Tribute “of the Week”

Joe Woodard on Leonard Cohen

When Lian Lunson’s new documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man recently premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, the tributes to Cohen’s music weren’t confined to the screen. Sure, the film features Nick Cave, Beth Orton, and U2 doing the Cohen songs, but prior to the screening, there were a handful of live tributes performed as the songwriter watched from the audience.

Along with Martha Wainwright, two of Cohen’s backup singers — Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla — also performed. As Christensen presented “A Singer Must Die” and Batalla offered “Bird on a Wire,” their musical support came from the guitar of Joe Woodard, Santa Barbara’s most avant-garde string picker and a longtime columnist for The Independent. (See Fringe Beat.)

“It was a great honor to be involved in the event, even peripherally. I figure I was on the outer, outer ring of the inner circle,” said Woodard recently. “I’ve known and worked with Julie quite a bit in recent years as she’s been involved with Headless Household projects. Within the last year, I’ve become involved in her musical world, co-writing an album-in-progress and playing some gigs as her guitarist.”

What led to this Leonard Cohen undertaking? The songwriter’s towering presence within popular music. From musicians meandering the middle of the musical road to those exploring its extremes, Cohen’s impact is immeasurable. And it seemingly stems from nothing more than the sanctity of heart and soul of the man himself, something he freely pours into every one of his songs.

“I can’t remember when I first fell for Leonard’s music, but it may have been after hearing his work in the film McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” explained Woodard. “I was hooked then, and now. It’s hard to imagine a songwriter whose words create poetic imagery at once vivid and pliable. You get lured inside another dimension, beyond the immediate, yet the songs are also so sensuous and connected to this life.”

See for more info. The film opens this weekend in Santa Barbara.

— Brett Leigh Dicks

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