September. It was a lovely month. Usually it means no more hot weather…for which I shout hurray. On a Sunday morning walk, I celebrated the charms of North Avenue beach by hanging out for a while at the Chess Pavilion. It’s a beautiful refuge from the sun and my favorite place to take a break on the lakefront. The Chess Pavilion was built in 1957, designed by architect Maurice Webster. Sculptor Boris Gilbertson carved the stone chess pieces and the incised chess figures.
Happy birthday, Bruce
September is also the month of Bruce Springsteen’s birthday (the 23rd), which gives me an excuse to post a photo of him looking great at whatever his age is. This year it’s 64. Here’s a photo of him on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, where he played his first South American concerts in many years.
Happy birthday, Leonard
And it’s the month of other important birthdays. Like Leonard Cohen (the 21st), who at 79 is still touring, looking fabulous and sounding like his usual charming, gravel-voiced self. He’s sort of a lounge lizard version of Tom Waits. Leonard is still touring on his latest album, Old Ideas. He’ll be in Australia and New Zealand in November. I reviewed his March concert at the Chicago Theater.
And it’s also the month to remember the late great John Coltrane, who shares Bruce’s birthday, September 23. If Trane were alive today, he would be 87. His death at the age of 40 was a tragedy and an immense loss to the music world. He was and is today enormously influential to young musicians. He was beginning to experiment with avant-garde jazz (as in his spiritual album A Love Supreme) as well as with eastern religions.
Trane’s biography and legacy are complex. He’s been treated as a religious figure by some African-American churches; there is at least one film about the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco; and a church in New Jersey includes him on a list of African-American saints. You’ll find some beautiful images and a great Coltrane quote on that church page. And they hold services every Sunday with the Coltrane liturgy.
Before going on a Berwyn bungalow tour last week, I was exploring far northwest side real estate to see how bungalows are currently valued. (They are real values, solidly built small houses in pleasant older neighborhoods.) I decided to search for the house where I grew up and was pleased to find a great photo of it from the time of its last sale in 2009. The house is on Rutherford Avenue in the Montclare neighborhood, near the intersection of Grand and Oak Park avenues. My parents bought the house in 1938 and lived there for about 30 years.
The standard bungalows in Berwyn all have similar layouts. Small front hall, living room, dining room, kitchen, half bath and sometimes a small bedroom on the first floor. The second floor typically has sloped ceilings in the two bedrooms plus one full bath. These are small houses, typically 1200-1500 square feet. My parents’ house, even though it didn’t have a bungalow façade, had exactly that inside layout. The developer on that block decided to spiff up the exteriors by applying “Tudor” façades. I could draw the floor plan from memory this minute.
“Super-bungalows,” are larger and have different space layouts, more bedrooms and baths. We saw a few of those in Berwyn Sunday. The tour is a self-guided walking tour to seven or eight houses, with docents stationed at each house to guide visitors through the interiors. It’s an annual event, so put it on your calendar for September 2014. I recommend it highly.
A short review of a concert plus my confession about how I became a Leonard Cohen fan.
Leonard Cohen performed a 3.5-hour show at the Chicago Theatre the other night, touring with his fine new album, Old Ideas – made up of all new songs. He puts on a superb show with a 10-piece band including a violinist, flamenco guitarist, other ethnic stringed instruments, keyboards including a Hammond B-3, plus drums and bass — and three wonderful back-up singers. (Photo by me.)
At age 78, his style and stamina are remarkable. He skips off stage, waving like a vaudeville performer. And he frequently kneels to sing. I have to admire the ease with which he kneels and rises. (You’ll appreciate this too when you’re my age.)
He performed nearly 30 songs with one 15-minute intermission. He pays fond respect to his band members throughout the concert, introducing them and highlighting their solos and special talents.
(“Legends of Music,” the photo of Leonard Cohen, Chuck Berry and Keith Richards, was taken February 26, 2012, at the JFK Library and tweeted last week by Keith @officialKeef.)
The setlist included five songs from Old Ideas, but was primarily from his long history of recordings, including fan favorites such as “Bird on a Wire,” “Suzanne,” “Everybody Knows,” “I’m Your Man” and of course, “Hallelujah.” (The latter is one of the most-covered songs ever written, by the way.) His collaborator Sharon Robinson performed a song I had not heard before: “Alexandra Leaving.” He also performed “A Thousand Kisses Deep” as a recitation. It is exquisite and makes you realize that Leonard Cohen is, first of all, a poet.
Leonard’s lyrics are mournful, erotic and often funny. In “Tower of Song,” he sings “Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey, I ache in the places where I used to play” and later laments “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”
So, here’s my confession. I became a Leonard Cohen fan by accident. The popular culture of the late ‘60s and ‘70s passed me by completely since I was immersed in children, husband, home and career. No time for following the latest bands and barely time to see a movie or play.
About 12 years ago, I got my new (now old) Beetle, which came with a cassette player but no CD player. I had a good supply of tapes since, in pre-smartphone days, I would tape my records and CDs. My friend Linnea had a new car with a CD player so she gave me a cigar box full of tapes from her old car. I sorted thru them and picked out a few for the Beetle. The first one I played was from a Roy Orbison album. I was driving along enjoying the music and near the end of side A, the voice changed to a baritone growl. The song seemed to be a dystopic anthem* with the refrain “First We Take Manhattan.” At the end of that amazing song, I turned the tape over to hear the rest of I’m Your Man. And ever since, he has been my man. (Not to the extent that Bruce Springsteen is, of course.)
After listening to that tape a few times, I went to the music store and bought the CD and a few other Leonard CDs, such as The Future, Various Positions and a Best of compilation. A few years later I was in Montreal (his home town) and found a music store with a trove of Leonard Cohen CDs that I hadn’t seen before. So I now have a dozen in my CD stack.
There was no opportunity to see him live then — only in recorded concerts on TV and DVDs. I was thrilled when a world tour was announced with Chicago dates in May and October 2009. The first time I saw him at the Chicago Theatre I was absolutely captivated by his show and showmanship. What a charmer. He put on a great show and the band and other singers far exceeded my expectations. I saw him again in October that year at the Rosemont Theatre (now renamed) and he was equally magnetic.
No, he doesn’t exactly sing and his voice is deeper and more gravelly now than on earlier recordings. But he is very charismatic and as my friend Mike says “the coolest human on the planet.”
I believe rock stars (and Leonard is a rock star) tour as much for the adulation as for the money. I have watched videos of Bruce Springsteen playing before tens of thousands of people at huge outdoor European venues. The camera is behind him and you see the enormous crowd singing, dancing, pumping fists, waving flags and jumping up and down. Jumping up and down for him. That’s why senior-citizen performers like Bruce, Leonard, Sir Paul, the Stones, and Bobby D never give up touring.
* The meaning of “First We Take Manhattan” has always been the subject of debate by his fans. Is it about terrorism? The Holocaust? A musician ignored by the public? The meaning is surely ominous. Listen to it and make up your own mind.