18 Male Leonard Cohen Fans Over the Age of 65 Star in an Oddly Moving A Cappella Version of “I’m Your Man”

It’s going to be a tear­jerk­er, I think — artist Can­dice Bre­itz

Watch 18 diehard Leonard Cohen fans over the age of 65 ardent­ly fum­bling their way through the title track of his 1988 album, I’m Your Man, for a deep reminder of how we are trans­port­ed by the artists we love best.

These men, select­ed from a pool of over 400 appli­cants, don’t appear over­ly both­ered by the qual­i­ty of their singing voic­es, though clear­ly they’re giv­ing it their all.

Instead, their chief con­cern seems to be com­muning with Cohen, who had died the year before, at the age of 82.

Artist Can­dice Bre­itz zeroed in on the like­li­est can­di­dates for this project using a 10-page appli­ca­tion, in which inter­est­ed par­ties were asked to describe Cohen’s role in their lives.

Almost all were based in Cohen’s home­town of Mon­tre­al.

Many have been fans since they were teenagers.

Par­tic­i­pant Fer­gus Keyes described meet­ing Cohen at a 1984 sign­ing for his poet­ry col­lec­tion, Book of Mer­cy:

He told me he liked my name. He asked if he could use it in some future song. I said yes and he wrote it down in his lit­tle note­book. I said to him, ‘Some­times I don’t under­stand what you’re say­ing.’ And he said there was no wrong way of inter­pret­ing it, because he wrote for oth­ers and what­ev­er we inter­pret is right. 

There’s def­i­nite­ly a vari­ety of inter­pre­ta­tions on dis­play, above, in an excerpt of Bre­itz’ 40-minute work, I’m Your Man: A Por­trait of Leonard Cohen.

In per­son, it’s dis­played as an instal­la­tion in-the-round, with view­ers free to roam around in the mid­dle, as each par­tic­i­pant is pro­ject­ed on his own life-size video mon­i­tor for the dura­tion.

They’re our men.

Some stand­ing stiffly.

Oth­ers with eyes tight­ly shut.

Some can­not resist the temp­ta­tion to act out cer­tain choice lines.

One joy­ful unin­hib­it­ed soul beams and dances.

They keep time with their hands, feet, heads… a seat­ed man taps his cane.

One whis­tles, con­fi­dent­ly fill­ing the space most com­mon­ly occu­pied by an instru­men­tal, while the major­i­ty of the oth­ers fid­get.

There are suit jack­ets, a cou­ple of Cohen-esque fedo­ras, a t‑shirt from a 2015 Cohen event, and what appears to be a linen gown, topped with a chunky sweater vest.

Breitz’s only require­ment of the par­tic­i­pants was that they mem­o­rize the lyrics to the I’m Your Man album in its entire­ty, pri­or to enter­ing the record­ing stu­dio.

Each man laid his track down solo, singing along while lis­ten­ing to the album on ear­buds, unaware of exact­ly how his con­tri­bu­tion would be used. Sev­er­al pro­fessed shock to dis­cov­er, on open­ing night, that syn­chro­nous edit­ing had trans­formed them into mem­bers of an a cap­pel­la choir. 

The project may strike some view­ers as fun­ny, espe­cial­ly when an indi­vid­ual or group flubs a lyric or veers off tem­po, but the pur­pose is not mock­ery. Bre­itz worked to estab­lish trust, and the par­tic­i­pants’ will­ing­ness to extend it gives the piece its emo­tion­al foun­da­tion.

Vic­tor Shiff­man, co-cura­tor of the 2017 Cohen exhib­it A Crack in Every­thing at the com­mis­sion­ing Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal, told the Mon­tre­al Gazette:

They are not pre­cise­ly singers. They are just pas­sion­ate, ardent fans; their goal was to com­mu­ni­cate their devo­tion and love for Leonard by par­tic­i­pat­ing in this trib­ute. It is not about hit­ting the notes. The emo­tion comes through in the con­vic­tion these men por­tray and in the ded­i­ca­tion they show in hav­ing put them­selves out there. There is so much beau­ty in that work; it dis­arms us.

Hav­ing cen­tered sim­i­lar fan-based mul­ti­chan­nel video exper­i­ments around such works as Bob Marley’s Leg­end and John Lennon’s Work­ing Class Hero, Bre­itz explained the cast­ing of the Cohen project to CBC Arts:

I was real­ly inter­est­ed in this moment in life when one starts to look back and con­tem­plate what kind of a life one has lived and what kind of life one wish­es to con­tin­ue liv­ing as one approach­es the end of that life. And I think that even when he was a young man, Cohen was some­body who thought about and wrote about mor­tal­i­ty in very pro­found ways. So what I decid­ed to do was to invite a group of Cohen fans who real­ly would be up to the project of inter­pret­ing that com­plex­i­ty.

Pri­or to the work’s pre­miere, Bre­itz gath­ered the group for a toast, sug­gest­ing that the occa­sion was dou­bly spe­cial in that it was high­ly unlike­ly they would meet again.

Some­times artists are unaware of the pow­er­ful force they unleash.

Rather than going their sep­a­rate ways, the par­tic­i­pants formed friend­ships, reunite for non-solo Cohen sin­ga­longs, and in the words of one man, became “a real broth­er­hood… once you estab­lish that con­nec­tion, every­thing else dis­ap­pears.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Three Leonard Cohen Ani­ma­tions

An Ani­mat­ed Leonard Cohen Offers Reflec­tions on Death: Thought-Pro­vok­ing Excerpts from His Final Inter­view

Watch 4 Music Videos That Bring to Life Songs from Leonard Cohen’s Final Album, Thanks for the Dance

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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