Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beware The Man

I’m upset to be missing the unmissable in New Zealand this week – an inspirational matching of two of great lyrical artists: Leonard Cohen and Sam Hunt will be performing to sold-out concerts in Wellington and Auckland.

Plenty of you will be familiar with “Laughing Lenny” the great Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, Buddhist Monk, and “Ladies Man” (and if you’re not you should be!) but the name Sam Hunt may be news to some non-New Zealanders.

Sam’s a poet, a balladeer, a writer of sonnets and “songs for the tone deaf,” a wild and dedicated New Zealand icon. I got to know Sam’s wandering prose through my mate Brian Sweeney. Brian was Sam’s manager for 5 years in the 80s and some years ago he gave me a bootleg of a famous concert at the legendary Gluepot Hotel in Auckland in 1984. It’s a classic, rambunctious, racy, soulful, and funny.

Being a performance poet in New Zealand 20 or 30 years ago would have put you in a select group, but Sam and his famous, eulogized dog Minstrel sure covered a lot of ground, criss-crossing the country and entertaining (and sometimes shocking) crowds in bars, theaters and country halls. Nothing is as easy as doing what you love.

That’s what attracts me to both Leonard and Sam - the confluence of their deep reflections on the nature of love and life on paper, combined with their unique and uplifting performances that celebrate the joy of living. They both sing from the soul, and people can’t help but feel the passion. Last year, Leonard Cohen closed the legendary Glastonbury music festival in the UK with what by all accounts, was a beautiful rendition of his standard “Hallelujah” (which by the way was the UK Christmas No.1 and No.2!) At 74 years old, he still knows how to win over a crowd with a mixture of humor, subtlety and total dedication to the song. You’ll see his performances described as hypnotic, or religious – songs such as “First we take Manhattan”, “Suzanne”, and “Bird on a Wire” will you have you revisiting (or downloading) your music collection for weeks afterwards.

If you can’t find yourself a ticket or you’re too far away then at least make sure to pick up Sam’s new collection “Doubtless” this week, then revisit Lian Lunson’s 1995 film “I’m your Man”, a beautiful film that celebrates Leonard’s life and music. Because I can’t be there, that’s what I’ll be doing.

Sam Hunt image from 1980 documentary “Artists Prepare”, National Film Unit

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