The Darker Album and the Songs

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

Postby Kush » Thu Dec 22, 2016 6:39 am

I have been hearing this album consistently since it came out, something I have not done with LC albums since Ten New Songs, although I intend to go backwards to do just that with the intervening albums. Here are some of my thoughts and impressions, some general and some specific.

I mostly hear it early in the morning while driving to work, I find something about the album and LC’s voice that is very soothing and mellow at 7 am while I slowly make my way past the snowy landscape. LC once said a good album or song is something that gets you from point A to point B and this album has been doing just that most days for the past month or so. And when I reach point B, it is a thing of wonder to hit upon If I Didn’t Have Your Love – my favorite song on the album – and spend a few minutes in the car with windows rolled up and engine shut off. The best acoustics in the whole world in a cubicle of metal, plush and glass.

I like all the songs on the album but I guess at this time I particularly like If I Didn’t Have Your Love, Steer Your Way and It Seemed the Better Way. The first song that got my attention was If I Didn’t Have Your Love and it remains my favorite. Typically I do not read the lyrics until much later as I enjoy the sum of the parts together at first and for many subsequent hearings and I have to admit I misheard certain lyrics as:

If the sea should stand alone
And the flowers made of stone


…and heard it this may for almost two weeks until I took the trouble to read the lyrics. The misheard lyrics conjured up Dali-esque images of a body of water standing alone with no shore or cliff walls to support it on any side which totally blew my mind. Alternatively, I also considered an image of all life on land being petrified and fossilized – flowers made of stone – yet the sea still remained full of life (i.e. sea standing alone). Of course, I eventually realized I was totally wrong and getting high on nothing.

But to me If I Didn’t Have Your Love feels like the purest song on the album. This may sound somewhat pretentious – and it probably is – but it just feels that way to me. Whatever Mr. C was thinking and feeling at the time(s) he worked on the song I feel he meant every word of it and put a lot of emotion into it. I have no idea at all if that was really the case.


If the stars were all unpinned
And a cold and bitter wind
Swallowed up the world
Without a trace


These words evoke a vivid image of a Great Tent in the Sky that is being held together by stars (i.e. pins) and if the stars were indeed unpinned then our world would be swallowed up into the great void. Some ancient Native American and/or Central Asian cultures have this or some variant of this in their mythology. And if indeed the earth’s atmosphere is the Great Tent that protects and gives life to the earth, the holes appearing in this tent (i.e. ozone layer) might indeed eventually cause life to be swallowed up without a trace, although it would not quite literally be a cold and bitter wind that would do it.
On an even grander scale, if the Great Tent is the entire universe (the “Cosmic Model”) with all the stars keeping it in its place by their interstellar gravitational and other unknown energies, then unpinning the stars would cause our world to truly be swallowed into nothingness. And no one knows What Lies Outside.

Moving right along…
This album sounds like a cross between Recent Songs and Ten New Songs with a touch of The Future. The rhythm at the beginning feels like like Ten New Songs and the violins later on reminds me of Recent Songs but more understated, not quite as much front and center as in that album. I find Steer Your Way to be very cinematic in a post-apocalyptic sort of way. Especially the first verse -

ruins of the altar and the mall
fables of creation and fall
palaces that rise above the rot



One other line that caught my eye is in Traveling Light

I used to play
One mean guitar


There is a punch or bite to it that I like. It reminded me of a Sinatra song…also sung late in a bar that is closing.

You’d never know it
But buddy, I’m a kind of a poet


Anyway, these are some random thoughts the album evoked in me. I have one or two other things I will share about the “you” in above discussion.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Sun Jan 01, 2017 2:09 pm

Thanks for all the recent contributions to this thread. I hope everyone had/is having a pleasant holiday.

