By BEN JACOBSON
When word began circulating that iconic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was planning to include a fall 2008 Tel Aviv-area performance in his first concert tour in over 15 years, the rumor mill kicked into high gear. The 73-year-old, as he was at the time, would never make it through the 80-plus gigs that had been scheduled, the scoffers predicted. The buzz took a turn for the downright absurd when the mainstream press published reports that Cohen's concert planners had successfully stepped up to marquis gangster rapper Snoop Dogg, as both performers had booked Ramat Gan Stadium for the same date.
The fall 2008 Leonard Cohen concert in Ramat Gan, of course, did not pan out, but not because of any feuds with the hip hop community, and certainly not because the performer lacked stage stamina. To date, Cohen has been on to tour with few breaks for 17 months straight, and when he wraps things up in his now-native California in November, he will have played nearly 200 concerts since coming out of semi-retirement to hit the road.
In times when the mainstream music industry is scrambling to find ways to stay alive, even classic rock acts can struggle to sell large-scale world tours. Cohen, who is hardly an MTV-ready persona, was once such an outsider from the mainstream that Sony Records refused to release his 1984 studio offering Various Positions in the United States (an album that includes concert mainstays and fan favorites like "If It Be Your Will," "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "Hallelujah," the latter eventually tearing up the British singles chart this past winter holiday season thanks to the popularity of three versions of the song). And despite the volatile entertainment industry climate, heightened by the economic situation, Cohen has continued to sell out large venues around the world.
Conventional wisdom says that the fall 2008 Ramat Gan concert was canceled due to lack of corporate backing for local producer Marcel Avraham, and when the plans fell through, local fans were up in arms. In the aftermath, thousands joined a dedicated Facebook group called "Please Don't Pass Us By," while nearly 10,000 signed a petition through the local fan community website at leonard.co.il. Leonard Cohen fans the world over are known to be a particularly enthusiastic bunch, and Israelis are arguably among the most passionate. In recent years alone, artists as diverse as Rotem Or and Sagol 59 appeared on a creatively Hebraicized 2004 tribute album Shir Zar, while popular Seventies bard Arik Sinai embarked on a successful Cohen tribute concert tour last year.
As more legs to Cohen's own concert tour continued to be added, Marcel Avraham was finally able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and in June of 2009, it was announced that Bank Discount would act as corporate sponsor to a Leonard Cohen concert in Ramat Gan on September 24. "Ever since we announced Leonard's world tour, which started in May 2008, there's been considerable interest in bringing him to Israel," Cohen's lawyer and manager Robert Kory told The Jerusalem Post's David Brinn in July. "As the tour has proven to be a tremendous success, the calls from Israel to play grew."
Over the past few weeks, tour management announced an additional leg of shows traversing North America throughout the autumn, but until then, it looked like Cohen's Israel performance, just a few days following his 75th birthday, was going to be the tour's finale, which would have made it likely his last ever. By the time tickets to the Ramat Gan concert finally went on sale at the very end of July, demand had reached such a frenzy that pre-sales to Leonard Cohen international fan forum members and to Bank Discount account holders nearly wiped out the available seats, rendering all 50,000 tickets completely sold out within a few hours of becoming available to the general public.
Any number of factors (feuds with gangster rappers, banks crumbling to dust, the specter of escalating regional violence) could very well make for a last-minute cancellation, but for the scores of local fans holding tickets, it's comforting to know that Cohen himself seems up to the task of delivering a night to remember this Thursday.
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