The Darker Album and the Songs

News about Leonard Cohen and his work, press, radio & TV programs etc.
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Joe Way
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Sat Dec 17, 2016 1:35 am

I was inspired to re-visit your excellent article on "The Window" and in keeping with your suggestion that we rely primarily on Leonard's own words, I'll quote them here.

On Kabbalism:

In an Internet chat with fans which took place in October 2001, Cohen had this to say in response to a question by Prof. Elliot Wolfson on whether he studied Kabbalah or Hasidism and their influence on his work:
[...] I have a very superficial knowledge of the matter but even by dipping into the many books, I have been deeply touched by what I read, and by my conversations with living Hasidic masters. The model of the Tree of Life and the activities and interactions of the sephirot has been especially influential. The idea of the in-breath to clear a space for the whole manifestation and the out-breath as the place of the manifestation, has of course been illumined by my studies with Roshi and his instructions in zen meditation. [...]

On Christianity:

Cohen had this to say in response to questions on Christ and Christianity:
Christ
[...] Last year I tried to put it this way: Was looking at the crucifix. Got something in my eye. A Light that doesn't need to live and doesn't need to die. What's written in the Book of Love is strangely incomplete, 'til witnessed here in time and blood a thousand kisses deep.
Christianity
[...] As I understand it, into the heart of every Christian, Christ comes, and Christ goes. When, by his Grace, the landscape of the heart becomes vast and deep and limitless, then Christ makes His abode in that graceful heart, and His Will prevails. The experience is recognized as Peace. In the absence of this experience much activity arises, divisions of every sort. Outside of the organizational enterprise, which some applaud and some mistrust, stands the figure of Jesus, nailed to a human predicament, summoning the heart to comprehend its own suffering by dissolving itself in a radical confession of hospitality.

I would also suggest another influence-the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke. From what I understand, his rejection of the Christianity in which he was raised was based somewhat on the notion that God was not as important as the Creator but the result of the Creation. Here is one of his passages from the Duino Elegies which I'm convinced influenced Leonard in his writing of the song, "The Window. And I know we are discussing another song.

"Yes, the Spring-times needed you deeply. Many a star

must have been there for you so you might feel it. A wave

lifted towards you out of the past, or, as you walked

past an open window, a violin

gave of itself. All this was their mission."

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
At first he touched on love
But then he touched on death

If we are to assume that the "he" mentioned in this verse is Jesus, then what was his mission and what is the better way?

I won't go into a long winded discussion of this, but it is important to keep these questions in the back of our minds when we look at the penultimate song, "Steer Your Way" and start to make the connections between the songs on this wonderful album.

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

Postby DBCohen » Sat Dec 17, 2016 7:31 am

Joe,

Thank you very much for bringing those quotes here and also for quoting Rilke’s poem. Would you like to introduce the next track on the album, or should we wait until after the holiday season? Either way would be fine.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Steven » Sat Dec 17, 2016 6:43 pm

Hi,

Just a comment about "It Seemed The Better Way." Jesus (or God without him) is what I hear as the "him." My take is
that the song is about the variances of degree of surety of faith that commonly occur when the most challenging of situations arise,
including life-death transitions. I don't hear a negating, any abandonment of faith. To the contrary, there's a hedging
of a bet, in effect, expressed in the last stanza: "I better hold my tongue..." This self-admonition acknowledges at least
the possibility that the faith is warranted -- a hope, held out despite the metaphorical slap in the cheek dealt the character
and mentioned in the first stanza. What's "not the truth today" appears to me to be the character's take on how he's
feeling with regard to that communion represented by the lifting of the glass. Feelings in the midst of a crisis aren't
always congruent with belief.