Kush, I enjoyed your personal reflections on Darker.
Kush wrote:The best acoustics in the whole world in a cubicle of metal, plush and glass.
Ah, yes, one of the delights of the haven that is the motor car 8) .
Kush wrote:
If the stars were all unpinned
And a cold and bitter wind
Swallowed up the world
Without a trace


These words evoke a vivid image of a Great Tent in the Sky that is being held together by stars (i.e. pins) and if the stars were indeed unpinned then our world would be swallowed up into the great void...On an even grander scale, if the Great Tent is the entire universe (the “Cosmic Model”) with all the stars keeping it in its place by their interstellar gravitational and other unknown energies, then unpinning the stars would cause our world to truly be swallowed into nothingness. And no one knows What Lies Outside.
That's another marvellous observation on If I Didn't Have Your Love. We are as dependent upon galactic gravity-love to make our lives real, as we are on our next breath of air.

ee cummings expressed it poetically:

...and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)



As an aside, IIDHYL also reminds me of this poem I saw recently, from Cho Oh-hyun, a South Korean Zen monk (born in 1932, who also apparently had his own well-known interpretation of the Ten Ox-herding pictures):

Waves

Reading the sutras deep into the night,
I look up at the dark night sky,
Listen, all alone, to the cry
of the distant sea—
The 1,000 sutras, the 10,000 treatises,
all just waves blown in the wind.



A couple of things stand out for me as we move into Steer Your Way. One is that, as Joe pointed out, Jesus is the immediate subject of the previous song, It Seemed the Better Way.
Joe Way wrote:
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?
The other is/are the point(s) made by Violet about SBW:
Violet 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.
Violet wrote: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.
I will leave to others the examination of the high profile Jesus has in the album, but picking up on Violet's observation, it seems that the sense of progression of thorough, intense, and evolving inner reflection continues through Steer Your Way:

Steer your way, O my heart
[...]
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought


Leonard understood that the stream of consciousness running through the mind has no magical capacity to break free from relying upon the 'answers' we as a species have concocted to perplexing human problems. These answers are learned from personal experience, absorbed from religion, from culture, from various teachers, and from temporarily successful attempts to stem internal turmoil - perhaps by endlessly grappling with the various 'solutions'. Hence, he counsels, you have to steer your way through the - often painful - reality that you perceive/answers that you believe. 'Steering' suggests movement, flow, and changing perceptions. Plus, as we mentioned it, driving one's car, listening to the album!

Of course, Leonard Cohen was Jewish. Also (correct me if I'm wrong as I only saw it once, finding his frailty painful to watch) he said on one of the last videos captured of him, that he had been 'unable to put a structure' on his spirituality. That wasn't necessarily a negative statement. If I can quote Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor:
Living from our deepest understanding requires an enormous effort, especially when it goes against the stream of our instinctively programmed perceptions of the world. (This understanding, which I call) 'deep agnosticism', is more than the refusal of conventional agnosticism to take a stand on whether God exists or whether the mind survives bodily death. It is the willingness to embrace the fundamental bewilderment of a finite, fallible creature, as the basis for leading a life that no longer clings to the superficial consolations of certainty.
Maybe Steer Your Way, and much of Darker the album (in addition to all the other things it is), is an embracing of that fundamental bewilderment of a finite, fallible creature (that would be each of us) who, in closely examining our own "certainties", sees through them, surpasses them and no longer holds fast to any of them. And instead prioritises deeply noticing whatever there is (internally and externally) in the unadorned here and now, as it happens, year by year, month by month, day by day, thought by thought.

We might strongly suspect, considering his joyful and deeply compassionate demeanour, particularly evident in the later years of his life, that LC, having made with tremendously dedicated effort such a deep and intense study of himself, discovered, and to some extent lived from what Batchelor calls 'that clear, bright, empty space where neurotic self-centredness realises that it has no ground at all to stand on'.

Steer your way, O my heart, tho' I have no right to ask
To the one who was never never equal to the task
Who knows he's been convicted, who knows he will be shot


I wonder whether Darker was primarily the expression of his own personal dilemmas, or whether it was more a 'manual for contemplating and living with defeat' gifted to the rest of us.

I look forward to reading ideas about Steer Your Way, line by line, thought by thought, from some of the myriad other perspectives.

And I wish everyone all good things for 2017 :D !
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Sun Jan 01, 2017 7:49 pm

Hi Diane,

I am simply agreeing with what you have said about YWID. As someone on the path of unfolding, of developing awareness, I feel into these songs rather than get technical about them. As Leonard himself said, in so many words, "you don't have to understand an embrace."

