Note: Originally posted Feb 16, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric. Updates are indicated in the text.
Leonard Cohen Challenging The Audience
I was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the early 1970s, and during my first year there, sometime in the late fall of 1970, Cohen gave a concert in the gymnasium in the Student Centre.
Here are a few things I can recall. He was backed up by one or two female vocalists, and some instrumentalists too I think. He performed in an all-black outfit, maybe just slacks and turtleneck. He looked tired and a bit haggard.
There was a full audience and the concert unfolded in a curious way — he seemed to be losing interest after a few songs and claimed that the crowd was not giving him the vibes he needed (not said in those exact words). I thought he was going to walk out. I think he may have started to. The audience was a bit rowdy and impatient with his antics. Then gradually the audience (probably entirely made up of students from the campus) started responding more, and he did this thing where he was seeming to be revived by this response, and so he gave the audience the feeling that they had somehow given him the life and energy to go on.
It was a very nervy thing to do, sort of playing Tinkerbell, and the atmosphere that resulted was quite amazing. And then the performance started getting a lot better. I was at the exit when he left at the end, I remember a sort of minibus, maybe a Volkswagen minibus, that he and the band climbed into and took off.
Update from LeonardCohenForum:
Yep I was there! I believe it was even a free concert… the one memorable thing I remember LC doing was he had a stool (?) set up near the mike with a glass and a bottle of wine and before he started performing he poured some wine out on the stage floor saying, For those who cannot be with us tonight… which was very meaningful since Jimi and Janis had just died
Update from LeonardCohenForum:
I attended the 1970 Stony Brook concert in the University Gym. It was at the beginning of December. It was my freshman year and I was only 16 years old at the time. The concert was phenomenal. The only strange moment was when Leonard came on stage and gave a mock Nazi salute to the consternation of many in the audience. People were definitely not apathetic, only mellow but certainly disoriented by this entrance gesture and were unsure about his motivation. He could definitely be spirited and feisty during that time of his relative youth. It was the end of the counter-culture, but Leonard was always in his own groove. He was not to have his Zen awakening for many years. He was always a bit sardonic and his voice was much stronger and deeper than during his recent London tour. His songs and poetry are gorgeous and he will always be one of a kind, although the mock politeness he displayed in London was quite precious and funny!
Update from LeonardCohenForum
I remember the concert well. It was also my freshman year and I had just turned 17. I worked on the concert for work/study and sold tickets in the Student Union. I remember he was dressed all in black and gave the salute. I was disturbed. I also remember the after-party. We were standing around him in a circle and nobody said anything. So, I broke the ice, shook his hand and started up the conversation. I felt like everyone was waiting for him to levitate. I still remember the feelings that experience evoked. Now it is over 42 years later. He is on tour now and will be in Miami, where I live on March 20th. Amazing.
Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post by George Tunick.
- At the time of the original posting, the exact date was unknown. The source indicated “This concert was performed during the late fall 1970, possibly after Canadian Thanksgiving (October 12), on a Sunday evening, so possible dates are October 18, 25 ; November 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 ; December 6, 13, 20, 27.” Now other sources, notably Tour Archive: Stony Brook University 1967 – 1973, report the date as Dec 5, 1970 [↩]
- This account is from LeonardCohenLive.com which is no longer online [↩]