Cohen offers up spiritual sound... after he's downed his whiskey

George Byrne

A FASCINATING article in a UK newspaper this week delved into the often bizarre world of the pre-gig ritual.

Leonard Cohen likes to gather the band together half an hour before showtime, down a single whiskey and get a Latin chant going, singing "Pauper sum ego/Nihil habeo" ("I am poor/I have nothing") as they march to the stage. There's always been a spiritual aspect to Cohen's work, his songs frequently delving into the territory where physical love crosses into something greater, which makes such a quirky pre-gig ritual a rather appropriate touch.


Cohen had to all intents and purposes retired to a Buddhist retreat until financial irregularities led to his return to the live arena, performing to devoted crowds and revelling in unprecedented levels of adoration at the age of 77.

Hallelujah has now effectively become something of a hymn. The song was tucked away on a 1985 album Various Positions, and only began to attract attention when John Cale edited the sprawling verses into the version we know for the 1991 tribute album I'm Your Fan.

It's this model that Jeff Buckley followed for the version he recorded which sent the song's popularity into the stratosphere, with well over 200 covers and counting.

Hell, I've even heard it sung at a wedding ceremony, which is a tad odd when you get to the verse about the chap being tied to a kitchen chair.

Still, it'll be a show-stopper when it's aired in Kilmainham next week. >George Byrne

Leonard Cohen plays in the grounds of the RHK on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday next week