Blogging the 2010s — 117c — December 2013 — Leonard Cohen

Quite a highlight for Chris Turner and myself.

About last night–Leonard Cohen in Wollongong




I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
To where it’s better
Than before…

Source: The New Yorker January 2012





See also Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen’s coming to Gong! And on local ABC:

Leonard Cohen addressed the elephant in the room early last night at his concert in Wollongong.

“Friends, I don’t know when we’ll meet again, but I can promise you tonight we’re going to give it everything we’ve got”.

But at 79 years of age, still jogging on stage for a three and a half hour show and now on his third Australian tour since audiences thought they’d never see him live again, no one is game to suggest he won’t be back.

And it becomes apparent over the course of the night that a three hour show is virtually required to properly honour his endless suite of music.

Surrounded by a carefully chosen band of virtuoso musicians, the touring Cohen of today is out to provide a smorgasbord of quality to accompany his poetic lyrics.

His voice has never been his trump card, and while it seems to have found even richer depths with age, it’s the exquisite harmonies of his female back-up singers (Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters) that lift and complement the Canadian poet.

As expected, the set-list was a greatest hits onslaught, each drawing a new round of applause from the almost full Wollongong Entertainment Centre.

From his opening ‘Dance me to the end of love’, then ‘The future’, ‘Bird on a wire’ and ‘Everybody knows’, it was a concert drawing on tracks from the 1967 ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ to last year’s ‘Old Ideas’.

But you soon realise it doesn’t matter when a song appears in a Leonard Cohen set – there’s always another trick up his sleeve.

While most bands save their biggest hits until last, Cohen has amassed a career of them he can afford to drop in anywhere.

‘Suzanne’ early in the second set? No problem – simply go straight into ‘Chelsea Hotel no. 2’.

‘Hallelujah’ before the first encore? What about following it with ‘Take this waltz’?

While the crowd was varied in age, it was largely baby boomers enjoying the soundtrack to their adolescence and early adulthood played by a man who can still do his songs justice, but oozes humility.

And there is the enduring beauty of Leonard Cohen – his strength is his lyrics, each word carefully chosen and dripping with imagery and meaning, while he brings in a brilliant band half his age to carry those words.

And as he comically dances and jogs off stage after a third encore, you get the sense it’ll be Cohen’s decision rather than his body that tells him when it’s time to say ‘so long’ for good.

Leonard Cohen again

And why not?  Leonard Cohen performed at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre last Wednesday. As he mentions on his Facebook page he is one of Rolling Stone’s  50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now:

26. Leonard Cohen

Cohen emerged from a fifteen-year hiatus in 2008 with marathon shows that showcase all of his best songs. His band is absolutely stunning, and, at 78, his deeper-than-deep voice is captivating. The three-and-a-half hour show seems to pass by in minutes.

Showstopper: He doesn’t do many covers, but his set-closing rendition of “Save the Last Dance for Me” almost makes you forget the Drifters version even exists.

79 now! And I see that next on that list is Nick Cave:


That’s Nick Cave covering Leonard Cohen in the 2005 documentary I’m Your Man, which I watched again last night – thanks, Sirdan.

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man is a 2005 film by Lian Lunson about the life and career of Leonard Cohen. It is based on a January 2005 tribute show at the Sydney Opera House titled “Came So Far for Beauty”, which was produced by Hal Willner. Performers at this show included Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Beth Orton, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, Linda Thompson, Antony,Kate and Anna McGarrigle, with Cohen’s former back-up singers Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen as special guests. The end of the film includes a performance by Leonard Cohen and U2, which was not recorded live, but filmed specifically for the film, in New York in May 2005.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2005, and was released the same month in Canada by Lions Gate films along with the Sundance Channel. It was subsequently released in various other countries during 2006 and 2007. The film is distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment. A soundtrack CD is also available from Verve.

The DVD of the film contains extra performances…

Critics vary about the documentary, but it has some great quotes.

Sometimes, when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory, and you understand deeply that this is not paradise… somehow we’re, especially the privileged ones that we are, we somehow embrace the notion that this veil of tears, that it’s perfectable, that you’re going to get it all straight. I’ve found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win.


There is a beautiful moment in the Bhagavad Gita.  Arjuna. The general. The great general. He’s standing in his chariot. And all the chariots are readied for war. And across the valley, he sees his opponents. And there he sees not just uncles and aunts and cousins, he sees gurus, he sees teachers that have taught him; and you know how the Indians revere that relationship. He sees them. And Krishna, one of the expressions of the deity, says to him, “you’ll never untangle the circumstances that brought you to this moment. You’re a warrior. Arise now, mighty warrior.” With the full understanding, that they’ve already been killed, and so have you. “This is just a play. This is my will. You’re caught up in the circumstances that I determine for you. That you did not determine for yourself. So, arise, you’re a noble warrior. Embrace your destiny, your fate, and stand up and do your duty.”


For many years, I was known as a monk, I shaved my head and wore robes, got up very early. I hated everyone but I acted generously, and no one found me out. My reputation as a ladies man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly through the 10,000 nights I spent alone.

Now for a final song:

And from Leonard Cohen’s web site:


The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

Do look at the Rolling Stone bio.

