The Darker Album and the Songs

Leonard Ciohen's last studio album (2016)
vickiwoodyard
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Tue Dec 13, 2016 9:03 pm

I can hear Leonard turning over in his grave as we analyze rather than embrace the gifts he has bestowed upon us. He was not into analysis of his work himself; we must remember that. The intellect alone is nothing but machinery. It is the heart that cooks like a shish kebab, as he said.

Seriously, there will always be discussions of him, but there are more pertinent matters to me. For example, how did he manage to make each one of us feel that he belongs to us, that his voice is our voice, etc. Now that is a conundrum indeed. His voice seems to be emanating from my own heart.

I love reading all of the comments and suggestions but ultimately when I listen to YWID, it is my heart responding to a man I love beyond measure, as we all do. What he means doesn't matter as what he transmits through his heart.

I have buried a 7 year old daughter and a spouse and been a caregiver for many years while they were ill. So I am not at all surprised at the darkness of his last days while he braved disease and the suffering caused by it. One naturally has to "try and say the grace" in these situations.
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Diane
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Tue Dec 13, 2016 9:40 pm

Well said, Vicki. He does bypass everything and go straight to the heart. In a sense, we make less of what he created for us, rather than more, when we add our paltry analyses. That said, I think discussing his work is certainly one way of embracing it.

Sorry to hear of your great losses. Over the years I have realised that many, if not all of us here, have been called upon to endure 'too much' from life. And Leonard Cohen was, and is, there for us (and us for each other).
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Tue Dec 13, 2016 9:49 pm

Diane,

I think there will always be discussion of his work, just as there will always be pure love for the man. I play his music every night to fall asleep to, so I keep the connection alive in that way. I have not read I'm Your Man because I preferred to watch the man himself. Crazy, but that is how I wanted it to be. I dream of him on occasion, as I am sure many of us do. He is a light that will always shine.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby nynke » Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:16 pm

Re ‘Seemed a better way’ – apologies if this has been noted a hundred times before, but it struck me from the beginning that Jesus’ words (John 14:6): ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ were being systematically negated in this profoundly moving song. ‘It seemed the better way’ (but it isn’t); ‘It sounded like the truth’ (again, it isn’t, at least not anymore); leaving a hinted verdict on ‘life’ as the unspoken punchline. Whatever the precise references, it is absolutely shattering in its impact. Like ‘My oh my’, it manages to convey overwhelming tragedy in an almost unbelievably miniscule word count. What riches we were privileged to receive on those last three albums!
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Diane
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:59 pm

Vicki, you are being real, rather than scrutinising text. Thank you x.

I haven't read I'm Your Man either (but mostly because I have a poor habit of starting books and not finishing them). Noticing how he lived his life, investigating and analysing not primarily other people's works, but his own self, ever deeper, to the extent of becoming a monk to do just that for four years, inspired me to take up zen (in a much smaller way than he). I don't know why, but I came to feel much lighter about life over a period of time.

I concur. He is a beacon on the broken hill.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Wed Dec 14, 2016 3:38 am

Vicky,

You are absolutely right in that LC’s words, music and voice speak directly to our hearts, and that we experience his as a private voice speaking to us and for us. Nothing can take away this deep-rooted attachment. The need some of us feel to also analyze his work does not contradict that basic notion of attachment; these are two things that can live side by side. I heard LC wasn’t interested in reading analysis of his work, but I don’t think he minded it either. Once the work is made public, it is open for discussion. Analyzing the work takes nothing from the love of it, and might even enhance the appreciation, in my view, which I know is not shared by everyone. I wish to thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

nynke

Thank you very much for pointing out that specific verse; I don’t think it was mentioned here before.
Last edited by DBCohen on Wed Dec 14, 2016 4:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Wed Dec 14, 2016 3:51 am

Thank you and Diane for your kindness in your replies. As Leonard exemplified kindness, we can do no less. I understand the need to "talk amongst ourselves" about him and his work. It is the nature of the beast. I have been a student of advaita as well as other spiritual traditions. At some point the mind falls into the heart and that is where Leonard spoke from. As brilliant as he was, he managed to speak simply of the predicament we are all in.