Joe wrote: "If we are to assume that the "he" mentioned in this verse is Jesus, then what was his mission and what is the better way?"
From a Christian perspective, part of the mission was to bridge a gap between God and humanity, allowing for communion.
From that same point of view, "the better way" (fundamentally the only way, from that perspective) is acceptance by faith.
Last edited by Steven on Sat Dec 17, 2016 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Sat Dec 17, 2016 6:52 pm

Steven, this is how I feel about SBW as well. Having been through the dark night of the soul, I know that the feelings are in conflict with the previously easily-held beliefs that are foisted on us by the world. We buy into it, we give lip service to it when the sky is blue. But when faced with suffering and death in a very personal way, all we can do is "try and say the grace." This is not an abandoning of belief, but an honest experience that is being described.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Steven » Sat Dec 17, 2016 6:59 pm

Hi Vickiwoodyard,

Thank you for expressing what you did, so well. May we all have better days and nights ahead.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Sat Dec 17, 2016 7:19 pm

Steven,

It seems there are 2 things of importance when it comes to discussing the songs of LC. One is the possible interpretations of what he meant, which he was loath to dwell on himself; the second is the impact the song has on us as listeners.

I read the discussions with interest but have little interest in parsing the meanings myself. I leave this to others. What I am after is the inner truth that resonates with each particular song. Without that, the intellect will put us all to sleep! And LC was trying to wake us up, to silence the mind, to be lifted to a higher level than the ego. So he describes the predicaments of the ego in order to go beyond them.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Sat Dec 17, 2016 8:45 pm

Joe and Doron, I am considering all that's being discussed.

Meanwhile, the turn of the conversation with Vikki and Steven's posts seems a variant of what I was attempting to express earlier in the thread:

Violet wrote:.. in this sense, “It’s not the truth today” may not be as final a verdict as it first appears, perhaps because it's a line that contains within it its own lament. This goes to the somber tone of the song, as well as the lyrics.

.. and so we go through the motions, which here seem to indicate some frail hope that, in spite of it all, these rituals might still possess some meaning, even when one has lost faith that they do:

Lift this glass of blood
Try to say the grace



vickiwoodyard wrote:Steven, this is how I feel about SBW as well. Having been through the dark night of the soul, I know that the feelings are in conflict with the previously easily-held beliefs that are foisted on us by the world. We buy into it, we give lip service to it when the sky is blue. But when faced with suffering and death in a very personal way, all we can do is "try and say the grace." This is not an abandoning of belief, but an honest experience that is being described.


Vikki, the experience you are here conjuring is wholly palpable. And I wanted to say how very sorry I am to hear of your loss. It seems far more than any one individual should have to endure, and you seem a brave soul in the face of it. It's hard to say more since it would seem to make less of it; and I can see that a song such as this one serves to acknowledge and console in a way that nothing else can.

What lingers on for me concerning the song is its sense of lament. As to the exact nature of that lament it's difficult to grasp. He's going over it again and again in his mind, which is how the song progresses. Something is not how it might have been. Forgiveness may be at issue. But things being what they are, there's nothing of that left. Just this mournful regret. This plaintive violin. This memory of the blood. This attempt at grace.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Steven » Sun Dec 18, 2016 5:34 am

Hi,

Acknowledging with thanks the posts in this thread.

Not sure if anyone noticed that the song doesn't explicitly mention a Communion prayer, rather it uses the word
"grace." Grace, in various religions, refers to prayers of thanks before and/or after meals. The lifting of the glass of
blood is strongly suggestive of Communion ritual. I've never heard prayers associated with Communion being called
grace. If anyone has, please say so. My presumption is that L.C. drew upon the Communion ritual for deeper meaning
implications but didn't stray from autobiographically accurate material connected with ritual more likely to
be within his comfort zone (discomfort zone, really, given the gravity of the circumstances). Had he done so, it would
have more readily facilitated an assumption by others that he was professing adoption of the Christian faith.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Steven » Sun Dec 18, 2016 6:03 am

Hi Violet,

You wrote:
"What lingers on for me concerning the song is its sense of lament. As to the exact nature of that lament it's difficult to grasp. He's going over it again and again in his mind, which is how the song progresses. Something is not how it might have been. Forgiveness may be at issue. But things being what they are, there's nothing of that left. Just this mournful regret. This plaintive violin. This memory of the blood. This attempt at grace."

