Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen (Oh, and is Michael Jackson still Dead?)

A scary bit of news Saturday was that Leonard Cohen collapsed on stage in Spain. We saw him in Austin this past Spring and it still stands out as one of the best concerts I've ever seen. I got my wife the CD/DVD of the London show from this tour, and we play it at least once a week or so.

Today he turns 75, and even though he's in amazing condition for a man his age - he may look small and frail, but he was all over the stage when we saw him, up and down taking a knee regularly, and doing a little jig as he went offstage during the encores - but, sure, he's not going to be around forever.

When Michael Jackson died and we had 24/7 news coverage, it struck me that when Leonard Cohen departs this world, he'll probably get thirty second on the national news and maybe a few minutes on Entertainment Tonight or VH1. Yes, MJ's tragic death was perfect for the tabloid-style coverage that the cable networks love, but as far as anything you can define as "artistic merit" and the value of a life well lived, the attention given to Michael Jackson and the eventual coverage of Leonard Cohen's passing will be completely out of proportion to what they should be.

To me, Exhibit One in the debate over just how screwed up Michael Jackson was as a person and as an artist is the opening sequence to his movie "Moonwalker". That came out in 87 or 88, and it was one of the only American movies playing at this theater one afternoon in Toulon when I was in France during my time in the Marines. I didn't see that whole clip shown anywhere in any of the media coverage I saw because it is so bizarre. But, yes, its on YouTube. It consists of him performing "Man in the Mirror" in concert before a huge crowd of adoring fans interspersed with clips of - among others - Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem in their famous three-way handshake in 1979 at the Israel-Egypt peace treaty signing (at 1:40), Ghandi (at 1:48), Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK (at 2:00 or so), RFK, Mother Theresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu (at 2:25), and so on. No further elaboration on the egotism of Michael Jackson is necessary.

Then there's the damn lyrics to the song:
Gotta make a change
For once in my life
It's gonna feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
Make what change? He was still black in this video, so I guess he was contemplating his supposedly vitiligo-inspired cosmetic lightening (though with vitiligo, a condition where your pigment becomes lighter in patches, the usual remedial action is to use dark make-up to cover up the light patches). So he’s basically saying, if you want to make the world a better place, look at yourself and just GO FOR that makeover, new wardrobe, whatever. You don’t have to actually DO anything external to your own narcissism.

Compare that with this clip from the Leonard Cohen DVD of his London concert; it’s the same basic show we saw in Austin (embed is disables for this clip, so you have to click the link):
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Michael Jackson never wrote anything that comes close to poetry like that.

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