetrate me. Each time I did this I first felt loneliness, then I felt embraced, supported and comforted – I could surrender to the tiredness that filled my body. When I did, my eyes overflowed with tears, a shiver flowed through my body and my lips trembled. Though I knew all the words by heart I could not move my lips – it was as if opening my lips would cause a damn to collapse.Only near the end I was able to move my lips to some beautiful words.
To me, the most beautiful moments of the concert were the occasions on which Leonard Cohen stepped aside and let his fellow musicians and singers fill the space. I was too far to see the faces of the people on stage, but there were several times when the cameras brought to the screens Leonard Cohen in waiting (I specifically remember his shaded face singing backup-spirit to Sharon Robinson’s solo on Boogie Street) – and those were magical moments – when his presence filled me – when he looked completely in tune, peaceful, attentive – meditating on stage.
I saw and stored in my heart many beautiful images that I still do hope to capture on camera. I witnessed divine beauty. For the next 12 hours I kept to myself and barely opened my mouth. Even yesterday, when Andreea asked me on the train on the way home about the concert – I still couldn’t give an answer.
I hope that when I am 75 years old I’ll be able to kneel, rise and run around like Leonard Cohen has been doing for the last two years.