Lament would reasonably be part of the experience of the character given the multiple losses, inclusive
of a perceived falling from higher spiritual ground, accompanying what began with "love" and then changed
to "death"... possibly feeling as if he's fallen from grace. Perhaps that's another reason that L.C. used the
word "grace." The character, himself, is finding things difficult to grasp: "I wonder what it was / I wonder
what it meant." Empathetically to the character and practically, why shouldn't we?
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Sun Dec 18, 2016 8:43 pm

Hi Steven, Vicki & Violet,
I think that you all make very important points about SBW. It seems that all the songs on this album reflect many different beliefs and state of minds that the narrator moves between. In this sense, I think that album is very similar to "Various Positions" in that same manner. In his concerts, Leonard would sometimes introduce "If It Be Your Will" as more like a prayer that he wrote during a dark time. I think this whole album gives that sense.

Vicki, while I always try to determine what an author/songwriter intended by his work, it is certainly equally valid to interpret a work through our own experience. I remember reading an interview with Leonard that took place in one of those periods of time that he seemed to feel that his work did not have a lot of consequence. I can't remember the exact quote, but he mentioned that people would contact him to thank him for a song or poem that helped them through a difficult time and that meant a great deal to him.

Doron, it seems that perhaps people have a little more to add about SBW (and perhaps other songs that have been discussed). I am going to be somewhat pre-occupied over the next two weeks, but please feel free to introduce Steer Your Way whenever it is convenient for you.

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

Postby Violet » Mon Dec 19, 2016 1:44 am

Hi Joe. You're right, I do have a bit more on It Seemed The Better Way.

Steven wrote:Lament would reasonably be part of the experience of the character given the multiple losses, inclusive
of a perceived falling from higher spiritual ground, accompanying what began with "love" and then changed
to "death"... possibly feeling as if he's fallen from grace. Perhaps that's another reason that L.C. used the
word "grace." The character, himself, is finding things difficult to grasp: "I wonder what it was / I wonder
what it meant." Empathetically to the character and practically, why shouldn't we?


Hi Steven.

I like “fallen from grace”. It seems to naturally emerge from the song. And yes, we're here wondering too, just as the song has us do.. “wondering what it meant.”

Actually, I listened to this song a number of times last night, and somehow I kept feeling I was on the brink of realizing something. At some point when the song's narrator gets to: "I better hold my tongue" there was something (urgent?) in his intonation that had me thinking back on the lines before: "But now it's much too late / To turn the other cheek."

I better hold my tongue

If he doesn't hold his tongue what might he say? If he's unable to forgive, what would his accusation be, and to whom would he address it?

Who or what is being protected when he holds his tongue?

I better take my place

I better take my place--or what? What is at risk should he not do so?

One might be able to trace a narrative unfolding merely through intonation. It's fleeting though, these flashes of just what is being imparted.

.. but what came to me was that instead of Jesus, there's a more worldly, contemporary figure being addressed. Someone by whom one could be both wholly seduced and lethally short-changed.

First he touched on love
But then he touched on death


Obviously, Roshi wouldn’t be that person. In fact, Roshi would be more beholden to LC given LC’s renown, etc. No, what emerged for me in this other version of things is some other figure altogether.

Before continuing I wanted to add a side note here concerning acting. Now, the actor may use whatever comes into his or her mind that is most compelling for any given fictional circumstance. This can be planned in advance, or this can happen in the midst of a performance. A writer can use similar devices; so can a singer.

.. this is to say that there is a “you” here that's being addressed that is giving the song its urgency. It's in the lyrics, yes, but it's in the performer's heart and mind as well.