I do feel he was speaking of Jesus, of the Christ Consciousness, in ISBW. He is full of doubt facing his own suffering and imminent death, as was Jesus. Who wouldn't be? This is an inescapable stage of the path back home.

I have listened to the album many times, as we all have, and feel each of us will get our sense of personal meaning anyway. But it is interesting to hear the many different interpretations of those who love him.

It is a master of love speaking to us, one who faced his own cross silently and with reverence and devotion.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Tue Jan 03, 2017 1:08 am

I actually haven't listened to the entire album since I first got news of Leonard's death. I only listened to that last song in order to study its intonation.

Having said that, for weeks after I heard the news the songs kept emerging in my mind -- though, given what I was feeling, I honestly wished they could have been quieted.

In any event, I know when I first heard the album I thought it was all of a piece. It flowed like no other album of his; and in that it was stunning.


Diane and Vicki you have things off to a good start on the next song; and there are comments you have made I hope to at some point address. The poems you posted, Diane, are much appreciated.

But to back up a bit, I feel I maybe wasn't entirely understood on the last song, and so I thought to briefly address that before moving on. What I was grappling with is the nature of the religious allusions in the context of Leonard speaking of using a "biblical landscape." As to his doing so, the subject of Jesus -- which was my initial impression as well -- gives way to other interpretations, which is what I attempted to navigate in discussing the song's intonation. I also suggested (in bringing up the craft of acting) that more powerful and immediate interpretations/intonations arise when re-visiting pressing problems in one's life, as opposed to abstract ideas, such as those represented by Jesus. This doesn't mean the religious allusions aren't there in the writing. But, again, that's to do with the landscape, or set dressing; whereas "the play" itself is grappling with something more immediate and urgent.

--actually, Shakespeare is doing something similar in Hamlet, with Prince Hamlet's "the play is the the thing." For, in Hamlet's lethal little play he's put on -- mostly for the benefit of the treasonous king who has killed Hamlet's father in order to steal his crown -- Hamlet has something entirely specific and "real life" in mind, in spite of other of the play's pretenses.

So, with all that in mind, maybe I've clarified what I was doing somewhat. (Hopefully.)


Well, I won't comment yet on the next song, except for posting some excerpts of the poem that came to my mind the first time I heard this line:

They whisper still, the injured stones, the blunted mountains weep


and

in the way of mountains
tumbling down
in
death’s bereft, I fear this

loss, when

mountains will be

left.



It's from the poem I wrote in 2008, which, as I stated on another thread, was dedicated to Leonard, and which I posted here several times. I don't mean to suggest that this poem was a source of inspiration. It's just what came up for me.. this earth as this wounded terrain of love and loss.

But now

in slumbering mountains
do I find

such shades of loss as
tends this grieving

mind; for

mountains in their midnight
deftly trace

the quiet

beloved contours

of
your face.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Tue Jan 03, 2017 10:03 pm

Hi Violet. I did follow the points you made. Sorry for quoting you out of context, but the words of yours I commandeered fed so well into what I wanted to say!
more powerful and immediate interpretations/intonations arise when re-visiting pressing problems in one's life, as opposed to abstract ideas
That's very true. And, 'pressing problems' can also move from being heavier to lighter, and back again. Since you caused me to reflect that Leonard does evoke more than one meaning, even from the very same words, using his intonation and/or the music, I listened to Did I Ever Love You, where of course a happy and light feel to the words alternates with a sad, ruminative one. And I just listened again to the title track of Darker. The background noise that sounds to me like an old-style typewriter or a ticking clock, continues over the questioning-of-God parts (which are overlapped with plaintive-sounding 'hinenis'), and relents for the Hineni Hineni/I'm Ready My Lord, when the choir harmoniously joins in. Within that one song, we are transported back and forth from bitter accusations to complete acceptance, aided by the music. Remarkable.

I had seen your poem before, in the condolences thread, where there was such a tsunami of messages that I only skimmed. So I'm glad you copied it again - it's beautiful.