Without him, we feel the predicament even more. But our solace lies in daily doses of his words and music, from photos and memories. I flew to Amsterdam to hear him in his last European show and even got a set list I didn't even ask for. Someone on stage just pushed it into my hands. I loved that.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Wed Dec 14, 2016 12:55 pm

Vicki, your memories of the Amsterdam concert cause me to smile as I imagine your happy surprise when that setlist was suddenly bestowed upon you. And your story reminds me in turn that it was memories of an incredibly moving 2008 concert (that somebody sparked for me elsewhere on the forum) that led to my viewing a video clip of Leonard in which he expressed the very caring that you speak of. It wasn't a particularly unusual (for Leonard) video, but at the time I saw it, it moved me to write a recent post in this 'analysis' thread. It feels like the listening and the discussing is more of a flow than a dichotomy. And right now it feels good to me that you described my words yesterday as having been 'kind', because afterwards I had reflected, and been a little alarmed that I had been rather out of step with you, when you arrived in the thread.
DBCohen wrote:LC’s words, music and voice speak directly to our hearts, and that we experience his as a private voice speaking to us and for us. Nothing can take away this deep-rooted attachment.
vickiwoodyard wrote:As brilliant as he was, he managed to speak simply of the predicament we are all in.
nynke wrote:Whatever the precise references, it is absolutely shattering in its impact. Like ‘My oh my’, it manages to convey overwhelming tragedy in an almost unbelievably miniscule word count. What riches we were privileged to receive on those last three albums!
That's the genius isn't it, the brevity and pertinence.

I am away from tomorrow till after Christmas, so can I take this opportunity to wish everyone the best possible holiday season.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Wed Dec 14, 2016 4:09 pm

Diane,

Thanks for the warmth of your replies as I seldom post here, even though I read what is being said with great interest. Happy Holidays to all gathered in the name of peace....
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Dec 15, 2016 5:00 am

Diane wrote:Yes, I recall you telling me about your Ophelia film project, Violet. I know you'd put a lot of work into it, so I'm sorry to hear it didn't come to fruition. When you complete your novel, please put up some information on the forum for us.Your recent analysis of the literary devices LC uses is a fascinating read and does ring true. More please.
Thanks for your comments, Diane. I've had this on my desktop for a while in the form of notes, so I'll see if I can put the most coherent of them here:

2003 version (as per surrender's post):

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
This rising up with love
This lying down with death


The sacred/profane conflation in this earlier version has me thinking of some lines from the final version of Born in Chains [as per Popular Problems]:

But all the Ladders
Of the Night have fallen
Only darkness now
To lift the Longing up


In the sacred realm there are of course biblical Ladders one could cite, including Jacob’s ladder joining heaven and earth. But what first came to my mind reflects my fine arts background: Rosso Fiorentino's Deposition, dated 1520; this given its looming, darkened ladders in the background, along with the great pathos of the scene. There is also a taintedness to Mannerism--especially evident in this painting--that I think resonates with LC's work.
Rosso_Depos.jpg
Only darkness now
To lift the Longing up


If we look at the profane aspect of these lines we find the dark side of eroticism, and seemingly something like regret concerning this. It's perhaps that Eden is lost to us, and we are left here to suffer in darkness.

An earlier verse suggests something slightly different though:

But in the Grip
Of Sensual Illusion
A sweet unknowing
Unified the Name


Here the illusory erotic experience seems a type of Ladder to this “sweet unknowing” that itself has the capacity to Unify the Name, previously shown to be not just broken but atomically obliterated:

But then you showed me
Where you had been wounded
In every atom
Broken is the Name


But is "the sweet unknowing" just a transitory encounter with a momentary respite from our brokenness? Or is there postulated here something rooted in a form of mysticism?.. (with the profane in that way transformed).

In light of this, some excerpts from the following article here seem instructive:

Being Leonard Cohen's rabbi
By Rabbi Mardecai Finley

... If you are familiar with Lurianic Kabbalah, and its main heretical interpretation, Sabbateanism, you will understand this album… Lurianic Kabbalah gave voice to the impossible brokenness of the human condition. The pain of the Divine breakage permeates reality. We inherit it; it inhabits us. We can deny it. Or we can study and teach it, write it and sing its mournful songs.

... Lurianic Kabbalah sees the breaking of the vessels as the poetic truth that defined the breakage of the human being… Scholem’s classic “Sabbatai Sevi” …saw the inner truth in kabbalah’s greatest heresy. Leonard also had read this heavy tome, and nearly everything on kabbalah that I had read. (He and I both studied from Daniel Matt’s masterful translation of the Zohar.)

We both had seen the terrifying obsidian luminosity. We shared a world of Divine absence, except for a shattered residue. We shared a common language, a common nightmare.

