Came So Far For Beauty

The concert had been staged once before, in Brooklyn last summer and the compere reminded us it was the closing event in this year’s Brighton Festival. I had not known when I booked and it made the evening a little more special. I thought it might explain the crowd. I told Sam ”Tout Brighton is here”. Sam was less sure. ”Tout Brighton over 40, Dad”.


    Since Sarah had died the three girls had suffered a surfeit of fathers but now a special woman was to step into the role of mother. Nick and Angela were getting married. They were mutual friends so Julie and I had been grown up and consulted each other: which of us would attend the wedding? I would.

    Thus at the reception it was the feeling – acute alarm – that preceded everything else. In the anterior pathways of my left parietal lobe the pattern recognition software had kicked in and locked on. It entrained motor neurons that caused me to lean forward, to tune out of the conversation at the table, to seek more information on this movement thirty meters away, crinkly through the plastic window of the marquee. Definitely a woman, head thrown back from laughter I could not hear. That nod, that pause, that swoop for a child… ID complete. For the first time since Julie 2 was a friend of the family (a time out of reach, a time beyond recall) I was in the same place as both Julies. I tracked Juile 1 into the marquee. I got up, sat down, got up again. I approached and kissed her once on each cheek. Nick’s father joked, I think you two know each other. I told Julie 1 where I was sitting – with Julie 2 of course and three others and I told her how wonderfully happy Nick’s girls were to see her. I sat down and only then saw what I had really told her: “Look I am with mejulie. She will be on my knee and it will be painful for everyone if you come over here. Please avoid”. I was a little edgy thereafter, catching sight of Julie on and off, and I left after the speeches. I had had fun but it had been a long day for us ushers.

    The next day was Sunday. Sam is always hungry so we ate at a Chinese canteen below the station and had to hurry down the hill to take our seats for the show in the Brighton Dome. It was billed as an evening of Leonard Cohen songs by the sea and it was entitled Came So Far For Beauty. This was my first visit to the venue and I was delighted by the architecture and by the vibe of Brighton’s response to the Albert Hall. ”It’s a pretty little city you have here” Rufus Wainright campily pronounced. Yes, I thought, it is that and other things too.

    The concert had been staged once before, in Brooklyn last summer. We were told it was the closing event in this year’s Brighton Festival. I had not known when I booked and it made the evening a little more special. I thought it might explain the crowd: ”Tout Brighton is here” I told Sam. Sam was less sure: ”Tout Brighton over 40, Dad”".

    Rupert told me my name had come up at Nick’s stag night and he passed on what the guys has said. Knowing my need for a job they had conferred and agreed ”You should be Mayor of Brighton. You like to get really involved in whatever you do and then you like to run it”. And I saw the measure of my change because my energies have rarely spread outside the business that employed me. WowI get involved in whatever I do. And in the show interval, not once but twice, I turned when I heard my name. It can’t be for me I thought. But it was. Hey, in Brighton one is known.

    The evening was value with many songs from an eight piece band and assorted singers. Nick Cave introduced Laurie Anderson who introduced Jarvis Cocker who introduced Canadian singers who gave way to the Handsome Family who were anything but. There were so many msuicians and they had traveled so far that I fancied none of them was in it for the money. I thought perhaps they were there because of the esteem and affection in which they held L. Cohen (and maybe also Hal Wilmer the producer who pulled this event together). And I was moved, as I always am, by the overt declaration of high regard by one man for another.

    Sam responded strongly to the lyrics: ”The songs are like poems, Dad” and he should know. I have one of Sam’s poems, written in the year after I walked out. Sam writes about watching a large lion and its last line reads: I watch I learn I love. His mother tells me he has a drawer full of them. In the interval he compares Cohen and Dylan, he contrasts their language and tells me his German oral piece was on Jim Morrison. I am so proud I can punch the air but it seems quite the wrong response.

    I knew most of the songs but I was surprised on this evening by the macabre dance like rhythms: a bossa nova swagger, a cha cha sway, and – his clear favourite – an eerie waltz time. The ballads were more powerful than I remembered. The famous songs (the ones you knew they had to sing) did not disappoint and I found so much in them. Cohen can move from a sneer to the sublime in a single line, in a single breath. As he warns us they are songs of love and hate. And of loss and, above all, of searching. For Leonard, and certainly for me, it is a lonely, clumsy business – like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir - but it’s got to be done.

    The songs kept coming, the seats were tight and several times Sam and I felt our fatigue and grew restless. We shifted positions but at no time did I feel any urge to cut my wrists. I felt tired but intensely alive. I felt sad but exhilarated. Sam lent his frame against mine and put his head on my shoulder. Rufus sang Hallelujah (he had to do this one, it’s his party piece but he does it so well) and I found the response I most needed to make. I found the response to my greeting as an awkward acquaintance a woman whose bed I shared for twenty years, I found the response to my gasp in church at seeing Sarah three years dead but alive in every one of her three silk dressed daughters, I found the response to my wonder at the myriad threads that connected me to the man-child beside me.

    In the dark, under the dome, beside the sea I wept.