Marc Cohn: A natural storyteller
Ryan Summerlin January 13, 2013
No one would fault Marc Cohn if he were apprehensive or hesitant to visit Colorado. After all, Cohn had a traumatic experience here in Colorado in 2005. After a concert with Suzanne Vega in Denver, Cohn was shot in the head during an attempted carjacking. “In a way, it makes it all the more special because everyone’s reaction all over the state was so lovely at the time,” he said during a phone interview last week. “In some ways it gave me a closer bond to Colorado; obviously, I hold no grudge.”The bullet hit Cohn in the temple, but didn’t penetrate his skull; he was released the next day, though the remaining concerts on his tour were canceled. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “The shooting is much less an issue for me than the oxygen, at this point.”Cohn is referring to the thin mountain air. He’s performed at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek twice before, and two things stand out in his mind.”I remember that it’s a beautiful venue and there was no oxygen inside it,” he said. “Singing the high notes is a little tough.”Despite the thin air, Cohn’s previous concerts “stand out as audience favorites,” said Kris Sabel, the Vilar Center’s executive director. Occasionally, when Sabel mentions the name Marc Cohn to someone, he’ll receive a blank stare in return, he said. “Until I mention his legendary hit, ‘Walking in Memphis,'” Sabel said. “And suddenly, eyes light up and his famed soulful croon floods back into memory.”It was that ballad that helped Cohn win a Grammy for best new artist in 1991.When Cohn takes the stage at the Vilar Center on Jan. 16, he’ll most certainly play that song, as well as songs from his most recent album, “Listening Booth: 1970,” which was released in 2010. “It will be a legendary evening of a very successful era of rock, and it will feature one of the few voices that has the right and the talent to take it on,” Sabel said.
“Listening Booth: 1970” is composed of songs by some of Cohn’s favorite artists: Cat Stevens, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Smokey Robinson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and more. “It’s a snapshot of one year in music,” Cohn said. “In 2009, there were all kinds of articles from people writing about the 40th anniversary of 1969. There was a big changeover from 1969 to 1970 and I remembered 1970 being an incredibly important year in terms of it was the year the Beatles broke up, Simon and Garfunkel broke up; all the great singer-songwriters were starting to emerge – James Taylor, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell. It was an incredible year and I started to research it.”On the album, Cohn manages to make each song his own. “We talked about what can we do to make this song different. I wasn’t interesting in trying to replicate an earlier record.”It’s the song “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which Simon wrote and Simon & Garfunkel originally performed, that Cohn pegs as his favorite. “It’s one of my favorite records of all time and that song really moved me,” he said. “I really like our arrangement. It’s striped down and I like my vocals on it. I’m proud of that version.”I got a letter from Art Garfunkel telling me how much he loved it,” Cohn said. “That’s all you need to hear. It started out ‘Dear Marc, Here’s my notes. Listening Booth: Concept works, great singing.’ When you get that letter, you’re ready to go. He’s one of the great pop artists of our time.”As for the Jan. 16 concert, expect an unscripted performance. “I’m not traveling with a large band and I like to keep things loose,” Cohn said. “To me, that’s what a live show is all about. I look for those moments in the show where the audience leads it, too. That’s where you get lift off. I’m ready to follow where anybody wants to go. I literally take requests.”While years ago Cohn would get nervous if someone asked him to play a song he hadn’t performed on stage in years, now he looks forward to it. “Sometimes making a mistake is the best part of the show, if you can turn it around and make everyone a part of it,” Cohn said.