Leonard Cohen Tour Diary — From Westminster to San Jose

NOVEMBER 3 — Westminster Show

As this leg of the tour is still young, and the setup of the lighting and PA still need a bit of refining, the load-in for today’s show is an eye-popping 6am. From a very fortunate nature comes the happenstance that The Winning Team’s presence is not required in the building until after 10. I however went in early to take a series of magnificent photographs of the backline pack, thus authoring a quintet of line drawings to guide us from this evening’s load-out hence.

Westminster is over 5,000 feet above sea level; the air is bone dry, and thin of oxygen. When entering the venue, a kind lady reminded us to drink plenty of water; it was good advice. After consuming a bottle of water, it seemed no time at all that my mouth was again dry, my thirst for liquid returned. Through the day, myI am not the only to complain of itchy eyes. A sleepiness is felt by more than a few of us.

Tonight’s crowd are really enthusiastic, and a curious incidentlet catches my attention; during the song Anthem, there is a line that reads,

‘I can’t run no more / with that lawless crowd / while the killers in high places / say their prayers out loud.’

Since first hearing these lines, they have resonated, as I believe they say a great deal about hypocrisy and power. It must mean something to the people of Westminster too, because it chimes within them the relief of a shared voice, and they celebrate out loud; just as the people of Toronto did, in 2008. As far as I can remember (which isn’t saying much) these are the only two places that have responded so acutely to the song.

NOVEMBER 4 — Travel to Los Angeles

The following morning on the bus, I am met with the hills of Utah. Passing by, they appear as green silks, draped over piles of sharp rocks. Time has filed their points smooth, and over them sprinkled soil and life.

I spent quite a bit of today’s long drive in my bunk, working on my novel which has increased in length from a hoped 50,000 words, to a current 60,000. I guess it takes a long time to write a big story. I eventually took a break from writing and joined the others in the front lounge of the bus, with Nascar showing on TV. The sport doesn’t float my boat per se, but at least it’s the highlight reel. When coming into California, as the sun begins to dip, the land takes on a scrubby look, with houses and useful things dotted here and there. The sky is clear of obstructions and the crisp contours of the distant mountains are drained of colour by miles of air. When we break at a truck stop, I notice we are surrounded entirely by sky.

When we arrive in downtown Los Angeles, very little sky can be seen, save for that which exists on the perpendicular. It is 7pm, which, when one considers both the change in time zone and the winding back of the autumnal hour-hand, it would have felt like 9pm in Westminster. Whatever the regional times tell, it was a 17.5 hour journey to downtown L.A.

NOVEMBER 5 – Los Angeles Show

Msteriously, I awoke this morning at 6am, with difficulty in getting back to sleep. After 9, I showered and went out, finding a breakfast joint in a food court nestled in a small mall beneath the hotel.

At the venue, security is thorough; normally, a flash of a laminate is requirement enough to gain entry, but here in the Nokia Theatre, we are subject to an airport-style rummage. The security specialists inspect the contents of bags while we step through a metal detector. In the refined process, Benni loses a small multi-tool attachment, and no one can find it.

Inside the venue, we are informed that it is a union house, which means slow going, departmental stoppages, tea breaks, power-sharing, and general confusion for those of us who don’t know the rules. IATSE (also known as the IA) is the “union of professional stagehands, motion picture technicians, and allied crafts.” With the many members and departments co-existing beneath a single umbrella, one can be forgiven for believing that the rules, regulations, and work ethics of its members would be streamlined. But they are not. In some venues, carpenters will not touch props, and electricians will not touch backline. In other venues, everyone jumps in and does what they can to get the job done quickly. If I recall correctly, London Ontario has the most straightforward union crew I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. However, in major centres like New York and Los Angeles, one must tread carefully when working with union members and this means accepting their pace of labour. So be it; the job gets done within reasonable time limits, and everyone is safe and paid handsomely.

The toughest thing is letting go of the way we normally do things, allowing these local ‘outsiders’ to dictate how our day should go. It does feel like the rug of power gets whipped out from under us when the clock chimes stop and the tools are downed. In some venues, a ‘dark stage’ is observed — one hour during which no one (not even us) can work on stage. When first coming across this curiosity, one inevitably believes the concept to be ludicrous, but after a number of years, one throws one’s hands in the air to the tune of fuck it.

With a curfew of 11.30 in a union house, going over the time begins to cost. We buy crew-time in blocks of 15 minutes; if we use the crew for say, 16 minutes, we pay for 30. I shan’t be so crude as to go into the monetary specifics of these transactions, but there was this one time, totally not L.A., I paid twelve hundred dollars for a group of people to tell me how to do my job for 15 minutes.

