A week after the event, Obama’s victory is still thrilling and has brought with it a ray of hope. Even some supportive words from Tony Blair have failed to completely dispel the mood of optimism.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
As Leonard Cohen sang last night on stage in Bournemouth.
Try as I might, and believe me I’ve tried hard, I have never been entirely convinced by Cohen as a novelist or, even more so, as a poet on the page. But as a songwriter he hits it, note perfect.
(Well, ok, not every time; ‘Chelsea Hotel’ is a horror, clunky and tasteless, the least refined song he has ever written. But thankfully they didn’t play it.)
He hasn’t been on tour for about 15 years – as he said at one point, “The last time I was here, I was sixty years old, just a kid with a crazy dream,” – but from the moment he bounds (yes, really!) onstage and you hear the signature honeyed-gravel tones of his voice, you know he’s back at the top of his game.
What becomes clear, over the course of the evening, in the most exciting and involving way, is the quality of the songwriting. And that, as song follows song, the performance becomes truly an event in which we are all, performers and audience alike, there to serve and keep alive these songs that achieve a very special resonance, that penetrate and make a real human connection and, hell, I’m going to say it, songs that fill your being with a profound sense of joy and celebration. Of the possibilities of language and music, and of human beings and the tangled web of contradictions that we live.
In short, if songs are a promise, that promise was kept.
‘So Long Marianne’ is heart-stoppingly perfect. ‘Suzanne’ thrillingly on edge, that somehow seemed to make afresh that most iconic of songs. ‘Who by Fire’ was given a sumptuous introduction by Javier Mas on the bandurria (or the laud!). The musicianship throughout is truly excellent, and the evening is carefully plotted and shaped, the attack of the more recent songs counterbalanced by the more contemplative classics.
‘Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’, a gorgeous mixture of celebration, longing and regret; the ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ bathed in blue light. And what better night than the 11th of the 11th for ‘The Partisan’, realised beautifully. What’s to say about songs that you haved live with throughout your life? A certain amount of relief that they still stand up; a certain amount of surprise that they seem to be getting even better with time.
Almost at the end, in the final encore, they played ‘Democracy’, with the gleefully satirical refrain ‘Democracy is coming to the USA’. Obama’s victory maybe offers a chance to join in on the chorus:
Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on …’
Of course, other celebratory options exist – as subscribers to Jeanette Winterson’s November message will know:
‘… I delayed the site updates this month because I wanted to wait until after the election. I did not, though, shave my pubic hair as instructed by more radical friends in the US, to shout the statement NO MORE BUSH.
But I think we can all have a drink…’
I thoroughly recommend Jeanette Winterson’s monthly newsletter. Her writing is always witty, elegant and full of insight. Most importantly it celebrates life, living and good writing. Sign up to it by following the link from jeanettewinterson.com
Cohen’s autumn tour, meanwhile, heads off to London, Birmingham, Paris, Brighton and Manchester. Catch it if you can. You won’t be disappointed.