There's a certain etiquette to lifting lyrics: stealing from The Weakerthans is like sharing a dessert. Stealing from The Tragically Hip is like joining a celebration... but to steal from Leonard Cohen is a sort of blasphemy.
(Stealing from Rheostatics, on the other hand, is like trying to bite through a coconut, i.e., "Just stop already. At first it was funny, but now we're getting embarrassed just watching you.")
That's not to say people don't quote Leonard Cohen, but when they do, they make sure he gets full credit, and pay him the proper respects. The tribute concert on Saturday was no different -- there were five different singers featured, and with each one, you could see their face brighten up when they got to the part of the song with their favourite lyric. It was like watching a child finally escape the fairground lineup and climb up onto the roller coaster.
Better yet was when they messed up one of the lyrics, though -- then, their face pulled back into that horrified laughter you see when the camera catches the roller coaster at the start of a drop. Everybody knows that they're in trouble, but everybody knows what they're going through. After all, who'd want to be in their shoes, misquoting Leonard Cohen when they're trying to honour him?
It was a fantastic concert, though. The singers were captivating, the audience was supportive, the theatre was beautiful, and the arrangements were a fine blend of re-creation and recreation. Add the company of some wonderful friends, and a truly awe-inspiring spoken-word performance the previous night, and you have a perfect weekend for poetry.
The final cadence to the evening came when my friends and I left the theatre. The conversation turned to how often people would initially use Cohen's songs for a love ballad, only to be shocked when they finally realise what his lyrics are really saying. I tried to explain the phenomenon thusly:
"The thing is, even if it's not a song about true and eternal love, it still manages to stir up the same emotional triggers we associate with those emotions. He triggers the same effect through a different cause. It's kind of like when you're overcome with a sense of warmth and serenity... and four seconds later, you realise you've just urinated in your pants."
From the reaction of the couple right next to us, it was apparent that some people have a different idea than myself on what constitutes blasphemy towards Leonard Cohen.
Doesn't change the fact that I was right, though.