"I'm junk, but I'm still holding up this wild little bouquet." — Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen is nothing if not direct. There's a moment in Tony Palmer's 1972 Bird on a Wire documentary when the poet and songwriter, then 37, is asked to define success. After a brief pause, he answers, "Success is survival," with just a hint of weariness and indignation in his voice.
By his own modest terms, Cohen, who has never released a platinum-selling record in the United States, in spite of the fact that his song "Hallelujah" has traveled the long road from obscurity to cliché to become a staple of performance-based reality television, is wildly successful. More than 40 years after Bird on a Wire, he's still touring hard and has finally achieved a level of name recognition that, in spite of his reputation as the ultimate songwriter's songwriter, eluded him for so long.
The question now is whether or not Cohen would have achieved so much late-career success, or ever embarked on another tour, if it weren't for the need to survive. In 2004, he was all but retired and living the life of a monk at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles, when he received word that a longtime friend and business manager had been steadily depleting his bank accounts. Tours and new recordings followed.
Cohen, who has since replenished his retirement accounts, continues to tour and make music, suggesting that there may be more to his late-career resurgence than mere survival. Whatever it is that keeps the growling singer on the road and accessible to his legion of fans, hallelujah.
Leonard Cohen plays the Orpheum on Sunday, March 24th. Showtime is 8 p.m.