I'm Your Man
OK, so, what about the documentary? It focusses on the Came So far for Beauty concert (somewhat eccentrically capitalised as Came So far For Beauty, then later as Came So Far For Beauty, in the end credits), in which many other performers came together to honour and celebrate Leonard Cohen. One of these performers was Nick Cave, who, now that I have sampled the entire Cohen discography and the entire post-Swordfishtrombones (inclusive) Tom Waits discography, is my new source of gravelly-throated inspiration. I felt that, with Cohen at the fore and Nick Cave present, it should be hard to go wrong (even with the promised appearance by Bono), so I went to see it with some eagerness.
Although a rather informative biographical conversation with Cohen weaves its way through the movie (revealing, for example, the identity of the Suzanne of, well, Suzanne -- a question I had never particularly sought to answer, and one whose answer meant little to me; but maybe there are those out there who need to know), and we are treated to liberal (and delightful) samples of his artwork and poetry, there is actually very little of Cohen singing; rather, we spend most of our time watching others cover his songs at the aforementioned CSffB concert. After having heard Cave's loony but delightful cover of Tower of Song on his album B-Sides and Rarities, I had high hopes for him as a cover artist, but his performance of I'm Your Man was disappointing, and I didn't feel he shed particular light on Suzanne. According to this review of the concert, he also sang Diamonds in the Mine at the concert, which I would have loved to have seen and heard -- it seems to fit perfectly with his wilder side.
Three other songs which particularly stand out in my memory are whichever one Antony sang -- I can't remember its name (The Guests, maybe?), but, whatever it was, to those concerned, please, please don't let him sing in public again, or at least tie his arms to his sides if he does; I Can't Forget, covered by Jarvis Cocker, whose facial expression made him look as if he were either in mortal pain or badly constipated, and who actually indulged in the ridiculous device of slapping the side of his head as he sang "I can't forget/But I can't remember what" (but who sounded all right if one closed one's eyes); and The Anthem, sung (quite well) by Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, in which the lines "I can't run no more/With that lawless crowd/While the killers in high places/Say their prayers out loud" -- which I have long felt is a beautiful summary of much of our current political situation -- elicited a huge cheer.
I was surprised to find that Rufus Wainwright (whose rather reedy voice I thought left him unfit to sing Leonard Cohen songs) was by far the best of the cover artists I heard. Although his version of Everybody Knows was a disappointment -- at the end, as the song should have been building to apocalypse, he sounded like he was thinking of a really good party -- he (with backup singers Joan Wasser and Martha Wainwright) delivered a lovely rendition of Hallelujah. His performance of Chelsea Hotel #2 (of which Cohen says that he, Cohen, regrets having ever been so ungallant as to reveal who was its subject) was not revolutionary, but did offer an interesting perspective on it.
Very near the end is the moment for which, of course, one waits the whole film, namely the time when Cohen himself steps out (although I understand from the reviewes on IMDB that this was footage added for the movie, not part of the concert) to perform just one song for us -- in this case, I think perfectly appropriately, Tower of Song. (What a beautiful song of tribute.) Though one can't help noticing that the years sit heavy on his face, it was beautiful to see him step up to the microphone, and lovely to anticipate hearing the golden voice which had been serenading us with words throughout the movie finally break into song -- but he seemed to be lip-syncing! I hope, I desperately hope, I am mistaken, but the evidence seemed quite strong to me, and it really spoiled my enjoyment of this coda.
All in all, though I think the director, Lunson, shed no particular light on his subject -- in fact Cohen has an interesting look on his face throughout, as if he is contemplating the jokes he could (and maybe did!) weave into his sometimes discursive answers to the interviewer's questions -- it was pleasant simply to spend, even vicariously, an hour and a half with Cohen, and with so many wonderful singers who share one's adulation of him. I wish I could have been at the concert.