Let us be one with the show’s beginning. We start the show bang on time tonight, at 8pm, owing to the desire to finish at 11.30, maximising LC’s time on stage. But the crowd are still funnelling into their seats, and after the second song, Leonard asks Ryan to light the people so they may find their places. The gesture is welcomed by the crowd as they are bathed in an incandescent glow. Leonard decides to replay the last half of The Future as a soundtrack to the people’s search for seats. To them he explains, “I’m sorry folks, but we started on time,” which gets a positive response.

Later on, after I’m Your Man, he replays Dance Me for those who missed the top of the show; it appears the audience think it’s a pretty classy thing to do, and I suppose I agree. But I’m guessing we shan’t begin a show again with as many seats empty. It must be said that as a performer, LC likes to give the people what they deserve; with knowledge that an extra fifteen minutes of performance will cost the tour a bit of money, he must have decided it’s worth it, to play on a little more. The irony of the situation is that the full quarter-hour was not utilised, caused by some communication of conjunctive confusion. I was told the band walked off, thinking the night was done; but LC wasn’t. Oops. However, the moment was lost, as was the worth of the time purchased.

After the show, after the load-out, we find ourselves on the bus, faced with a terrible dilemma. Such is the gravity of the situation that a reader needs must be informed of some time-reverse facts which led to the crisis. The video company bought a 1.5 litre bottle of vodka, and thought to present it to Stage Manager Saint Paul, as a token of good will. But the two representatives from the video company reside on OUR bus, not Paul’s. One-point-five litres of wodka later, the decision to keep the firewater was agreed upon by all on OUR bus to be of a correct nature.

NOVEMBER 6 — San Jose, Day Off

Arriving at our hotel in San Jose at a reasonable time (quite in opposition to the drives of late) I had a bit of a sore head, but the devious treachery was worth it. There are times when being bad yourself saves others from their own evils. It was for Paul’s own sake that we set a stave between him and the wretched slavic demon god. I was not visited by Dupuis, but there may have been a mounted cossack riding alongside the bus in the night, howling.

Once in my room, I got cleaned up, gathered my washing, and took a taxi to a launderette. The experience might cost more than having laundry sent out at tomorrow’s gig, but I have experienced little of the places visited thus far in the tour. Then again, according to the man whose taxi conveys me to a paradise of clean clothes, downtown San Jose is lacking for stuff to do. Apparently some time ago, a dream was shared between City executives to clean up the area. The result: much commerce moving away. The nearest place one might indulge in some soulless retail therapy is a fifteen dollar cab ride from the hotel. I cannot, how you say, be arsed with that.

Arriving at the launderette and seeing the lay of its land, I procure the necessary ingredients to furnish myself with a week’s worth of clean clothing. Faced with a wait while the magic spins, what glorious sight should appear before mine waking eyes? An indian restaurant right beside the launderette! It was a pokey joint, but the food was decent and it filled my time and stomach.

During my meal, I leafed (by electronic means) through a book I’ve been heartily enjoying of late: The Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth. It is ‘A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language.’ Inspired by its brilliance, I’ve declared today’s word of the day to be Pandiabolism. It bears no mark on the day, a good day (for how can a day with laundry be anything but a holy day) rather it’s just a great word. Recently, I’ve been seeing more than a few references to Paradise Lost by John Milton. If there’s an annotated version out there I should probably leaf through that too.

While waiting for my clothes to dry, the launderette’s large flat-screen TV boldly spews the best daytime drama the television network can muster via a pool of desperate writers and horrid actors. The actors don’t need lines — they could merely grimace to the soundtrack of incidental music and be done with any utterances of a plot, freeing the writers to quote Milton until their pencils nub in their skeletal hands. While subject to such laundry crimes, I cannot help but titter at the sight of a sign. I am a fan of critiquing home-made signs; they are personal pointers in our lives’ roads — they instruct, guide, and warn us, and those around us, of the boundaries of morality, decency, and ownership. The sign beneath the television does not ask the public to leave the volume at its level, nor does it plead for the channel to remain fixed, or the settings to be subject to a tamper. It simply reads,


Don’t fucking touch the TV. Don’t even think about getting your hands on it, you wretched fuck. You fuck-fuck, dirty hallion of soiled clothes, do not dare thee, mean to paw at the shit-box lest ye find a severed foot nestled twixt thine buttocks. Watch this pandiabolic shit and shut the fuck up.

Standing impatiently at the dryer door, itching to leave this paradise lost, I watch my clothes tumble, mindlessly opening the door every few seconds to check my socks are dry ENOUGH so that I may leave them on my hotel bed and see them dry ENOUGH again before I pair them like Noah’s socks in my ark of a suitcase. In the launderette, I am concerned about a nearby washer; its spin cycle triggers an imagination of mine — that of being in the engine room of a torpedoed aircraft carrier. I expect it to explode any moment, rendering me either dead, or injured and witness to the closing of a water-tight hatch, whereby I am a sacrifice to Poseidon that saves the necks of my fellow crew. Jesus, if I smoked weed, I’d think about laying off it.

