Earlier this month I was very pleased to be asked to be the guest and play some music on the Ether radio show on Vienna’s Orange Radio. You can listen to the show here. These are the songs I played:
Bruce Springsteen, “Surprise Surprise” (from Working on a Dream, 2009)
Current 93, “The Descent of Long Satan and Babylon” (from Thunder Perfect Mind, 1992)
10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days” (from Our Time In Eden, 1992)
Tindersticks, “Buried Bones” (from Curtains, 1997)
Sagor & Swing, “Äventyr i alperna” (from Orgelplaneten, 2004)
By the way the show I appeared on last year is still online – link and playlist here.
As usual the gig schedule is a bit thin over the summer months, although there are still a few events worth checking out, most of them outdoors. I’m going to devote my whole column, however, to just one of these. If you go to only one concert this summer, it should be the one by Canadian singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen, who makes his second visit to Austria within a year when he plays at the open-air festival site at Wiesen in Burgenland. Many will by now know the story of how Cohen’s former manager plundered his retirement fund to the tune of $5 million, forcing him to play concerts again at the age of 74. But if money was the original impetus behind Cohen’s return to live work, it’s nevertheless clear that he’s caught the touring bug again, having played more than 100 concerts in Europe, North America and Australia over the past year.
With a recording career stretching back over 40 years and a series of acclaimed novels and poetry collections to his name, Cohen is the only serious rival to Bob Dylan for the accolade of greatest poet in popular music. His earliest records were sparse and bleak, his folkish guitar the sole accompaniment to devastatingly sad and haunting meditations on love, death and spirituality. The lyrics, shot through with rapturously poetic imagery, were half-spoken, half-sung in a sepulchral baritone that perfectly reflected the gravity of the songs. Gradually Cohen began to expand his instrumental palette, augmenting the ever-present female backing vocals with strings and woodwind and situating his music deep within the central European folk tradition. This may account for the fact that Cohen has always found audiences in Europe to be more receptive to his work than those in his native North America, where in the mid-80s he was unable even to land a record contract.
1988’s I’m Your Man was a landmark album for Cohen, in which he traded guitars for synthesisers and drum machines and dropped the overtly religious imagery that had in favour of a flat, humorous and conversational language. Some long-time fans were disgruntled, but Cohen had the last laugh as he found a new generation of audiences who welcomed him in his new combined role of jester and prophet. Often unfairly dismissed as an arch miserablist, Cohen had in fact been introducing humour into his work since the early ‘70s. Now, though, he seemed convinced that the only way out of the political and spiritual crises facing mankind was to laugh in the face of them.
Cohen’s two sold-out shows at the Vienna Konzerthaus last September were truly inspirational affairs, filled with his unique poetry, wisdom and grace. A field in Burgenland may not be quite such an alluring location, but Cohen and his immaculate band are sure to stamp their indelible magic on the evening in any case.
This summertime business is all very well, but I have to say that I prefer winter. Having spent most of the long and hot months of June, July and August in my office cubicle in Vienna, except for two weeks on the beautiful Greek island of Crete, the pleasures of winter seem all the more distant and all the more acute.
Landlocked Vienna is not, despite the occasional pleasures of the Alte Donau, the best place in the world to be in summertime. There’s a distinct lack of pleasant open-air bars and cafés, for one thing, and it would be nice to be able to walk the streets of the 1st district without having to navigate one’s way through throngs of uncertainly pacing tourists. This particular summer is also notable for the fact that large parts of the city are currently being dug up and then laid down again, making life even more difficult than usual for pedestrians. I’ve given up any hope that the dusty wreckage of Landstrasse station will return to some semblance of normality in my lifetime, but maybe before the year is out Graben and Kärntnerstrasse will lose their current resemblance to a vast building site.
I’m also vexed by the question of clothing. An office drone like me has little choice but to wear a suit and tie all year round, which at 32°C is no fun I can tell you. Especially when you leave the office at lunchtime and are seduced by – how can I put this? – the competing distractions of summer fashion.
Sleeping in summer, meanwhile, presents its own unique set of challenges. The night-time hours are riven by conflict: too hot under the bedcovers, too cold without them. Getting to sleep on holiday is no easier, as I’ve recently been discovering. You have a choice between lying awake sweltering in the night-time heat, or lying awake listening to the incessant wheezy hum of the air conditioning unit. All told, I sleep far better in winter than I do in summer.
For me at least, winter can’t come soon enough. Let me dream of going to Peter Brötzmann concerts wearing my old, baggy black jumper, and of walking the streets feeling the satisfying crunch of virgin snow underfoot. Let the coldness of the air freeze my breath and make my cheeks and fingers tingle. Let me part the deep red curtains that guard the entrance to Café F———, and enter its warm embrace to settle down with the Guardian and the perfect melange. Let me dream of once again walking down Schönlaterngasse late at night and being the only person there.