Norbert Ruebsaat's Blog

Golden Voice

Norbert Ruebsaat

During his concert at GM Place in Vancouver on April 18, Leonard Cohen often kneeled at the front of the stage and bowed his head while singing. He also doffed his fedora frequently and held it to his chest and bowed to the audience, and to band members and to his three female back-up singers when he had finished a song. He moved near the latter people during the applause and stood close to them and listened with them to the clapping hands.

I went to the Leonard Cohen concert because Cohen is the only pop singer whose career I have somewhat kept up with since the days when I followed more pop singers’ careers because I thought I would while listening learn something from them about my future. I had never seen Cohen in real life. The second reason I went to the Leonard Cohen concert was that I could walk there, in a short while. GM Place is sort of in my neighbourhood (Strathcona), and so it seemed, although there were twenty-thousand-odd people there, most of them from places greatly beyond this neighbourhood, that Leonard was paying me and us a local visit. This gave me a sweet warm feeling.

Cohen sang almost all the songs in his compositional oeuvre during this three-hour concert (there were four encores) and I was surprised to note that I knew all but three of them; I could easily sing along, in my mind, with the lyrics, and could even hum a lot of the accompaniment—which was fantastic: Cohen’s band members are high-wired angels—and this sense of familiarity added itself to the warm feeling. At one point during “Hallelujah,” a man two rows above me in the stadium tiers sang out, loud, along with the chorus, and I got excited; I expected the entire audience, or at least a good part of it, say fifteen thousand, would soon join in on this well-known refrain (the song’s been covered by many singers and topped charts) because they would know and remember and then sing it just like I couldn’t resist doing. But when I sang then, and listened, and looked into the massed crowd down on the floor of what is on other occasions an ice rink, I heard no voices. Not even funny ones. No coughs, either. I kept singing nevertheless, along with the man in the row above me, and along with Leonard, kneeling down there on the stage (he holds the mic like a chalice, in two hands, close to his mouth) in subsequent “Hallelujah” choruses, and also in the “I’m Your Man” refrain; I glanced at the woman sitting beside me, a stranger (she was blond, and in my generational range) and I thought she might start singing with me and with my buddy from two rows back and help us to eventually infect larger and larger parts of the audience with the power of communal song. Or she might help do the do dum dum dum that Leonard’s back-up singers repeated for quite a long time while swaying their bodies after he was, so to speak, gone. But the blond woman made no sound. She just looked at Leonard. And at the back-up girls. Silently. With her mind. I became self-conscious then, and heard my own voice getting thinner and sticking out, and entirely lacking in gold.


Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


Kris Rothstein's Blog
Kris Rothstein

VIFF 2019: MODES 1

A collection of experimental short films encourages immersion in image and sound.
Geist news

Winners of the 15th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest!

Announcing the winners of the 15th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest!
Michael Hayward's Blog
Michael Hayward

VIFF 2019: "Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom"

A young Bhutanese teacher, wrestling with his commitment to that career, is sent to the remote Himalayan village of Lunana, to fulfill the final year of his contract.