Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Best old duo of the young century

In what is sure to excite certain members of our community, I attended a public "conversation" Monday night between Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen. Glass has set certain of Cohen's poems from his Book of Longing collection to music and they were answering questions about their relationship, artistic methods, etc. in anticipation of a performance Tuesday night (missed it).

It was a very interesting display. When I had arrived and was scrambling to a seat I somehow mistook Philip Glass for Leonard Cohen when I glanced at the stage. "God, he looks bad these days," I thought. Well, this was in fact Glass of course, and he was slouched over in his chair, with his head sort of in his hands, wearing what looked like a raincoat (neither famous nor blue). I think it was actually just a long jacket, but he was still pretty shlubby. He kept fidgeting throughout the interview and fiddling with his hands (perhaps a pianist's natural inclination). I thought he would be all thin and turtleneck-bedecked and artsy but in fact he was quite portly. Perhaps every picture I've seen of him has been from 30 years ago. He was very funny, though, and delivered his answers in a neurotic, Woody Allen-ish way. He was also startlingly immodest, although one realized this only gradually and indirectly. For example, he talked about how in awe he was of photography and how some (skilled) photographers can just snap pictures effortlessly and produce masterpieces. Then you realized that he was drawing a parallel to himself and music-writing, which he said should come automatically.

Cohen was really magnificent. He looked very dapper, dressed in a grey suit and poised throughout the interview like a zen master -- probably from all that Buddhist meditation or whatever the hell it was he did for years. I don't think he ever moved his feet throughout the whole ordeal. He has a beautiful silver head of hair. His speaking voice, which has increasingly become his singing voice over the years, was very soothing; he and Glass both have a sort of Sylvester the cat lisp going on, which nevertheless isn't grating. Neither man seemed capable of formulating logical responses, but at least all of Cohen's thoughts were delivered in a half-poetic flow. He was also very modest and tended to play down his own accomplishments; for example, when the interviewer asked him his "favorite cover of a Leonard Cohen song," he gave pride of place to Judy Collins, who made "Suzanne" famous. He also said that he was still waiting for the day when he realized he'd "made it," another interviewer question.

Indeed, as much as they were pretty facile and annoying, the interviewer's questions at least got to the heart of things you've always secretly wanted to know about the two. For example: Who is your favorite living composer (for Glass)? A: Ravi Shankar, Ornette Coleman. Who is your favorite Canadian songwriter (for Cohen)? A: Joni Mitchell. Favorite American songwriter? A: Dylan, Tom Waits, and Van Morrison (shockingly straightforward). Favorite dead composer (for Glass)? A: Schubert, but also Bach.

Long live the Glass/Cohen connection, I say!


Blogger Robot said...

Dylan, Waits, and Van Morrison certainly is a most satisfying answer in my mind -- even though there's absolutely nothing "American" about Van Morrison. Fucking Canadians think everyone else is all the same.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

Yeah, Van Morrison's horribly unamerican. It scares me every time I think about it.
Great little summary, by the way. Keep doing what you're doing.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

As the person who asked the "facile and annoying" questions, it would seem reasonable for you to have noted that the questions to which you refer were part of a 5-minute "quick answers" segment of the conversation. The remaining 55 minutes were devoted to the "Book of Longing," artistic collaboration and the creative process in general. Perhaps you felt that thre rest of the interview was facile and annoying as well (which is odd, since it is the only part of the interview you referenced, and you did so somewhat positively) but it seems fairness would require that you at least give a little bit of context. My contextual contribution to your blog: when your in the presence of two such brilliant artists, the best thing you can do is get out of the way, which is pretty much what I did. I invite people to draw their own conclusions--the full conversation will be available on Stanford's "Aurora Forum" website on iTunes U within a few days. Namasté...

7:04 PM  
Blogger Robot said...

Am I the only one who has a feeling that the next comment will be from Leonard Cohen?

7:31 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

That's the way of the blogosphere I guess: put the content out there and it's free for everyone to see. By way of clarification, the commenter/interviewer is right: I should have made it clear that those particular questions did come during a "quick answers" segment. And to further clarify, no, I didn't think the rest of the interview was annoying at all. For that I owe alan an apology. However, I do ultimately stand by my initial description of those particular questions. They aren't questions I would have asked, although like I said they elicited some interesting answers.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Robot, we probably won't get Cohen but we might get Damian Counsell.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

Scantron--thanks for the apology. By way of explanation, I use the "quick questions" format just to vary the pace of the conversation--there tend to be lots of long answers in an hour interview, so it helps to mix it up with a staccato movement here and there. Some people like it, some people don't--sorry you didn't. In any case, I'm glad you liked the overall conversation.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

This was wonderful. It's good to finally see the 104th Fighting Keyboarders on this blog being held accountable.

10:19 PM  
Blogger John Liberty said...

Peace at last.

5:29 PM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...

It's like that time Anne Rice reviewed her own book on amazon...

8:10 PM  

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