The Story of the Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert on the I’m Your Man DVD

by Mira

Lian Lunson’s film I’m Your Man is a part-concert, part-documentary feature in tribute to poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. It has some great performances. Videos included.

I keep playing the Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man DVD lately, and have also finished Sylvie Simmons’s biography of Leonard Cohen, also taking the title of his “I’m Your Man” song.

If you know nothing of Leonard Cohen, you should probably start with his 2008 concert in London and DVDs of earlier performances, such as Bird on a Wire, which is another excellent documentary.

This DVD is as much about discovering Leonard Cohen the songwriter in a new light as it is about discovering some very talented musicians you may never heard of or may know too little of. There’s Rufus and Martha Wainwright (Rufus, a friend since childhood of Lorca's, Leonard Cohen's daughter, had a daughter with her in 2011), Nick Cave, Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla (who accompanied him as backup singers on some tours), the wonderful Antony, whose performance of “If It Be Your Will” I had discovered accidentally, sisters Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Linda and her son Teddy Thompson (who is quite amazing: I’m showing a video below), Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton, The Handsome Family, and, well, Bono and U2.

This is definitely a must-see video for Cohen fans, but what’s wonderful about it is that you don’t need to know anything about Leonard Cohen to enjoy these pretty amazing musicians and music which is both Cohen’s and theirs. As Cohen says about the Wainwrights, they “really bring [his] music to life.” The same is true, I feel, of all the musicians in the tribute concert filmed for this DVD.

Rufus Wainwright performing Hallelujah
Rufus Wainwright performing Hallelujah

Following is a bit about this concert, which had been performed annually for a while before it was taped for the DVD, and some info on the musicians which contribute so much to the beautiful music and lyrics on this DVD. The info comes from Sylvie Simmons's biography of Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man.

I'm Your Man, by Sylvie Simmons

Paperback Published in 2013
I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen

The "Came So Far for Beauty" Concerts

The “I’m Your Man” DVD was born out of a tribute concert called “Came So Far for Beauty” organized by Hal Willner as early as 2003, when it was commissioned as a one-time concert by the Canadian Consulate. Originally staged in New York, it grew into an annual event that took Hal Willner’s lineup across several continents.

As Sylvie Simmons points out in her book, first published in 2012, this happened at a time when people wanted to hear Leonard Cohen’s songs and yet he wasn’t in touring mode. In fact, according to Sylvie Simmons, he only got to enjoy touring in recent years, after one business associate swindled him of millions. He was forced to get back on the road, and he found he loved it. So he did one tour, and then another, and another. 

Back to the “Came So Far for Beauty” concert. Hal Willner was picked to do it by the Canadian Consulate (in New York?) because of his success at putting together ensemble shows and possibly also because he loves a whole range of musical genres.

From what I understand from Sylvie Simmons’s book, he handpicked the musicians for the tribute concert himself, and he also told them exactly what song(s) to play.

The show was staged in New York / Prospect Park in Brooklyn (2003), Brighton (2004), Sydney (2005), and Dublin (2006). It was a show to celebrate both Cohen’s music and these musicians’. “I put a show together,” says Willner, quoted by Simmons, “like a script, a play, so it’s more about the cast with this material than a ‘tribute show.’” He chose some of Cohen’s better-known songs, and some of his lesser-known ones.

Lian Lunson's Film I'm Your Man

After the first two performances, Hal Willner (we owe a lot to him) convinced Lian Lunson, a filmmaker he met at a Los Angeles party (who had done a documentary on Willie Nelson), to turn one of these concerts into a film. Lunson’s terms were that she had to have Leonard Cohen interviewed on camera for the film. He not only allowed that but even did a secret performance in a nightclub in New York with US – they filmed that as well for the end of the DVD.

The concert taking up the rest of the DVD is the 2005 one, performed at the Opera House in Sydney. Antony had joined the rest of the cast that year, and, as you can hear on the DVD as well as in the video clip below, he was pretty amazing.

The concert is one beautiful performance after another. Interspersed are short moments with Leonard Cohen.

And Now Some Music

The following are excerpts from the "I'm Your Man" DVD.

Teddy Thompson, "Tonight Will Be Fine"

Antony (Antony Hegarty), "If It Be Your Will"

Rufus Wainwright, "Hallelujah"

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, by Sylvie Simmons

Paperback Published in 2013
I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen

Lian Lunson's Film Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man (2006)

Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man
Updated: 11/11/2016, Mira
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Mira on 12/07/2014

There's a DVD documenting his 1972 tour. He has trouble performing on some occasions there, for various reasons. I think his career, just as his spiritual development, is one long struggle.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/06/2014

Mira, Have there ever been any concerns about Leonard Cohen giving an "off" concert? I'm not aware of any, and it would surprise me if that ever has happened because he seems so present, so completely in the present moment, note by note, in his presence onstage.

Mira on 12/05/2014

I think he commented somewhere that he really wanted to be "just" a poet, but he couldn't make a living that way, so he became a poet singer-songwriter. I agree that his appearing comfortable and vulnerable at the same time, open to the audience while also in touch with something higher, can't be easy. Also, when he tours, the schedule of concerts can be exhausting because of the timeframe alone.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/05/2014

Mira, Leonard Cohen comes across very comfortably in public performances, which is amazing because he also conveys a certain vulnerability. In his private life he seems to be reclusive, so it must require amazing inner resources for him to transition into a public arena and to do so with such an endearing, unassuming style.

Mira on 12/04/2014

That's how I perceive him, too. Thank you for your words!

DerdriuMarriner on 12/04/2014

Mira, From what I've seen, Leonard Cohen has incredible stage presence, and his demeanor is impressively appreciative and unassuming. Humility can be so attractive when it is genuine.
One of a kind.
Growing old looks good on him.

Mira on 01/17/2014

Thank you for stopping by, Tolovaj. I'll be writing more articles on him ;-)

Tolovaj on 01/17/2014

He is a living legend. Thanks for this presentation.

Mira on 01/16/2014

Maybe he'll tour again. He's in great shape (and his Buddhist teacher Roshi is 106!).

Guest on 01/15/2014

The 2008 concert looks like it's one I ought to have been at, given my fixation with Tower of Song and Hallelujah (only Cohen or Buckley versions, no one else!)

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