In 2005 the singer suffered every boomer’s nightmare — his retirement fund was empty. Cohen alleged that former manager Kelley Lynch bamboozled him for more than $5 million, and for all intents and purposes he was broke. He created a short-term fix by hitting the road and touring the globe. Everywhere he went — from Coachella to Glastonbury — kudos followed, and pundits believed him to be at the top of his game. When it came time to give his speech at his 2008 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he recited the lyrics of his “Tower of Song.”

Hat tip Jim Belshaw:

Leonard (Norman) Cohen. Poet, singer-songwriter, novelist, b Montreal 21 Sep 1934; BA English (McGill) 1955, honorary LLD (Dalhousie) 1971, honorary D LITT (McGill) 1992.


One of the most widely recognized Canadian artists of the later 20th century, in parallel to acclaimed literary work Cohen built a successful career in pop music on the most rudimentary musical skills: a narrow-ranged, gruff voice that deepened and darkened with age and a dependence on simple melodies of a singsong nature. What set him apart was the intense imagery of his lyrics, which constantly probed at the human condition with themes of love, loss, and death, and his commitment to his art.

Blogging the 2010s — 117b — December 2013

Well starting at Christmas Eve, I found some family memorabilia. But there’s more as you may see below! There will be a Part C because of Leonard Cohen.

Just wonderful: Kim Ho’s “The Language of Love”

I mentioned this in July but, having downloaded it then, I have just watched it again just now – and it is so remarkable, so good, so beautiful that I had to repost on it alone, rather than as part of a set of things like last time. It really is one of the best things I saw all year!


See Kim Ho on The Language of Love. See also Actor Stephen Fry’s tweet about Sydney student’s film turns it into worldwide hit on YouTubeDannii Minogue falls in love with a film by a 17 year old Sydney schoolboy, and Sydney student’s gay love story receives global acclaim.

Written and performed by student Kim Ho, 17, and shot at his high school, Sydney Grammar, the piece has resonated with audiences around the world.

Since it was released in April, it has been watched by more than 100,000 people on YouTube, been praised by the US gay magazine The Advocate as perfectly capturing the “wonder, fear and excitement of first love” and English actor Stephen Fry tweeted that it was “amazing”.

Not many HSC-time exercises* have such an effect! Kudos to the Australian Theatre for Young People. Kudos to Sydney Grammar too!

kimhoNow do as I just did: watch it!


I see from the Newsletter of the Sydney Grammar Foundation November 2012 that Kim Ho was in Form V – what the rest of us call Year 11 – when as a 17-old he made this wonderful film. I am even more amazed.


Corrected correction!

It seems Transcendence was made in 2012. In early 2013 “Kim then worked with playwright Tommy Murphy and filmmaker Laura Scrivano to develop the piece further, which can be seen as THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE.”

Update 13 December

Happy to have been liked by The Language of LoveSmile

Lost in translation–and also in time!

I renewed contact with an ex-student from SBHS the other day via Facebook/Twitter. Chris Rodley now writes for The Guardian, among other things. Point is, he was part of a cohort that I was teaching when I was working on my book From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt which Nicholas Jose so kindly remembered in his contribution to Telling Storieswhich I am still reading. In other words, around twenty years ago! As presumably is the Christmas party – I think it was Christmas – in Riley Street Surry Hills at Nicholas Jose’s place where I would have met Linda Jaivin. That all happened through my then partner M, who had known both Jose and Jaivin in China and subsequently.

All that in turn is to introduce one of the best reads I have had lately!


Whether we’re aware of it or not, we spend much of our time in this globalised world in the act of translation. Language is a big part of it, of course, as anyone who has fumbled with a phrasebook in a foreign country will know, but behind language is something far more challenging to translate: culture. As a traveller, a mistranslation might land you a bowl of who-knows-what when you think you asked for noodles, and mistranslations in international politics can be a few steps from serious trouble. But translation is also a way of entering new and exciting worlds, and forging links that never before existed.

Linda Jaivin has been translating from Chinese for more than thirty years. While her specialty is subtitles, she has also translated song lyrics, poetry and fiction, and interpreted for ABC film crews, Chinese artists and even the English singer Billy Bragg as he gave his take on socialism to some Beijing rockers. In Found in Translation she reveals the work of the translator and considers whether different worldviews can be bridged. She pays special attention to China and the English-speaking West, Australia in particular, but also discusses French, Japanese and even the odd phrase of Maori. This is a free-ranging essay, personal and informed, about translation in its narrowest and broadest senses, and the prism – occasionally prison – of culture.

See also GoodreadsLinda Jaivin, Found in translation: In praise of a plural world (Review). It is, as a reviewer from The Wheeler Centre noted, “an exhilarating and entertaining essay”. There is a sample in The Monthly —  also one of the best parts!

An example closer to home of how a phrase can mutate in its uses and connotation is that of “asylum seeker.” Although it was Prime Minister Paul Keating who first thought to throw fences up around the immigration detention centres, it was John Howard, with the able assistance of Philip Ruddock as minister for immigration, who erected metaphorical razor wire around the word so that it was contained within notions of illegality and spuriousness. (Ruddock also coined the word “rejectee” for those asylum seekers whose applications failed at the first stage of assessment.) The international convention to which Australia is a signatory states that it is not illegal to seek asylum, however one arrives in a country, and the Press Council has ruled that it is inappropriate for media to refer to asylum seekers as illegal.