... We often came back to one issue of dispute. By temperament, but maybe more as a professional obligation, I offered a path of repairing the broken vessels. I think Leonard could not accept that suture… He said to me that the human condition is mangled into a box into which the broken soul does not fit. We all chafe, terribly.

... I told him about my tentative connection with Rav Yakov Leib HaKohain, a spiritual descendant of the Donmeh, a self proclaimed Neo-Sabbatean. I broke off but Leonard kept up. I honesty felt a bit nervous learning from a Sabbatean, neo or not. Leonard had no such qualms.

[As per a radio interview, LC answered that if he was to change his name it would be to “September Cohen.”]

... I think I knew him well enough to know that [instead of September] he wanted to say “Elul” (the month before the Days of Awe). For those afflicted with the bittersweet sadness of the broken soul, Elul is a time of intense inner scrutiny preparing for the Days of Awe.

... One day, with his children’s permission, maybe I will be able to write about that conversation that began with “Hamlet.” As I write these words, my heart is too heavy, too broken. I knew Leonard’s soul and feel it in my own. He knew mine. I think he sought me out to tell me his version, and invited me to tell him mine. I saw us as a couple of quasi-Sabbatean Neo-Chasidic kabbalists sharing a thick, dark night in that “Bunch of Lonesome Heroes”:

“I’d like to tell my story,”
Said one of them so bold
“Oh, yes, I’d like to tell my story
’cause you know I feel I’m turning into gold.”

[end: excerpts]


For a detailed synopsis of the Neo-Sabbatian "transformation of unholiness into holiness" see section titled "Quotes from his teachings" [under Yakov Leib HaKohain] at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakov_Leib_HaKohain

Last note: as you may have guessed, I'm hoping the rabbi gets around to telling us about that conversation that began with "Hamlet." Actually, where he does mention something on this is at the very beginning of the piece:

I last saw Leonard Cohen a few months ago. He had asked me to come to his place. After brief pleasantries, he said to me, “Reb, I am getting ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. I have some questions for you.”

He and I had spoken about “Hamlet” more than a few times. I knew the play and especially the soliloquy were close to his heart, and, at that moment, closer than ever. He knew he was soon not to be, at least in this frail frame. I remember thinking to myself, “I have to remember every word we say.”
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Thu Dec 15, 2016 8:20 am

Dear Violet,
Very interesting and astute analysis. I've read the article from Leonard's Rabbi and was hoping that someone would clarify some of the kabbalah references-and still hope that it happens. I read the Wiki page on the Neo-Sabbatian teachings under HaKohain and it is intriguing but still not clear enough for me to understand.

One thing that I would like to mention is that one of the verses you quote from "Born in Chains":

But in the Grip
Of Sensual Illusion
A sweet unknowing
Unified the Name

contains a line that goes back quite a ways to Leonard's song, "The Window" which has the line, "And come forth from the cloud of unknowing." The "Cloud of Unknowing" was a work by a 14th century Christian mystic written in middle English.

Here is one of the translated quotes from the work (speaking about God):

"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens."

I really admire the description of "a sharp dart of longing love." Doron has written a very fine essay on this song that I don't have handy. I'm hoping that he will have a few things to say to help us make the connections.

Joe
"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Dec 15, 2016 9:45 am

Hi Joe.

I know I've heard of the Cloud of Unknowing.

.. as I start reading it I feel to know where it's heading.. but I get lost in abstraction eventually. It would be interesting to see what Doron might have to offer on that.

As to this Neo-Sabbatean mysticism (as per the Wikipedia entry I cited), it's not anything I'm versed in.

.. off hand, it would seem to be coming from a coupla' different places at the same time (!)

(just thought I'd insert a little levity here)
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Thu Dec 15, 2016 5:04 pm

Friends,

Just a quick note to advise some caution (sorry, that’s me). First, I have a problem with the genre of “Me and…” (recently departed). I would take the article by that rabbi with a big grain of salt (half a kilo, perhaps), especially where he tries to depict himself Roshi-like in LC’s life. I don’t doubt he knew LC, but we only hear his side, while the other is no longer around to confirm or deny.