This in particular:
violet wrote:
mountains in their midnight
deftly trace

the quiet

beloved contours

of
your face.
Now I am going to take your advice, Vicki, and do more listening and less writing here, for a while.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Wed Jan 04, 2017 12:25 am

Diane wrote:Hi Violet. I did follow the points you made. Sorry for quoting you out of context, but the words of yours I commandeered fed so well into what I wanted to say!
more powerful and immediate interpretations/intonations arise when re-visiting pressing problems in one's life, as opposed to abstract ideas
That's very true. And, 'pressing problems' can also move from being heavier to lighter, and back again. Since you caused me to reflect that Leonard does evoke more than one meaning, even from the very same words, using his intonation and/or the music, I listened to Did I Ever Love You, where of course a happy and light feel to the words alternates with a sad, ruminative one. And I just listened again to the title track of Darker. The background noise that sounds to me like an old-style typewriter or a ticking clock, continues over the questioning-of-God parts (which are overlapped with plaintive-sounding 'hinenis'), and relents for the Hineni Hineni/I'm Ready My Lord, when the choir harmoniously joins in. Within that one song, we are transported back and forth from bitter accusations to complete acceptance, aided by the music. Remarkable.
Hi Diane.

It wasn't your use of quotes, but other exchanges I've had here that made me feel I wasn't being clear enough.

When I feel better able to, I'll listen again to the songs you've analyzed. One from the Darker album that comes to mind relative to intonation is Leaving the Table, since the voice suggests that leaving the table is the very last thing it wants to do. At times it's even sexual sounding.

There's something in acting (as well as screenplay writing) termed "contra expectation," where a scene's outcome entirely contradicts what one is set-up to believe will happen. Leaving the Table isn't quite that, and yet through its conflicting voice and lyric it's something of a layered version of that. I'd have to listen to it again to see how/whether this sense of inner conflict evolves through the song.

Oh, and thanks for the poem appreciation, Diane. I was conflicted about posting it here, but the connection to the line from the song was so pronounced for me, so I gave into the (hopefully not too self indulgent) impulse (!)

(If it was too self indulgent, I hope I can be forgiven. Believe me, I've been through hell lately.)

[later edits: corrected some typos upon re-reading this]
Last edited by Violet on Tue Jan 10, 2017 8:41 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Kush » Thu Jan 05, 2017 4:25 am

I just had a few more thoughts I wanted to add

Leonard says:

A million candles burning
For the help that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame


Diane says:
I am starting to wonder once again about the 'You', the pinning down of whose identity has exasperated us all the way through Book of Mercy and beyond; the You of the album title, the You who wants it darker. Who is this You?
In the song Hear My Plea (Mori Araj Suno)* by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, there is a long list of complaints to the "Protector" until the final two verses turns it around:

In this manner
Pleading
Recounting the pain
Rowing the boat
Making entreaty
Waiting expectantly
Countless centuries have passed by

Only now the secret has been revealed
The one who you had appealed to
The one who held your hand
the place where your boat had found its shore
From whom you asked for the cure for your pain
The one who did not visit your temple
It was your own self
It was your own self


Salman Rushdie compared Bob Dylan to Faiz (1911-1984) after the Dylan's recent recognition.

Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) expresses similar sentiments in Na Raindee Hai **

This courtyard is a slippery one
Tread cautiously because it is dark
Go on inside to see who is there
Why do people keep searching outside

Bulleh, God is not separate from us
Besides God there is no other
But the eyes that see is lacking
Thus the Being endures separation's sorrow


I am not at all suggesting LC was thinking all these things when composing these songs but these are some of the thoughts his words evoked in me when I was hearing these songs.
I guess at some level I subscribe to these sentiments..at the same time I believe one can hold multiple somewhat contradictory belief systems depending on the scale one is considering.

Some other quotes that appeal to me
I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.
I am not familiar with Spinoza's writings myself but I'll take ol' Albert's word for it.

Interestingly, country singer Waylon Jennings wrote a great song I Do Believe where he expresses somewhat similar thoughts. I have always thought LC was very much influenced by country music or at least I would like to believe that.