Yet Coalition governments, in particular, have injected the word “illegal” so successfully into our political rhetoric that they have drugged significant portions of the Australian population into feeling no pain at this toxic translation of politicking into policy. The present minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, argues that he realises it is not illegal to seek asylum, but is merely referring to boat people’s “mode of entry.” The Opposition spokesperson Richard Marles cautions: “This is an area where language is bullets …’’

Words have the power to change the way people think; they are part of the architecture of perception. If you are speaking French, for example, the process known as tutoiement – by which two people agree to call one another by the informal tu rather than the formalvous – both recognises and enables intimacy.

Translators know this, which is why they must think carefully on how to translate vous into English, or “you” into French. Hypnotists also know the power of words, which is why they advise clients to stop saying, “I am an insomniac,” and instead repeat to themselves, “I sleep eight hours a day and wake up refreshed.” What is said becomes what is real. Politicians know this. Morrison knows this. In its most pernicious form, the principle that words both name and nurture realities enables what George Orwell described as “doublespeak”: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

In 2010, the Nobel committee awarded the Peace Prize to the imprisoned Chinese writer and pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. At a press conference attended by foreign reporters, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs flatly denied that Liu was a dissident. There were no dissidents in China. Liu Xiaobo was not a dissident; he was a criminal. The artist-provocateur Ai Weiwei blogged the following response:

Foreign Affairs Ma’s statement contains a number of layers of meaning:

– Dissidents are criminals;

– Only criminals have dissenting views;

– The distinction between criminals and non-criminals is whether they have dissenting views;

– If you think China has dissidents, you are a criminal;

– The reason [China] has no dissidents is because they are [in fact already] criminals;

– Does  anyone  have  a  dissenting  view  regarding  my  statement? 

Asylum seekers are illegals. Only illegals would seek asylum … Ai Weiwei translates rather well into Australian.

BTW, way back when Chris Rodley was a boy I also met Liu Xiaobo, who visited Sydney at that time.

Linda Jaivin has a great talent for being quite profound and serious with a deceptively light touch. The current issue of The Monthly has her account of a visit to North Korea, accompanied by this photo which she took.


Inside the museum, we admire a map of the province that is covered in stars to indicate all the places Kim Il-sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-il had visited. In an enlarged black-and-white photo, Kim Il-sung speaks into a microphone; underneath the picture is the microphone itself, preserved for posterity in a vitrine. Another vitrine holds a piano accordion that Kim Jong-il once played. We are told how many times the leaders, Great and Dear, visited this province.

Stopped at an intersection in the broad streets, we watch a traffic policeman energetically direct the sparse traffic. Soon we stroll into another plaza, this one dominated by a huge, colourful mosaic triptych of the “Three Generals”: Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-suk, wife of the former and mother of the latter. In our photos, the Three Generals are very, very large and Emma and I are very, very small. Later, when they look at the images, our friends in Beijing will remark on the deep, clear blue of Sinuiju’s sky.

And if you visit The Monthly, do not fail to read Tim Winton’s essay on class. Alas, it is locked – but worth a subscription or buying a print version, as I have. It is essential ammunition against the zeitgeist under Abbott and Murdoch. Rusted on Marxists and lefties will probably find it shallow, but those who like me have always regarded the extremes of politics as just too much like cults – and I suspect that has been most Australians! — will be at home with the Winton article – because it is just so plainly bloody true!

Have yourself a….

Add whatever festival is appropriate!


Here we have the Order of the Laughing Boot. Not sure yet what to do with it, to whom to award it!  I did Google to see if anyone else had one, but find I am thus far unique – or the phrase is. But I did find The Laughing Boots, which is pretty close.  As a matter of fact the above is one of my much loved and much worn boots which finally decided yesterday that after three years of almost every day wear it had had enough.

I now have a fresh pair.  It remains to be seen which lasts longer, me or the boots!

And some miscellanea by way of Season’s Greetings.


From my cousin Ray Hampton Christison, this wonderful card of our great-grandfather John Hampton Christison. I also looked up the photographer: that is a pretty amazing story in itself.


A Christmas card I have kept for over 60 years – from my sister Jeanette in 1951. She died in January 1952.


The following came via Jim Belshaw on Facebook, but originally from Keith Burgess from Armidale who says: “For all you New Australians this Xmas, have a great time out bush.” Smile


Yes, a dropbear! As the Australian Museum notes:

Danger to humans and first aid

Bush walkers have been known to be ‘dropped on’ by drop bears, resulting in injury including mainly lacerations and occasionally bites. Most attacks are considered accidental and there are no reports of incidents being fatal.

There are some suggested folk remedies that are said to act as a repellent to Drop Bears, these include having forks in the hair or Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears. There is no evidence to suggest that any such repellents work.


Looking out my window of an evening, I always check…


From my window around 7.30 pm 22 December 2013