For the 25th anniversary celebration of Atlanta’s Breman Museum, one of the 20th century’s greatest songwriters, Leonard Cohen, takes the spotlight. This Sunday, singer-songwriter Perla Batalla will perform a special live stream program: “In The House Of Cohen,” in tribute to Cohen, her mentor, and tourmate over several years. Batalla had the privilege of uniquely close access to his process and his thoughts and feelings about his own music. Her performances at the event will highlight beloved Cohen classics along with lesser-known gems Batalla herself treasures, including some works she translated into Spanish. Batalla joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes” via Zoom to talk about her friend the poet, how his music changed her life, and how she’ll share that gift with her audience Sunday.
How Perla Batalla fell into the world of Cohen’s music:
“I was aware of Leonard Cohen kind of peripherally…. ‘Oh yeah, he’s the guy who in the 60’s had songs like ‘Suzanne,’ and I knew those from Judy Collins’ repertoire. And so I was very interested in the idea that this poet was now being celebrated again,” said Batalla. “Coincidentally, I get a phone call, ‘Would you like to audition for Leonard Cohen?’”
“So I run to Tower Records and I find every cassette tape that I can… ‘cause it was over 30 years ago, so cassette tapes were still a thing back then. And I thought… ‘Well, he’s exceptional.’ This is a really special artist and unique songwriter and singer, of course,” said Batalla. “I didn’t even think about getting the gig, or anything beyond just meeting him – I was so enthralled with his work, and taken with his poetry.”
“It was so funny – I’m at the studio, because after listening to his music all night long, I decided that the most important thing I had to decide was, what was I going to wear for this audition? You know, first impressions and everything,” said Batalla. “We look at each other, our eyes lock, and we just start to smile and giggle… Leonard Cohen is dressed in black, from head to toe, and I am dressed in white, from head to toe. He takes my hand he said, ‘Darling, this is a match made in heaven.’”
What you might not have known about Leonard Cohen:
“He told the most incredible stories, and he would have people just laughing, falling in the aisles laughing.”
“[Hallelujah] wasn’t his favorite song… but I know that it captures the hearts of people, and it’s not necessarily even the lyrics,” said Batalla. “I know people that want to play this song at their wedding, and I say, ‘Just take a look at the lyrics, I don’t think you want this at a wedding.’ But it’s a simple chordal structure, and it’s one that builds your emotion and it touches on your emotions, so I get that, and I think it was one of his more beautiful, and simple. And almost classical in a way, his melody.”
“Leonard’s favorite language was Spanish, and that was the thing we had in common,” said Batalla. “So when I decided to do my tribute to Leonard, I said I’m going to take some of these songs and translate them into Spanish. And he was delighted with how it all worked out…. If I already thought Cohen was deep and profound in the English language, in Spanish it took it to a new level, an entirely different level.”
On being friends with your heroes:
“We were good friends ’til the end… It was about ten years that we worked together, and any time he was working on something, he would call me in and talk about vocals or ideas or whatever. He just would love to have me sit in the room while he was working, and it was always fun for me to watch his process.”
“I remember early on, after the first tour… I was unaware of the kind of work, and how brutal it is, just touring,” said Batalla. “I just said, ‘Leonard, there’s got to be an easier way to make a living. This is really rough, this is so rough.’ And he said, ‘Well, darling, you’ll know when you have no options, because there is a point where you don’t choose it – it chooses you.’”
The concert will be free to stream, but viewers must RSVP online. It will be performed Sunday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m.