On my way to Portland Sunday afternoon I stopped in Salem just as my son was stringing the last Christmas lights across his roof. Later he held my granddaughter up high so she could carry on a family tradition. Kayla, at 13 months, looked like a big girl as she reached towards the top of the Christmas tree to put on the star. It reminded me of all the times this son, my youngest, was hoisted up to perform the very same ritual. I was grateful to be there to share the moment.
The next day I stayed when my son and daughter-in-law went to work. I worried a little that Kayla might not appreciate waking up to find her parents gone, but when I heard her stirring in her room and I walked in, she stood up in her crib and gave me a big grin. The rest of the day was full of grins and giggles, stories and hugs, songs and play. I changed her clothes and combed her hair. I made her breakfast and lunch.
As I sat facing her with a spoonful of blueberry yogurt, a wave of sadness washed over me. This precious little person was just beginning her life and I wondered how much of it I would know. Grade school? Prom? College? There’s no way to predict how much time we have. I shook off my melancholy mood. We had that day and we’d make the most of it.
Leonard Cohen, at 76, walked onto the stage at 8:10 p.m. last Wednesday and performed 28 songs. The first set of 12 was followed by an intermission, then 10 more plus five encores. The audience was made up mostly of people my age with a sprinkling of younger fans. The woman sitting to my left was maybe 40. At one point she leaned over and told me that this was the best concert she’d ever been to.
Leonard and his band were exquisite. Each player was a talented, accomplished musician. They complemented each other perfectly under perfect lighting with perfect sound and a perfect stage presence. Leonard, dressed in a suit and a fedora, spoke little but whispered “thank you, friends,” into his microphone many times. He held his hat over his heart and bowed to the musicians on stage exuding humility and class. He sang every song I hoped he would from “Suzanne” to “Bird on a Wire” to “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
His voice never faltered. He was the master of his lyrics and his art. His relationship with the audience was one of mutual respect. At one point I looked to my right and saw that both Denise and the man next to her were crying. I later heard that many people cried during the concert.
In his review for the Oregonian titled “Leonard Cohen Lets the Light in at the Rose Garden,” arts and entertainment critic Jeff Baker called the performance “spellbinding…inspirational…passionate.” He said “there was a feeling of changing seasons, of autumn passing into winter, all evening.” I felt it, too.
After his first song, ”Dance Me to the End of Love,” Cohen said he did not know when he would pass this way again, “so we’re going to give you everything we’ve got tonight,” and he delivered. It was as though he had just one concert to perform in his life and he was honoring us with it.
“Cohen put together this wonderful band and toured the world in the autumn of his life, a gift to everyone who has listened to his songs and taken meaning from the poetry of his words,” Baker wrote.
The opportunity to go back stage fell through but it didn’t matter. The concert, like the man, was a once in a lifetime experience. Just like every day of our lives and each person we love is a once in a lifetime experience.