I do believe in a higher power
One that loves us one and all
Not someone to solve our problems
Or to catch me when I fall
He gave us all a mind to think with
And to know what's right or wrong
He is that inner spirit that keeps us strong


and lastly,

Dunno about God, he's jest the noddin' star
Atop the windy hill


by John Masefield from Saltwater Ballads brought to me by way of Bryn Terfel.

I think that is all I have to contribute to this thread....Diane - thanks for the kind words on my posts here.

* the entire song with translation posted in Other Music section
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-sZOGBTgcs

**
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxH5wQtWZqQ
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Sun Jan 08, 2017 3:31 am

Diane wrote:Thanks for all the recent contributions to this thread. I hope everyone had/is having a pleasant holiday.

Kush, I enjoyed your personal reflections on Darker.
Kush wrote:The best acoustics in the whole world in a cubicle of metal, plush and glass.
Ah, yes, one of the delights of the haven that is the motor car 8) .
Kush wrote:
If the stars were all unpinned
And a cold and bitter wind
Swallowed up the world
Without a trace


These words evoke a vivid image of a Great Tent in the Sky that is being held together by stars (i.e. pins) and if the stars were indeed unpinned then our world would be swallowed up into the great void...On an even grander scale, if the Great Tent is the entire universe (the “Cosmic Model”) with all the stars keeping it in its place by their interstellar gravitational and other unknown energies, then unpinning the stars would cause our world to truly be swallowed into nothingness. And no one knows What Lies Outside.
That's another marvellous observation on If I Didn't Have Your Love. We are as dependent upon galactic gravity-love to make our lives real, as we are on our next breath of air.

ee cummings expressed it poetically:

...and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)



As an aside, IIDHYL also reminds me of this poem I saw recently, from Cho Oh-hyun, a South Korean Zen monk (born in 1932, who also apparently had his own well-known interpretation of the Ten Ox-herding pictures):

Waves

Reading the sutras deep into the night,
I look up at the dark night sky,
Listen, all alone, to the cry
of the distant sea—
The 1,000 sutras, the 10,000 treatises,
all just waves blown in the wind.



A couple of things stand out for me as we move into Steer Your Way. One is that, as Joe pointed out, Jesus is the immediate subject of the previous song, It Seemed the Better Way.
Joe Way wrote:
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?
The other is/are the point(s) made by Violet about SBW:
Violet 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.
Violet wrote: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.
I will leave to others the examination of the high profile Jesus has in the album, but picking up on Violet's observation, it seems that the sense of progression of thorough, intense, and evolving inner reflection continues through Steer Your Way:

Steer your way, O my heart
[...]
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought


Leonard understood that the stream of consciousness running through the mind has no magical capacity to break free from relying upon the 'answers' we as a species have concocted to perplexing human problems. These answers are learned from personal experience, absorbed from religion, from culture, from various teachers, and from temporarily successful attempts to stem internal turmoil - perhaps by endlessly grappling with the various 'solutions'. Hence, he counsels, you have to steer your way through the - often painful - reality that you perceive/answers that you believe. 'Steering' suggests movement, flow, and changing perceptions. Plus, as we mentioned it, driving one's car, listening to the album!

Of course, Leonard Cohen was Jewish. Also (correct me if I'm wrong as I only saw it once, finding his frailty painful to watch) he said on one of the last videos captured of him, that he had been 'unable to put a structure' on his spirituality. That wasn't necessarily a negative statement. If I can quote Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor:
Living from our deepest understanding requires an enormous effort, especially when it goes against the stream of our instinctively programmed perceptions of the world. (This understanding, which I call) 'deep agnosticism', is more than the refusal of conventional agnosticism to take a stand on whether God exists or whether the mind survives bodily death. It is the willingness to embrace the fundamental bewilderment of a finite, fallible creature, as the basis for leading a life that no longer clings to the superficial consolations of certainty.
Maybe Steer Your Way, and much of Darker the album (in addition to all the other things it is), is an embracing of that fundamental bewilderment of a finite, fallible creature (that would be each of us) who, in closely examining our own "certainties", sees through them, surpasses them and no longer holds fast to any of them. And instead prioritises deeply noticing whatever there is (internally and externally) in the unadorned here and now, as it happens, year by year, month by month, day by day, thought by thought.

