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Reflections PDF Printable Version E-mail
Article Index
Introduction
Polemic-Anecdote
Years Dreamt of
Sensitive Travel
Travel as Art
Travellers and Dogs
Year Zero
Leonard on the Road
Farrington's Facts
3rd World Travel
Lorna's Reflections
Paint Your Wagon
Fitness
Alexander Maclennan
Aesop in Australia
Thomas Jefferson
Seventh Decade
Final Thoughts

LIFE ON THE ROAD AND STRANGER MUSIC

Margaret Williamson – August 2011

Introduction

Between May 2008 and November 2009 Leonard Cohen, now in his 8th decade, played 195 shows on an international tour of Europe, North America and Canada. The marvellous DVD 'Songs from the Road', which features 12 of the numbers at venues ranging from Tel Aviv to Glasgow, includes an equally superb leaflet. Here is an extract from it, taken from the article by the Literary Editor of the New Republic, who attended two of the unforgettable performances.

'The Art of Wandering' by Leon Wieseltier

“The road is not a line between places; it is a place between places, a place of its own. You cannot understand the ravishments of the road unless you overcome the logistical way of looking at things, which is perhaps the most powerful impediment that our hustling way of life puts in the way of experience. Since we cling to a mainly instrumental view of the road, we have forgotten how to be travellers and we are tourists instead, sitting still before the window and watching the world speed past, when in fact we are the ones who are speeding and it is the world that is still, for those who possess the capacity for stillness. We are too enamoured of destinations. We hunger too much for arrival. We treat the road as an interval between meanings, an interregnum between dispensations, and so we are blinded to the richness of meanings and dispensations in the road itself. If departure is the past and arrival is the future, then the road is the present, and there is nothing more spiritually difficult, or spiritually rewarding, than learning to live significantly in the present. This is accomplished by a schooling in transience, and the road is such a school. Almost as powerfully as the sea and the sky, the road is an emblem of immensity: the horizon into which it disappears is the promise of a release, which is the promise of a horizon, which is the promise of a release. From the stretch of even the most ordinary road, you may infer a suggestion of infinity.

“Perhaps this is why singers and preachers have often preferred to wander: itinerancy refreshes and expands the spirit. By means of the unfamiliar, it makes complacence harder (though the cult of the road also has its conventions). The wanderer is the figure who recognizes the gift of alienation. The stranger may be powerless, but he has the force of a fresh eye and an unexpected mind: the inner advantage belongs to him. He knows no stasis. It is of course for sustenance that the singer and the preacher roam from town to town, but not only for material sustenance. The gig is an opportunity to gain distance (which is a gain) and to observe more; to do it differently and better; maybe even to get it right. In some of his songs about wandering, Schubert insisted upon the lucky break of homelessness: 'Everything seems clear; nothing is distorted, or withered in the heat of day. Happy in my surroundings, if alone, I go. There, where you are not, there is happiness.' The wanderer may be weary, but so is the man plumply at home, the stationary man, the undiversified man, the solvent man, the man who lives in the illusion that he knows all he needs to know and sees all he needs to see.”

Conclusion

Leon Wieseltier goes on to apply an Old Testament quotation about the nomadic Israelites to Leonard Cohen: “As he camps, so does he travel”. We too strive to make it happen just like this.