Friday, June 26, 2009

Leonard Cohen at Red Rocks - Episode 12

At 75, "Just a crazy young kid with a dream." Since I first read his poetry, since I bought his first album in 1967, I've been a fan. On June 4, I finally had the opportunity to watch him perform in person at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. I'd bought tickets two months ago in Alaska, flown to Denver, been on a month-long road trip climbing crags and mountains all over the West. The grand finale was here.
I asked Chris if she'd ever been to Red Rocks; she Lyle Lovett, twice! The event was supposed to be Tuesday evening, and my return ticket to Alaska was Wednedsay. On Tuesday afternoon, I got an email from Ticketmaster saying the concert had been postponed till Thursday!!! What???? Apparently the huge thunderstorms in the West had flooded the stage, and there was no way the concert could happen. Another $100 change fee on Alaska Airlines, and all was well again.

It is a beautiful drive from Boulder down to Morrison, Colorado, famous for its 160 million year old Jurrassic fossil beds. The Red Rocks, two huge tilted monoliths of red sandstone called 'The Ship Rock' and 'The Creation Rock' form a natural amphitheater. Since 1906 concerts have been staged in the space between the rocks. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was enlisted to help build the modern stage and seating. Since its completion in 1941, it has hosted just about everyone from opera divas to The Beatles. We parked close, walked down through the museum and saw clips of John Denver and Santana. Outside, I rubbernecked the rocks, admired the stone work and thought of the men 70 years ago who laid each stone, erected each building, and played on the rocks at lunchtime. We walked down the side isles and into the center of the seating. I was absolutely awed by the setting.
We sat next to three lovely women who seemed to be our age. They were Cohen fans; one had seen him first in Montreal in 1957 when he was reading poetry. They began to tell us stories of how Leonard was friends with Axel and Marianne Jensen in the 60's, and after they broke up, Cohen continued to live with Marianne and her son Axel. 'Marianne' is named for her, she said. How Cohen and Suzanne Elrod were an item in the seventies, and they even had two children together, Adam and Lorca. That this Suzanne was not the one the song was written for...More gossip ensued; I was engaged, but I couldn't possibly remember it all.
Chris was very prepared; she had driven to McGuckins Hardware and bought two stadium chairs, because the seating consists of simple wooden benches bolted to the sandstone. We brought coats, rain coats, umbrellas since the weather was threatening: thunderstorms, lightning, tornados.... But it was warm and sunny. I never put a coat on all evening.
At a certain point all of the cheap seat crowd suddenly surged into the vacant higher priced seats. I wish I had known this ritual...I could have saved a hundred dollars and gotten an even better seat. But ours were right in the middle, and I had been prescient enough to bring the binoculars, should some detail require better vision.
The floodlights illuminated the 'Ship' and the 'Creation'. The half moon appeared behind scudding clouds. The huge thunderheads were illuminated by lightning in the east. The stage was set, and the band entered: Roscoe Beck, the music director and bass player; Neil Lars at the keyboard; Bob Metzger on the steel guitar; Javier Mas on the bandurria, laud, and 12-string guitar; Rafael Gayol on the drums; Dino Soldo on the keyboard, sax, and wind instruments. The band is the greatest.
But I've always been in love with the vocals that balance Cohen's gravelly monotone, so I was looking directly at Sharon Robinson who co-composed the album, "Ten New Songs" with him. She was striking! And the Webb sisters, Hattie and Charley. Everyone wore a black Leonard Cohen suit and a black fedora...even the women. Hot, Hot, Hot!!! This would be a great night.
Then out bounced Leonard, graciously bowing to the audience, thanking them for coming and moving right into the first number. I won't bore you with the details. They played the entire set you can hear on "Leonard Cohen: Live in London". Just go buy the album; it's his best ever!
The night went on and on. Cohen kneeling to the ground to pour out the melancholy melodies he has crooned for 50 years. I wondered secretly if the band ever gets bored with the same stuff after 50 gigs. But they didn't show it and put everything into each number. And Cohen was so kind to them, thanking them often, telling the audience little tidbits and stories. But it was all music. Tons of music, encore after encore. We sang along on almost every piece. It was a sea of gray pony tails reminiscing for almost four hours. The moon, the stars, the clouds, Red Rocks and Leonard Cohen.
Chris drove back to Boulder, and we went over the details of the past month: the friendship, the fun, the climbs, the adventure, the friends we'd met and made, how great it was to see Leonard Cohen. But Alaska beckoned. I'd run out the road trip, but it ended with a bang.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Wow Ralph,
You really have the bicycle world down pat! Thanks for sharing the photos and the fun information.