"When the prestige of state and religion is low, man is free,
but he finds freedom intolerable and chooses to enslave himself through drugs and depression."
This quote, followed by a very downbeat rendition of 'Suzanne' and a dedication to a dead brother, doesn't make for the most auspicious start to what is in fact a witty, provocative, deep (and often appropriately shallow) but in the main entertaining and very funny show.
His brother isn't dead, it's revealed.
But Arthur Smith, the Balham-based 'semi-professional' comedian and writer, uses the lie to position the audience through pathos, much in the same way Leonard Cohen used to do with his songs.
And you really don't have to be a Leonard Cohen fan to enjoy this; I'm not, and neither is Arthur Smith, apparently.
Cohen is used more as a metaphor; glue that holds the observational and often confessional show together - although some of Smith's versions of the old misery's songs, supported and accompanied by ex-Fabulous Poodle Ronnie Golden, are really not at all bad.
Their 'First We Take Manhattan' is possibly better than the original; and Smith's adopted first person intro to 'Chelsea Hotel' is masterful: the admission of "I am Kris Kristofferson" in his rich Bermondsey brogue is quite sublime.
So if you fancy some existential humour, of the not necessarily too cerebral kind, this is well worth checking out, as it's one of the best radio adaptations of a comedy stage show you'll hear.
Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen - Adapted from original stage show (2000)
Captured broadcast from BBC Radio 4.
Excellent rip to mp3 @320kbs
Thanks to Cem for artwork. Perfect!
Get down with Arthur here