If Leonard Cohen had been a company or a corporation he would certainly have shown many of the current contenders how to do it. What showmanship, what quality, what teamwork – and what innovation (or creativity in music/poetry-speak).
Way back, in ’09, July time, I went to see his World Tour at the Mercedes-Benz World. The memory of that concert has stuck with me for nine years. There were several things wrong that night. The open concert became open, as the name suggests it might, to the elements: winds and rain. I remember that I was not that enamoured of the parking arrangements and the fact that it took 90 minutes to leave the car-park after the concert finished at 10.30pm – meaning that one was stuck in the queue till midnight. Further, though recommended by the organisers we turn up early – refreshments available and all that – turning up early only suited the organisers: to box in the cars. In fact hundreds had to wait at least an hour or more before anything like refreshments were opened.
But none of this tarnished what was an incredible evening. Nor did it seem to baulk the enthusiasm of the thousands, myself amongst them, who gathered to see him. You see, the first lesson that corporations can perhaps learn is that not everything has to be perfect, so long as the core offering exceeds expectations.
Despite the initial problems, what then happened when the concert opened was sensational. Suzanne Vega kicked off with a powerful and confident and an extremely good set. The musicianship was excellent – a tight band. After a break, Cohen came on at 7.00pm. Then, the evening became extraordinary. I have to say I was never a huge fan of Cohen. I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to go and see him that night. What I do know is that I am a fan now. I was devastated to hear of his passing in 2016. There is a well-worn cliché that politicians often wheel out whenever someone of vague import dies. They say: ‘a voice has fallen silent’. Cohen’s death was one of the few times I felt that could really, sincerely and absolutely, be true and applicable.
What do I remember that was so good? First, there was his abundant humility and pleasure in being there: he projected a complete appreciation of his audience, thanking them, incorporating material about them into his song. His favourite address word was, Friend. As a Quaker, this strikes a chord with me now.
This appreciation extended to his band, and at the end to everyone involved in the project, including the catering crew. Usually, these encomiums to all sundry at corporation does prove tedious and insincere. Not so with Cohen – he projected an amazing an amount of empathy.
Further, the selection of his band was clearly inspired: the singers, the players, were all top rank technically, and further they all seemed to be inspired by the soul of music. They were ‘in’ the music as they played it – for the duration of the playing or the singing they seemed like angels. And the virtuosity seemed a delight to Cohen himself rather than a source of competitive envy as the spotlight switched to them.
Clearly, the time spent in rehearsals had produced something extraordinarily musical, accurate, tight and moving. His songs are probably as near to poetry as it gets. One only has to listen to the lyrics of his song Nevermind, written in 2014 and used spectacularly for the opening credits of the second season of HBO’s True Detective, to see what I mean. Dylan is wonderful, but sometimes flabbily verbose; all the songs by Cohen seem fully crafted, as if nothing spare, second rate, gets through his filtering system. There were times, sitting on the hard uncomfortable seats, in the wind and driving rain, when one became completely oblivious – the music, the performance transported one somewhere else.
Perhaps for me, the defining moment was when he simply recited a poem, his own: If It Be your Will, and then allowed the Webb sisters to sing it. The effect was spell-binding – I felt one could almost hear a pin drop in an audience of thousands.
So, corporations, remember this: team work, personal qualities of humility and praise, innovation, and quality performance and expertise in the area of key competence. When you customers experience that, then they will, like I was with Leonard, have a life-changing experience working with you.
Thank you Leonard – and all your team.