Golden Voice

Norbert Ruebsaat

During his concert at General Motors Place in Vancouver in April, 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 backup singers when he had finished a song. He moved near these people during the applause and stood close to them and listened with them to the clapping hands.

I went to the 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 that while listening I would learn something about my future. I had never seen Cohen in real life. The second reason I went to the concert was that it did not take me long to walk there. G.M. Place is sort of in my neighbourhood (Strathcona) and so it seemed, although most of the 20,000-odd people there were from places far 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 the 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 musicians—and this sense of familiarity added to the warm feeling. At one point during “Hallelujah,” a man two rows behind me sang out loudly along with the chorus, and I got excited; I expected the rest of the audience to join in on the refrain because they would know and remember and then sing it, just as I couldn’t resist doing. But when I sang, then listened, and looked into the 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 behind me and along with Leonard, kneeling down there on the stage (he holds the mike like a chalice in two hands, close to his mouth) in subsequent “Hallelujah” choruses and also in the “I’m Your Man” refrain. I thought the woman beside me, a stranger in my generational range, might start singing with me and my buddy two rows back and help us infect larger and larger parts of the audience with the power of communal song. But she made no sound. She just looked at Leonard, and at the backup girls, silently, with her mind.

I became self-conscious then, and heard my own voice getting thinner and sticking out, entirely lacking in gold.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

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


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