If you were about to sit down and watch a critically-admired documentary about Michelangelo, how would you feel upon discovering that it’s largely about a group of artist-admirers who’ve done tribute renderings — i.e., knockoffs — of his finest work? Think you might feel a tiny bit flim-flammed?

Leonard Cohen, Lian Lunson, Bono

That’s how I felt when I finally saw Lian Lunson‘s Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. Take out the shards of Cohen interview footage that Lunson inserts at regular intervals, and Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man is basically footage of a Cohen tribute concert that happened at the Sydney Opera House in January 2005.
The performers include Rufus Wainwright , Kate and Anna McGarrigle , Nick Cave and Martha Wainwright , among others. To me it felt like a rip. It has a lot more soul and integrity than “Beatlemania”, that imitation live-Beatles-performance B’way show that ran from 1977 to ’79, but it’s not that far removed in terms of conception. First-rate art saluted by second-tier performers.
I knew something was wrong prior to I’m Your Man‘s showing at Hollywood’s John Ford Anson theatre last weekend when Ms. Wainwright came out and performed three Cohen songs, and I found myself glancing at my watch during the second number.
Cohen himself can’t sing all that well, but he’s a masterful interpreter. His singing — crooning — is breathy, raspy, intimate. Good as his poetry is, the way he sells his songs is at least half the game.
And as surely as Cohen knows what he’s doing and how to do it, I’m telling you that after watching Rufus Wainwright perform “Everybody Knows”, one of Cohen’s greatest tunes (and one of my personal favorites), I don’t know if I can ever really enjoy it again. Wainwright’s ghastly rendition has somehow killed the magic. I was in pain listening to him. It was almost like watching former House speaker Tom Delay sing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”