Deciding to walk back to the hotel in a pathetic bid to burn off the forty thousand calories consumed in the pokey Indian, the air somehow reminds me of being a kid in springtime Toronto. Perhaps there is a smell which triggered my olfactory memory, I’m not sure, but one springs up, that of a ten-year old kid riding a metallic green mountain bike on Manning Avenue, hoping to achieve the necessary speed in order to turn corners like motorcycle racers.

In a slightly sad way, the area around the launderette reminds me a little of my last Canadian address, 3 Eastdale Avenue, in the ether between Toronto and Scarborough. Along ‘the Danforth’ it was common to see people walking about, shabbily dressed, muttering to themselves. Here in San Jose, a short lady who picks through trash cans for plastic catches my eye. These words are not meant to cast a shadow upon her soul or being; it’s simply difficult not to feel for people whose mental health seems either ignored or allowed to worsen by society’s collective yearn for selfish gain. We are not witness to pandiabolism, as some might suggest is the force behind Obama’s victory, rather we can very often neglect each other with the mind that our gods will clean up after us.

In the next installment of ‘Everything is Going to Hell,’ we’ll see our heroes play a gig in San Jose, go to Seattle, spend money in Portland, observe a minute’s silence, cross into the village of Canada, and get tired.


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16 Responses to Leonard Cohen Tour Diary — From Westminster to San Jose

  1. Austin show says:

    Did you ever fix the hideous video projection. It completely ruins the show. Still trying to work out how to get money back…

  2. Deborah Hall says:

    I’m glad you are back. I’m currently serving in the Peace Corps in Armenia (coming up on 6 months in country) and blog to a closed group of friends all over the planet. It seems like trivial stuff – winterizing my apartment, visiting a graveyard with peoples’ countenances rendered by pointillism in stone, seeing cows ambling under my balcony alongside two of Martuni’s finest teenagers walking arm in arm in high-heeled boots texting furiously and other backdrops to my day. They say that sometimes they open their email just to see if I’ve posted – they get to travel this journey with me. I don’t write about saving the world (cuz that seems far from my experience!) – and notice I have been stimulated by your voice in this blog. Thank you for letting me share your journey with Leonard and the tribe – and for providing inspiration to share my own.

    • dragonhelm says:

      Thanks Deborah, that is very kind of you. Both your work and backdrop sound very interesting. I hope I don’t stimulate you into cursing at TV. 😀

      • Deborah Hall says:

        This is what that sign would have looked like here: Ձեռք մի տվեք հեռուստատեսության
        It would take me 20 minutes to read that, and I have to admit I sighed longingly when reading about your dryer. There are none in Armenia – clothes hung on a line to dry are NOT the same, sigh.

      • dragonhelm says:

        The things we do for others! 🙂

      • Deborah Hall says:

        You are doing your part quite nicely, my friend. Just keep our Magellanic troubadour-of-the-heart on the Road with finely-honed instruments. That’s done for others as well. As soon as I hear about the next leg(s) of the tour. I shall jump madly on the fan site and scoop up the very best seat at the closest venue he will perform within the orbit of Armenia. When the 2012 tour was announced I still had not gotten final staging and training times so I couldn’t be certain of where or when I could travel. 2013, oh boy, even in clothes who have not seen a dryer, I shall dance in the aisles (I do harp on that dryer thing, eh? I was told all Peace Corps Volunteers had near-clinical cravings for peanut butter. Not me, dryers and the Unified Heart troop.) And we shall all be there when he starts smoking again on his 80th 🙂

      • dragonhelm says:

        There is an infinity of fine lines which distinguish us from other animals on the planet. A dryer is one of those things which sits on the other side of the thread.

  3. Jon says:

    LB thanks for the updates of the continued adventures.
    The L.A. show was hands down one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended L.C. or otherwise.

    The information about the ramifications of exceeding curfew was interesting. Not using the full allotment of the extra 1/4 hour meant that I could take the train back to Long Beach ($1.50) vs. over $100 for a taxi.

    San Jose is odd – the last time I was there I stayed at the De Anza and there was a distinct notion of urban renewal somehow gone awry in that part of town.

  4. Hail, LB. Good to read your musings once again. Now do me a favor. Don’t touch the TV or I’ll show you the true meaning of pandiabolism and it ain’t purty, cowboy.

    • dragonhelm says:

      Whoops! You somehow slipped into the spam folder! (Didn’t know WP provided one for me.)

      I keep the TV right off. 🙂

  5. Jon says:

    hope you enjoyed the well earned 2 days off- the last couple of weeks must have been a hella grind.

    • dragonhelm says:

      It didn’t feel so much like a grind at the time, but in retrospect, I think it was. Thanks for noticing before me!

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