A week is a long time in music. And this last week seems particularly long, with the passing of both Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell.
I don't, as more than a few have suggested, put this down to the world simply giving up in reaction to the takeover of America by a narcissistic white nationalist conman. I think there's a simpler explanation: 2016 sucks. Yep, sad to say in this normally sunny column but it's been a rotten year. It's been a rotten year for politics, it's been a rotten year for war, and it's been a rotten year for musicians. Of course part of that is simply that a whole bunch of musicians are growing older.
A musical divide
There's a sharp divide in the musical world, which comes shortly after the end of the 1950s. A few years into the sixties everything changed. It's like BC and AD. And AD is “anytime vaguely modern” and BC is “a helluva long time ago”. In the music world, the 1950s is BC and the 1960s onwards is AD, “the modern musical world”, essentially the same one we live in now. As one small example, Bobby Vee died last month. His best-remembered song is ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes' from 1963. He was 73 when he died. Leonard Cohen, by comparison, first recorded only four years later in 1967 and was 82 when he died. Yet Bobby Vee is from that earlier musical world and Leonard is from our modern musical world. Now we've reached the point where some people from that modern music world are getting increasingly not-exactly-young any more. And it seems barely necessary to mention it, but a lot of them didn't exactly take care of themselves in their younger years, what with it becoming famous in the 1960s and 1970s, not exactly times of temperance and moderation.
Back to Leonard
I hadn't intended to write about Leonard this week but it's hard not to. Last week I reviewed his new album. Then I popped into The Warehouse and saw a cheap CD of it so I bought another copy, sure to be a useful Christmas present. Then I drove home and was told that he'd died. We talked a lot about Cohen that night, as I happened to be with the same group of musicians and friends who went to Raratonga three years ago for the wedding of another musician, local guitar-slinger Mike Kirk. Nigel Masters from Kokomo made the trip, and bluesman Mike Garner among others. I think it was thanks to Mike G that we ended up in the Koru lounge at Auckland Airport drinking complimentary bubbly while raiding the breakfast bar. That was where Mike (Kirk, in this case) came over to me and said: “You know there's a guy over there who looks just like Leonard Cohen”. This seemed unlikely. It was a month before his final concert tour came through New Zealand and he had no gigs scheduled at the time. But there are very few people in the Koru lounge at 9.30am in the morning who wear full suits and fedoras and, sure enough, helping himself to the orange juice, was none other than Leonard Cohen, dressed exactly as he would be on-stage. It was like walking into an album cover.
Saying ‘thank you'
So, yes, everyone said ‘Hello'. And, yes, he was as charming and gracious as one could possibly hope. I still don't know what he was doing there but someone had the presence of mind to take a picture – just the one out-of-focus picture – of him standing with two of the women in our group. I think the musicians were too shy to ask; I know I was (and damn, I regret it now). But just meeting him was enough really: a quick handshake and, for some, enough time to express the deep impact he'd had upon their lives over the years. You don't often get a chance to say ‘thank you' and this was that rare moment. Leonard smiled, with obvious pleasure, and said: “You're so lovely”.