We might strongly suspect, considering his joyful and deeply compassionate demeanour, particularly evident in the later years of his life, that LC, having made with tremendously dedicated effort such a deep and intense study of himself, discovered, and to some extent lived from what Batchelor calls 'that clear, bright, empty space where neurotic self-centredness realises that it has no ground at all to stand on'.

Steer your way, O my heart, tho' I have no right to ask
To the one who was never never equal to the task
Who knows he's been convicted, who knows he will be shot


I wonder whether Darker was primarily the expression of his own personal dilemmas, or whether it was more a 'manual for contemplating and living with defeat' gifted to the rest of us.

I look forward to reading ideas about Steer Your Way, line by line, thought by thought, from some of the myriad other perspectives.

And I wish everyone all good things for 2017 :D !
Dear Diane, you have stolen all of my thunder. I can't think of much to say that you haven't already.

And Kush, who I admire as the great scientific man, writes so well about these things.

I mentioned earlier that Anne & I visited the Adler Planatarium in Chicago and when we were in Dallas we visited the Perot Museum. Experiencing those places makes me appreciate the vastness of the Universe and the great unstated seriousness of the Universe. It is difficult to comprehend the vastness and try to appreciate any personal relationship with a Creator etc.

By the same token, the immediate family concerns with music, words and images from Leonard's youth in the Synagogue are very easy to understand and create another path to an understanding of those things that aren't easily explained.

This album is so beautiful...Steer Your Way helps us look at those particular thoughts, day by day etc. I'll try to say a little more later, but thanks for the wonderful expressions of understanding that you've already given.
"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Sun Jan 08, 2017 5:10 am

Joe, like you, coming back here after a while I found that Diane and others have already said what fundamentally has to be said about this very impressive song, Steer Your Way, for which LC wrote the music as well as the lyrics and which cannot be separated, it seems, from its distinct violin accompaniment. Still, I’ll try to take a look at the nuts and bolts of the lyrics, so to speak.

The song has five verses, all of which are followed by the four line refrain (“Year… Month… Day…Thought…”). The first verse repeats three times the phrase “Steer your way”, while the rest of the lines describe a post-apocalyptic view, which can be either internal/private or external/factual. There are also some binary entities; the couples Altar/Mall and Creation/The Fall are rather clear, but what are the “Palaces” which still “rise above the rot”? Is this part of the dystopian picture or do they symbolize something more optimistic? Judging by the tone of the verse and the rest of the song, I’d probably go with the former.

In the second verse the opening expression changes to “Steer your heart” (repeated twice), perhaps because the “Way” and its Wisdom is one of the things examined and apparently rejected here together with “the Truth” one used to believe in and “Fundamental Goodness”. The third line jumps over to the other pole of LC’s familiar binary imagery (God/Women); it is noteworthy that the heart is still “precious” here (perhaps the only thing?), but did he really ever “buy” women? Of course, it doesn’t have to be autobiographical, but there’s a strong accusation here.

The third verse reverts to “Steer your way”, only once in this case, and focuses on the pain, which seems to be the only real thing, and there is no solace in philosophy, science or religion. There’s a desperate plea not to have to experience it, as it cannot be relieved even if there is a God.

So far these three verses paint a very dark picture of reality, of which there is no escape. It is even darker when one reads the lyrics on the page disregarding the music, since that jumpy country-style violin seems to give the songs an uplifting feeling that goes against the lyrics; is there a reason for that?

The fourth verse is different than the first three and the fifth in that it does not begin with “Steer” and the melody also takes a different direction. However, the dystopian picture continues with the “injured stones” and “the blunted mountains” that “weep”, followed by his ironic take on the line from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (“As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”); I guess “let us die to make things cheap” can have at least two meanings: a protest against the global economic and social reality in which laborers in various countries are worked to death to keep the markets loaded with affordable goods, or against the culture which thrives on cheapening reality. It is also noteworthy that this verse is repeated once again at the end of the song (on the album, although not in the printed lyrics).