Second, I’ve always advised caution when dealing with the Kabbalah. True, I did refer to it during the Book of Mercy discussion (and in the notes to my Hebrew translation), but it is a very complicated matter that requires serious study. Many people just skim the surface and pretend to understand what it is all about. I’m sure LC read a lot, but he was not an expert; he was not a theologian either, as I’ve often said, nor was he a philosopher. He was a poet, and as a poet he borrowed some images from Kabbalistic literature, but to say that the whole album or that a great part of his work can be interpreted according to the Kabbalah is more than a bit farfetched. As you all know, he was very eclectic and used whatever he found meaningful (let me list just a few items: the Bible, synagogue liturgy, Midrash, Christian imagery, Rumi & company, Yeats, Lorca, Cavafy, Canadian poetry, Hassidism, Zen Buddhism, I Ching, Indian teachings, country songs, folk songs, many other types of music and so on…). So let’s not try to mold him into one frame. And yes, he did write what can be considered liturgy, but to say that he was “the greatest liturgist of our time, and one of the greatest of all time” is hyperbolic. Also, his liturgy was very private, his own expression, and he said explicitly in interviews that he did not wish to be known as a writer of prayers.

LC’s words have been an essential part of my life for the past 45 years (that rabbi “discovered” him about a decade ago, and I wonder whether he “got” him at all or whether his own ego was in the way; I may be wrong of course, but I read through his article four times and each time this impression intensified), and I have no need to attach any superlatives of this kind to his work (the truly great don’t require it). I listen, I read, I analyze and I share what I can. I am part of that group to whom, as I said earlier, LC speaks privately; I’m glad that in recent years he gained the recognition he deserved but I don’t like the fanfare.

By the way, Joe, my article on “The Window” can be found on the LC Files under Analysis. And Violet, thanks for your recent analysis.

This may be a good time to wish everyone happy holidays and a happy new year (or at least a better one, following the really awful one we’ve had). All good things,

Doron
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Dec 15, 2016 8:11 pm

Hi Doron,

Thank you for your response to all this. In other of my notes that I did not include, I too listed many of the same sources LC used for his writing, and for the same reason: to indicate that the Kabbalah is one of many. This got left out since I thought to let the excerpted material speak for itself for now.

I can't speak to whether the rabbi I cited is worthy or not, as to whether he's all ego, etc. That could very well be true, and I appreciate where you're coming from on that given all the diligent work you've done over the years concerning LC's work as a poet. I'd agree that his stating that LC was the greatest liturgist of all time seems hyperbolic.

However, the reason I felt compelled to include those excerpts came from LC's work itself. And not just the most recent album, obviously. Although his titling it You Want It Darker seems entirely relevant.

Also, just as you find it necessary to caution against the "Me and LC" category of recent articles, I think we all should realize that even the largely accepted narrative of this great artist's life and work is fraught with contradiction, especially when LC's own words come into play. To some degree this is natural since one has a different perception of things through time, or depending on one's frame of mind, etc. And yet the idea (for example) that he went to India, something lifted, and he lived the rest of his life free of depression also seems rather pat. And I do believe the writing itself speaks to my doubts concerning that.

And so when this rabbi came forward with content that in some way matches the extremely dark aspect of this body of work I felt that that deserved some notice. Whether the rabbi is serving his own ego or not, he also seems versed in the material he's referenced; and, of course, there would seem to be many witnesses to LC's steady involvement with this man.

"... the human condition is mangled into a box into which the broken soul does not fit. We all chafe, terribly" certainly resonates with a lot of LC's writings, including parts of The Book of Mercy.

I think where we can both agree is that there are a lot of ways to approach LC's work. I just wouldn't be so quick to foreclose on what seems a window into its darker aspects.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Fri Dec 16, 2016 11:56 am

Violet,

I’m sure we can agree on many things: that there are contradictions in LC’s life and work (which is true for any great artist, I would say, and for many others not so blessed); that important things in one’s life and work may change over the years; that there are a lot of ways to approach LC’s work, and more. I also agree that one of the keys to his work is what he learned about the Kabbalah and the ways he used it in his writing, and that we should probably try to figure out more about this point. Whenever possible I’d use the hints LC himself gave on interviews and on other occasions as to the degree of his immersion in it and his understanding of it; I would also point out the unmistakable allusions to the Kabbalah when I find them. But I’d be extremely cautious regrading outside evidence, especially of the kind that comes after the fact. I may be over-cautious but I’d rather tread carefully out of respect to LC and his work.

I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m trying to evade the discussion, but I’m afraid I can’t say more than that at the moment; I hope to pick it up at a later opportunity. All good things,

Doron

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