The song’s repeating of the refrain “sounded like the truth” is how this tired, pitiful narrator explains to himself (and us) just why this thing he so regrets had occurred. And oh such bitterness arises in this “Mea Culpa” as it acknowledges this flawed misconstruing of things, the painful ramifications of which are woven throughout the song in its exquisite string regret set to a synagogue chorus of penitent religiosity.

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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:44 am

Joe & All,

I too will be preoccupied the coming weeks, but hope to rejoin the discussion next month. Happy holidays,

Doron
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Steven » Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:47 am

Hi Violet,

The holding of the tongue, I take to be a repression of anger that's emerged. Evidence
of that anger is the not turning of the cheek. Good reason for someone to be angry, here.
(Elsewhere on the album are the words: "I'm angry and I'm tired all the time.") Directing
anger to God isn't something that's okay within most of the framework of Judaism
and Christianity. The central character of what's said to be the oldest book of the
bible, Job, was put through the wringer but didn't curse God. He's held forth as a
model of proper behavior. The issue of forgiveness could enter into this in terms
of self-forgiveness by the character for violating what could be seen as the proper
standard of behavior and reverence to God. It could also come into this in terms
of acceptance of the situation, a reconciliation with God, an implicit forgiveness
for how things turned out. If unable to forgive, the anger could be to God and/or
self.

We don't know what consequences the character might have feared, perhaps more
suffering in the temporal and later on in the eternal. In the temporal, it might
include self-recrimination.

The "you" in the song could be played by any authority figure where a person has placed
ultimate degrees of faith in. (God, psychologically, is often a super-parental figure.)
I wouldn't presume any particular stand-in for God for the song writer. The potency
of the song for others, in part, results from whatever forces are at hand for them. Whatever "you" L.C. had in mind could have been an amalgam of forces/figures in his life's history.

I like the analogy you made to the devices that method actors use to actualize emotions.
It would have been interesting to hear Leonard Cohen respond to an interview question
about whether he used such devices in songwriting/performing. Somehow I think
emotions were at their fore in the creation and singing of this song. The challenge
was likely more in managing/harnessing them and in not getting overwhelmed.

I wrote this out relatively quickly. Very busy off-forum, but wanted to respond the
best I could now. Forgive me if I can't return to the thread for awhile and for sloppiness
that might be in this post due to haste.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby I'm your fan » Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:29 pm

Steven wrote:Hi Violet,

The "you" in the song could be played by any authority figure where a person has placed
ultimate degrees of faith in. (God, psychologically, is often a super-parental figure.)
I wouldn't presume any particular stand-in for God for the song writer. The potency
of the song for others, in part, results from whatever forces are at hand for them. Whatever "you" L.C. had in mind could have been an amalgam of forces/figures in his life's history.



It occured to me that the "you" in the song could be the audience or the listeners of the song. Like this, LC is breaking the fourth wall: a performance convention in which an invisible, imagined wall separates actors from the audience. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall

That has occured to me after reading Violet's last message:

Violet wrote:
Before continuing I wanted to add a side note here concerning acting. Now, the actor may use whatever comes into his or her mind that is most compelling for any given fictional circumstance. This can be planned in advance, or this can happen in the midst of a performance. A writer can use similar devices; so can a singer.

.. this is to say that there is a “you” here that's being addressed that is giving the song its urgency. It's in the lyrics, yes, but it's in the performer's heart and mind as well.



It's just my humble opinion, I invite you to contribute posting what do you think.

Happy holidays.

Alfonso
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:51 pm

I'm your fan wrote: It occured to me that the "you" in the song could be the audience or the listeners of the song. Like this, LC is breaking the fourth wall: a performance convention in which an invisible, imagined wall separates actors from the audience. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall


Hi Alfonso.

The idea of "you" being the listeners of LC's songs has occurred to me at times concerning LC's work, especially since the "you" itself is always shifting. Such shifting is a sleight of hand LC had utilized again and again.

