by Jody Denberg
Listen to Jody Denberg’s interviews with Leonard Cohen in the player below. We’ve also included video of Leonard Cohen’s band performing at the Cactus Cafe before his final show in Austin at the Bass Concert Hall in 2012.
Writing about Leonard Cohen is an exercise in futility, because Leonard said it all and he said it better than anyone else. Cohen spoke and wrote with grace, wisdom, insight and humor. We lost so much with his passing November 10 at 82, but so much remains: the songs, the poems, the books, the knowledge imparted.
In Austin we had a special perch from which to view Leonard, because since the 1970s he employed wonderful local musicians to bring his songs to life, including his bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck, guitarist Mitch Watkins and other members of the Austin jazz-fusion outfit Passenger. They played here often.
His 1988 Austin City Limits episode – taped on Halloween night no less – remains one of the show’s standout moments in its 40+ year history (he also recorded an episode in 1993). And his Austin concerts – at the Opera House, the Backyard, the Long Center, Bass Concert Hall – were truly transcendent performances, second to none. Those who attended can attest to his nimbleness even as his age increased (including his skipping off of the stage to close his shows).
I had the opportunity to interview Leonard Cohen twice – in 1988 and 1993, conversations that aired on Austin radio and were also printed in The Austin Chronicle (audio from both is posted below).
In 1988, after giving a publicist my contact phone numbers, she mistakenly gave Cohen my home digits to call so we could tape our interview (instead of my work studio number). Imagine picking up your phone to hear the deep tones of Leonard asking for you. I knew who it was immediately from the kind, bass voice, and rescheduled our talk. I hung up the phone and stared at it, knowing it was a moment I would always remember. And who, shall I say, is calling?
The night before Leonard Cohen’s two final Austin shows, his band assembled at the Cactus Cafe for an episode of “Views And Brews,” a live discussion forum. Their affection for Leonard was palpable as they performed his songs without him while he rested for his gigs (see the video below). Also present was Sylvie Simmons, whose “I’m Your Man: The Life Of Leonard Cohen” stands as his definitive biography.
It is a privilege to have lived during Leonard Cohen’s lifetime, to have had his work as a guiding light.
Ring the bells that still can ring….Take this waltz. It’s yours now.
It’s all that there is.