Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the Light Gets In

The following is a true account and has not been fictionalized or embellished in any way. It’s just the way my life goes… and what a life it is….

Some months ago I received an email from Vince, a good buddy on the mountain. “A bunch of us are going to see Leonard Cohen at the new Nokia theater in L.A. in April. Wanna come?” Leonard Cohen. Poet, artist, songwriter extraordinaire, composer of songs that have haunted me over four decades—“Suzanne,” “Anthem,” and “Hallelujah” (the hands down best song every written, I don’t care what you bring to compare it with)—to name a few. My email response was three words: “Count me in!”
The tickets were ordered and our event was organized by Tamara, beautiful, glowing, mother-goddess on the mountain, a therapist by gift and trade, the kind of person to whom you want to say aloud, “Just keep talking; I think I’m getting better just by listening to you.”

So this past Saturday night, Vince drove up from his place and picked me up, and we drove down to Tamara’s cabin to pick her up, as we would all be riding in her Passport to L.A. She walked out, ready to go, and we stood for a quiet moment in the gravel next to her home, saying our good-bys to Nikita, the “mostly wolf” dog who began a deep-throated howl in the direction of the moon when she realized she couldn’t go with us.

The three of us drove down to Claremont to meet Tamara’s friends, Karen and Roberto, and to have some dinner before hitting the freeway. Karen and Roberto… kind, open, fully conscious folks… who worked with Cesar Chavez, one of my life-heroes, and more recently campaigned for Obama. “Thank you,” I told Roberto, who shrugged it off in his ‘we’re all in this together’ way, and went on to tell me that yes, Barack really is that cool in real life.

After dinner, the boys sat in the front, Vince driving, and we three girls climbed into the backseat of Tamara’s car, and off we headed for Tinsel Town.

Talk in the car immediately turned to Tamara’s ‘friendship’ with Leonard Cohen….

Fans of Cohen know that he has struggled with depression for most of his life (I hear you, my brother), and that as part of his quest to find joy—or at least contentment—he studied various religions, including Zen Buddhism. Devoted fans know that for some time, he lived in a Buddhist monastery. And really, really devoted fans know that that monastery was located on a somewhat obscure mountain in the San Gabriel mountain range… and that the mountain is nicknamed “Mt Baldy.” Cohen stayed at the monastery in the late 1990’s, and (amazingly) up until that time, the Zen Center had yet to install modern, indoor, flush toilets. During Cohen’s search for enlightenment, some money was raised, and ‘the bathroom project’ was carried out—after which someone thought that a nice way to thank sponsors would be to host a breakfast at the Center and invite honored guests. Tamara was one of those guests, and she just happened to rub shoulders with Cohen, who eventually asked for her phone number. Alas, while they had several conversations about writing, the relationship never progressed any further—prompting Roberto and Karen to suggest we all hold up signs at the concert saying, “Tamara hasn’t forgotten you!”

Tamara, of course, told us of these golden days in her relationship with Cohen as we traveled along the freeway—then (to prove her devotion, I suppose) she produced Cohen’s latest book of poems and drawings and proceeded to read them aloud to us—especially those mentioning Mt Baldy by name—as we sat in traffic.

With Vince’s ample foot on the pedal, we reached L.A. with an hour to spare, so we hit a Starbuck’s next to the Nokia—only to find more Baldy-ites, some from the Zen Center, others just fans, all grabbing a coffee and chattering about the show.

But nothing could have prepared us.

I’ve been to a few concerts in my day—probably the most notable being the Jimi Hendrix concert in 1969. Unforgettable…. But even that wasn’t as good as Cohen’s concert. I love this man’s spirit and heart and passion, and it was there, floating through vocals and instrumentation that gleamed as fresh and clean as new-fallen snow on the mountain. And Cohen. At 75, he is still bright-eyed and alive and he drank in the energy of the audience like it was Red Bull. He did five encores. Five. Each time he left the stage, he humbly doffed his fedora and skipped away. And each time the audience rose in thunderous applause so that he would return again—skipping—to sing another song. The concert started at 8:00. We left the theater at 11:45. We were beaming, humming, vibrating alive with his music, his words, the sharing of his soul.

Somewhere around 1:00a.m., we returned Tamara to her cabin. The mountain was quiet and luminescent under a full moon. We stood together silently again, drinking in the clean air, harmonies still dancing through our brains.

I could not sleep after Vince dropped me off. One of Cohen’s lyrics had been put on a continuous loop in my head: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The following is a link to a posting on YouTube of Cohen reciting “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” Go there and listen in the quiet….


  1. Wow. What a kick to see Leonard Cohen (one of my favorites) LIVE! And I agree that “Hallelujah” is (one of) “the best song[s] ever written.” I might add “Lakme: Flower Duet” (Delibes) as a close second: both hauntingly beautiful songs.

    Thank you for including the link to his reading of "A Thousand Kisses Deep." I love it.