However, such "you" doesn't really capture what is meant by "breaking the fourth wall," which happens when an actor on stage addresses the audience, or more likely an individual in the audience directly. After all, this is an album we're discussing, and as such it lacks such immediacy. Now, had LC actually singled out individuals in the audience while performing on stage, and had he sung specific lines to them as if he was speaking to them personally, now THAT would be breaking the fourth wall (!)

But as to the "you" you propose (his audience of listeners), it would seem to lack specific character and urgency when it comes to its "actability." Even an actor on stage doing a soliloquy likely has in his or her head something far more specific than a blurry cast of "yous" out there beyond the stage lights. Meanwhile, a figure from the narrator's past (speaking again of the album) with whom he had never managed to settle a score could very well serve to get his temperature up. Add to that a figure who still has some manner of power over him (if only in his mind).. well.. one doesn’t even have to imagine the rich and layered emotive landscape that could emerge, since it’s already in the intonation of the lyrics themselves. We’ve just to give such intonation our copious attention.

Well, happy holidays to you too, Alfonso.. (and to all here).


Hi again, Steven.

The question for me is the degree to which seemingly religious allusions need maintain their strictly religious content in our deciphering of them. I suppose it’s that at times this can be enlightening, while at other times one can get bogged down.

For example, I sometimes get thoroughly involved in scrutinizing something from a specific vantage, only to find myself tossing it at the very end of the ordeal. But then that's when something new invariably comes up as if in spite of all my dutiful efforts. Funny, I just thought of the prodigal son that the father so favored. Similarly, do you think the Lord of Song favored the one whom we've been discussing because he dutifully followed the rules?

Steven wrote:I wouldn't presume any particular stand-in for God for the song writer.


Unless I'm misunderstanding something here, the problem I have with this line is that you are already assuming that the “you” in the song is God, when this is your own interpretation. Therefore no one is using anything as a “stand-in” for anything else since we are all proposing to interpret the song from scratch.

The potency of the song for others, in part, results from whatever forces are at hand for them.


This is fine, and my own attempt at interpreting the song certainly doesn’t negate anyone's subjective response.

I do think, though, that a distinction should be made between one’s own personal impressions, associations, etc., and the endeavor to try and formulate a more objective interpretation that in part seeks to analyze such personal impressions. This to me is the work of critique.

Given this song is extremely paired down what I came to realize when closely listening to it was that it was telling its own manner of story through the shifting inflection of the voice. Such inflection is not a matter of personal opinion. It’s there in the performing of the song. The song’s starkness really does draw one’s attention to this aspect, which is why I brought up acting, and how an actor brings life to the work he or she is doing.

I like the analogy you made to the devices that method actors use to actualize emotions.
It would have been interesting to hear Leonard Cohen respond to an interview question
about whether he used such devices in songwriting/performing. Somehow I think
emotions were at their fore in the creation and singing of this song. The challenge
was likely more in managing/harnessing them and in not getting overwhelmed.


Whether LC was specifically thinking of the craft of acting or not, I agree he would have been engaged so as to make the fullest use of his own feelings, whether they had to do with his memory and/or thoughts of someone, or in light of any other associations that came up for him when in the midst of performing these lines. Remember, though, this activity (as per what has been said about the producing of this album) offered a respite from his illness. In terms of this, my sense is that it's unlikely that this seasoned professional would have been "overwhelmed" (yes, even in this rather dire circumstance) given that what he was attempting to do (and as reported, with some joy at times) was to perfect this work utilizing all the tools at his disposal, as garnered over a lifetime of performing/recording such pieces.

Whatever "you" L.C. had in mind could have been an amalgam of forces/figures in his life's history.


That said, I offered a “you” that came to me in response to what I was hearing by way of inflection. This should merely offer another possibility to consider.

I hope I've addressed some of the questions/comments you've put forth in your note to me, Steven.

.. and again, have a good holiday.. and to all here, the same.
Last edited by Violet on Wed Dec 21, 2016 7:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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