books, lifestyle, music

Leonard Cohen, Suzzy Roche and parties

Last year, Leonard Cohen did something I never thought would happen in a gatrillion years. He played a show in my city. I owe my Cousin-by-Choice Peter a huge debt of gratitude for that, because Peter’s the promoter who got him here.

Turned out that Sweetheart had never heard of Leonard Cohen, which I discovered when I told him I had just spent few weeks’ worth of grocery money on tickets.

Sweetheart and I are both musical, but our paths have been divergent. There’s plenty of overlap. But encyclopedically, I’m the classical, folk, progressive, Jewish and rock-of-a-certain-era side of the house, and he has the punk, new wave, metal, rap, reggae and hip-hop categories covered. We both know our psychedelia.

It didn’t take Sweetheart long to realize I’d been right when I told him he already knew lots of Leonard’s songs, and within the first 15 seconds of the show, he declared the sound “pristine.”  It was. If you’re looking for a crazy-intimate concert experience in a large hall, a Leonard Cohen show is just what you’re after.

This week, I’m looking forward to a crazy-intimate concert experience in a smaller venue. It was a fictional venue when faux band Spinal Tap played there, but Cousin Peter made life imitate art when he opened Shank Hall 25 years ago. On Wednesday, Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche are playing there. I first heard of her in 1979, when Danny Rosenthal showed up at my house with an album by The Roches. They became one of my favorite singing groups instantly and were one of my first interviews as a baby music journalist.

I would describe Suzzy as a warm acquaintance, one of those people who’d probably be a great friend if time and life circumstances had lined up. Her Lucy is a little older than my oldest, and when they were wee and our friend J told L about Lucy, she insisted we send her a birthday present. So I shipped off a copy of “The Paper Bag Princess,” and it was a hit. Suzzy returned the favor by turning me on to “The Story of the Dancing Frog” and “Brave Irene.” I’m schlepping a copy of “Froodle” to the show for them. If you share my sensibility with children’s picture books, it’s a fair bet that you are my kind of person.

I want them to fill Cousin Peter’s club, so I posted an interview someone did with them on my Facebook Feed. The interviewer asked about three “dream guests” they’d invite to a party. What I liked even more than their answers was their agreeing that it would be more fun to watch what went on among their guests than to interact directly. Those two are my partygoing soulmates.

Which is why, in addition to “Froodle,” they would probably like Harvey Kubernik’s new coffee table book, “Leonard Cohen: everybody knows (Backbeat Books)” as much as I did. It’s like being at a party where he’s a guest and you get to listen to all of his conversations without having to deal with an actual interaction.

Kind of what you might get from eavesdropping at a party where Leonard Cohen, Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell and Phil Spector were all present, but without anyone giving you side-eye for being a creepy stalker.

Kubernik has organized the book in sections delineated by timelines. Each contains photographs, vignettes, quotes and biographical information. In confident, unpretentious prose, he outlines the ways in which Cohen’s experiences informed his artistic identity and shows, using their words, what he has meant to other artists.

He also gives us a clear sense of the way in which Cohen did not set out to become an icon. He just set out to live, following one logical move to what looked like the next in any given moment, utterly unaware of the degree of which – and how far – his logical path differed from the average person’s life trajectory.

Accidental courage, I think, drives the luckiest among us. I’d long considered Cohen’s words and music a great gift, but had never imagined how his life had lined up the way it had. I’m grateful to Cohen for yet another gift, and to Kubernik for wrapping it up into such a satisfying package.

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