In 2008, Paul Simon played the Montreux Jazz Festival the night after Leonard Cohen’s performance. The show was a loose one for Simon; it featured the debut of “Love and Hard Times” and included a more-or-less impromptu duet with Patti Austin on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Simon took a moment, before the third song, “Outrageous,” to talk to the crowd:
I don’t know if anybody here saw Leonard Cohen perform here last night.
Extraordinary. It was amazing.
(Incidentally, though Cohen recorded a reading of “The Sound of Silence” that was played at the start of the tribute concert to Simon’s music at the 2006 Montreal International Jazz Festival, the two aren’t friends – or at least they weren’t until their mutual friend and sometimes-collaborator, Philip Glass, introduced them.)
During his recent tour, Cohen took the same approach as Simon does – put together a world-class band, build an impeccable setlist, rehearse carefully and deviate at your own risk. Mid-show, Cohen would give “Tower of Song” a lighthearted treatment, playing the main loop on a keyboard and joking through it. At a certain point, he would discuss the key to the life, as epitomized in the song. Here’s how the Sunday Independent described it:
And moments of improvised wit are never far away. “After years of searching through the mysteries,” he says, while his backing singers The Webb Sisters keep the beat, “I’ve finally found the key: it’s ‘doo-dum-dum’…”
Flash forward three years. Simon’s new album, So Beautiful or So What, is ready, featuring a breezy take on death and dying, “The Afterlife”:
After you climb up the ladder of time
The Lord God his near
Face-to-face in the vastness of space
Your words disappear
And you feel like you’re swimming in an ocean of love
And the current is strong
But all that remains when you try to explain
Is a fragment of song
Lord, is it Be Bop a Lula?
Or ooh Papa Doo?
Lord, Be bob a Lula?
or Ooh Papa Doo?
Be bop a Lula