They had put their guns away when I regained consciousness but my hands were tied. The edges of my vision blurred and I tried to shrug off the idea that this was some parallel universe I’d fallen into, it had all the hallmarks and few of the smells (not something that all travellers would pick up).We were in a bar but nobody seemed to consider that Ernesto and I were prisoners was in anyway peculiar, in fact we seemed to be a part of the company, propped and trussed as we were on a wooden bench at the rear of the establishment. A sweaty looking Indian in a buckskin top came over, cut the cable tie on my wrists and passed me a bottle of warm beer. “Drink and be strong!” he whispered. I drank whilst Ernesto slept on, pressed against my back and the wooden bar wall.
Over at the main part of the bar the bandits were smoking dope and passing a guitar from hand to hand. It was an old shiny Guild, slightly out of tune but no one seemed bothered. Each man would take his turn to pluck out a tune and sing in a Spanish/Anglo language based on MTV exposure and radio listening. Their efforts seemed earnest enough but none of them were able to recall all the words so songs petered out or verses were repeated in that awkward way that lifts any meaning out of the song and rendered the performance pointless. I was hoping that I could finish the beer unnoticed and then snooze while they sang and then perhaps some escape opportunity would open, particularly if they got drunk and silly. That didn’t look likely as one bandit made eye contact noticing I has come round. “Hey, you city boys play us a song or we get more angry!” I grunted and rubbed my head and mumbled about not being a singer, I added with what little enthusiasm I could muster that I was enjoying their music. “We want your Cohen songs!” cried the bandit, assuming that I was a player of some kind and that I could perform that kind of material. I may have passed out at this point.
Some far away place in the centre of my head I realised, or at least came to terms with the sad fact that within my repertoire there were no Leonard Cohen songs. I could remember some of the lyrics to Suzanne, whistle a few odd tunes and had various mental pictures of the great man but my knowledge was lacking. I was ashamed of my shallow experience, my missed opportunities to live and learn and more importantly listen. I simply hadn’t tried and perhaps (and this was the most difficult point to confess to) I’d secretly avoided bothering to get to know his material. A classic and perverse situation, remaining aloof and disconnected for some secret purpose trapped in my psyche and hidden from my wandering mind. All around me were bathing in the musical and lyrical warmth that he exuded and I was refusing to jump in, frozen in the changing rooms, unchanged. What had I missed? How much more of a rounded and fulfilled individual would I been had I just bought a few albums, even a greatest hits and sat down and listen to them. I could’ve avoided so much radio shit by just slipping on a CD in the car and opening my concrete ears. On one level I felt that my life had been wasted and I was now relegated to some lower league in life due to my serial ignorance and indifference.
The weight of my situation pressed down, my conversations were still-born, words came out from my lips but hit the carpet. There was no mutual pick up from my friends or the others around the bar. Even the alcohol’s fervent lubrication could not pull the right dialogue from my rapidly drying mouth. I was out of step with my own world. No mature and proper Leonard Cohen appreciation led inevitably to a doomed spiral of social exclusion and a deeper psychosis battened down with more alcohol. I felt like I could never return home nor hold my head up in any respectable musical or poetic company. I also expected to be hit at any moment.
The digestive system is both simple in principle and complex in how it operates. It can also move from passive to active in a very short period of time, mine is the typical, standard model. I woke again, this time I was being sick, a combination of stress, beer and one or two unpleasant and unwelcome knocks on the head. I was none the wiser on the Leonard Cohen material either, the good news was that the bandits (or whatever they were) had slumped into some kind of cartoon stereo typical sleep across the room. I nudge Ernesto, he was already awake but grunted.