I have written here about being at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and sleeping through what was to be Jimi Hendrix’s last gig. Following the sad news of Cohen’s passing today at the grand age of 82, I have just learned that he followed Hendrix on stage.
I already knew that Leonard was hardly a fiery singer because I had this album, a CBS label sampler, in my record collection.
The audience of 600,000 was in a fiery and frenzied mood (but not, obviously, me) after turning the festival into a political arena, trampling the fences, setting fire to structures and equipment – and stoked by the most incendiary performance of Jimi Hendrix’s career, less than three weeks before his death.
Film director Murray Lerner: “As I watched him walk out there I thought this is going to be a disaster. Because the mood was still very mixed. There was definitely a sense of bad feeling, though there was also a sense of people being tired and not so aggressive as earlier. But Cohen was essentially acoustic, … and I thought the crowd would be expecting a bigger high in terms of the sound of the music.”
After glaring out at the darkness and strapping on his guitar, Cohen began by telling a story about his father taking him to the circus when he was a boy. Leonard didn’t much like the circus, he told them sedately, but he had enjoyed the part when a man would ask everyone in the audience to light a match. He then asked the audience to do the same so he could see where they were. Almost from the moment he began speaking, the mood of the crowd changed …
Leonard Cohen – Introduction, I.o.W 1970
… and when he began singing many of them became transfixed.
The soundtrack of the film of Cohen’s performance, directed by Murray Lerner, can be downloaded from here. (Not my link)
And this is a little bit more of what I missed then and regret now…..
“His final act of kindness was to be present by his passing this week when we need a voice of reason in the face of mounting insanity and confusion.”
– Beth Orton