The 74-year-old songwriter is touring America for the first time in 15 years. Why now? He felt the flicker.
Reporting from New York -- Bathed in the indigo light, Leonard Cohen leaned forward like a man eager to feel the wind on his face and, as the crowd at the Beacon Theatre in New York cheered, the 74-year-old singer narrowed his eyes and delivered another one of his unhurried, deep velvet threats:
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
Ten nights ago, Cohen performed his first U.S. concert since 1993 at the restored and resplendent Beacon, which instantly became the stuff of legend -- at least in the music circles where Cohen is regarded as one of the great living titans of songwriting. It didn't hurt, either, that the Montreal native arrived backstage with tantalizing mysteries tucked in that guitar case.
This is the man, after all, who in the 1990s walked away from show business to wear monk's robes at a Zen monastery near the resort village of Mount Baldy. Then, after returning to his old fedora, he announced in 2005 that he had been robbed blind by his longtime manager.
Either of those life experiences might have led the poet and troubadour to the Beacon stage with a humorless severity. They did not.
"It's been a long time since I stood on a stage in New York," Cohen told the adoring, star-studded crowd. "I was 60 years old then. Just a kid with a crazy dream . . . "
The marathon concert (almost three hours) at the Beacon was the 99th performance by Cohen and his supple band during their recent tour of the world, but just the beginning of a major return to America. The 28 dates now announced include an April 10 show at the Nokia Theatre (tickets for that show go on sale March 9) and, one week later, a performance in an unexpected setting -- the massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. There, the dapper songsmith will share a bill with Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Paul Weller, but also with bands such as the Killers, the Cure and My Bloody Valentine.
The day after the Beacon show, Cohen was clearly pleased with the warm ovations from the night before. His hotel suite at the Warwick Hotel afforded him a view of a Manhattan afternoon that was as crisp as his tailored suit and, when a visitor arrived for an interview, he turned down the twangy country music from his laptop computer and offered a cup of coffee.
"It's been a great trip, man, a lovely time," he said. "Have a seat."
Cohen had a considerable contingent of family and friends at the New York show (as well as recognizable fans such as Harvey Keitel, Rufus Wainwright and Richard Belzer) and he said that "all of us felt a sort of special edge on the night, all of us wanted to do good."
Cohen looks fantastic, trim and graceful, which is worth pointing out not just for reasons of chronological age, but because of the previous night's late labors and the long touring road that led up to it -- beginning in Canada and then going on to Ireland; Bucharest, Romania; and other European stops, before a run through New Zealand and Australia. "The next one, in Austin, Texas, in four weeks will be our 100th show," Cohen said, "and it's just grand. And then we'll do another 100."