Remembering when U2 and Leonard Cohen shared the stage to sing ‘Tower of Song’
Today we are taking a trip down memory lane through the Far Out archives and remembering the late Leonard Cohen, revisiting the moment when he came out of retirement to perform ‘Tower of Song’ alongside U2 in a New York nightclub in May 2005.
The legendary songwriter hadn’t performed publically since his previous tour which ended some twelve years prior in 1993. The period between when he would next step foot on stage was a fascinating transitional point in Cohen’s life, one which he spent a vast amount of time at a Buddhist monastery on Mount Baldy in California.
As the world pined for Cohen’s art as he spent over a decade off-grid only made his fans realise just how important his voice was, his music offering a vital social commentary in reflection to the world around him. While he had no interest then of returning to the stage in 2005, filmmaker Lian Lunson made the decision to document a pair of Hal Willner-produced shows featuring the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker for a documentary titled Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.
Cohen didn’t actually attend any of the tribute shows in person which is understandable as it would have been a somewhat surreal experience. However, he did come to an agreement to perform his 1988 classic ‘Tower of Song’ with U2 at the Slipper Room in New York.
The performance wasn’t open to the public, but it would light a fire in Cohen that would lead him slowly returning back to the stage. Two years later, the musician would finally announce his comeback tour which ended up running for well over two years, circling the globe many times over, playing bigger stages each time with the tour dates quickly evolving from intimate Canadian theatres to vast arenas.
Speaking to Q Magazine in 1991, Cohen said this on the track: “‘Tower of Song’ is that place where the writer is stuck. For better or worse, you’re in it. I’ve come this far down the line. I’m not going to turn around and become a forest ranger or a neurosurgeon. I’m a songwriter.”
After his tragic death three years later, U2 would twice pay tribute to Cohen during their stadium show in front of 50,000 fans at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. “Tonight we hold onto some things, as you let go of some others,” Bono said.
Adding: “I’m not quite sure how to let it go, but I know tonight I’m holding onto the music of Leonard Cohen, thinking about it today. It’s been on my mind. He’s an addiction I’m not ready to give up, so I’m going to sing this one to Leonard Cohen.
“Just think. Think of Leonard. He called us friends. Really, we were just fans. That was okay by me. For Leonard Cohen. Stay with me.”
The sky was then lit with 50,000 smartphones in tribute to Cohen which warmed the heart of a mourning Bono, who added: “That’s beautiful. Stars coming out for Leonard. Different part of the country, but you know he loved this city. Stay with me now. I want to try something,” he said, and then started singing Cohen’s classic ‘Suzanne’.
Watch the beautiful footage of U2 and Leonard Cohen sharing the stage in 2005, below.