The opening of the fifth and final verse brings together the expressions opening the first three with “Steer your way, O my heart” towards “the one who was never never equal to the task / Who knows he’s been convicted, who knows he will be shot” – who is this “one”? Since Jesus has such a formidable presence in this album including in this song (although never mentioned by name), it is tempting to consider him as the one, but other options are also possible, including the speaker in the song himself, who in a circular movement comes back – after all those years, months, days and thoughts – to realize that he has fundamentally failed and now faces execution (bringing to mind “A Singer Must Die”). Or are there other options? In any case, the song ends as dark as it began, and still that incessant violin rings in my ear, posing the question: why adorn such dark lyrics with such an uplifting arrangement? Perhaps it is a sign for his notion that existence is not single-dimensional, and that even when it’s totally dark some light might still filter in.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Sun Jan 08, 2017 5:18 am

I am the odd duck here, not really delving into possible meanings but possible ways to experience the song. As a student of an esoteric path, I feel that only when we are conscious can we "steer our way." So for me, it is a call to awaken from our state of sleep, in which all of these terrible things happen. They continue to happen, but to the awakening soul, there is always hope in the very consciousness that can rise above or steer a way through this dark planet.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Sun Jan 08, 2017 11:33 am

On the surface this seems a cynical song. At the same time we’re being asked to steer our way past its apparent cynicism (which of course purports to be our own).

Interesting if you attribute “Year by year, month by month, day by day, thought by thought” to “the women that you bought," as if there's not a moment that one forgets.
DBCohen wrote: … that jumpy country-style violin seems to give the songs an uplifting feeling that goes against the lyrics; is there a reason for that?
It’s spirited, yes. (I thought it more gypsy or Jewish.) But the rhythm has movement, just as our steering our way through the song does. And there’s this “pending” quality to it that’s first established through the bassline. For these reasons I don’t feel the music goes against the lyrics so much as energizes them.

Steer your way through the pain that is far more real than you
That smashed the Cosmic Model that blinded every View
And please don't make me go there, tho' there be a God or not

Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought


Pain eclipses everything. And through its violence there’s the conflation of God and self: "that smashed the Cosmic Model that blinded every View.”

But then the mortal steps back: “And please don’t make me go there, tho’ there be a God or not.”

I’m reminded of the note (that I believe was already posted on this thread) that LC wrote to Geoffrey Wren in 2008, which I’ll quote from:
God needs a human education to heal its agonizing and monstrous bi-plar predicament, which apparently is why we were created to restore a balance to the system that was fractured when the world was formed. Not a casual mission, as we are dealing with the One who in a panic of Materialization, created life and death, night and day, joy and suffering, good and evil. Hard to swallow, but that is what the Jewish mystics dare to tell us. We are that part of the Broken System specifically designed to repair the System.
Here God’s brokenness is again expressed:

They whisper still, the ancient stones, the blunted mountains weep

(I'd note it's written "injured" stones yet sung "ancient.")

But now to turn to the “heart,” which first appears in the second verse:

Steer your heart past the Truth you believed in yesterday
Such as Fundamental Goodness and the Wisdom of the Way
Steer your heart, precious heart, past the women whom you bought


I’m looking at “precious heart” a moment. “The women whom you bought” would suggest a hardened heart, and yet from the song’s present standpoint, what’s of value now is this “precious heart,” the spirit of which is subtly woven throughout the song so to arrive at those moments where its voice and poignancy break through in the plaintive cries and sighs of the violin.

Lyrics wise, this heart comes up again in the second verse from the end:

Steer your way, O my heart, tho' I have no right to ask
To the one who was never never equal to the task
Who knows he's been convicted, who knows he will be shot
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought


The request is that the heart might come to the aid of “the one who was never never equal to the task / Who knows he’s been convicted, who knows he will be shot.”

“O my heart”.. “precious heart”..

If the song has an anchor, it’s this heart, that it might bridge these insurmountable gaps; this when the mind is already made up, with its verdict “guilty.”

[edits: just improving awkward sentences]
Last edited by Violet on Mon Jan 09, 2017 2:38 am, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Kush » Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:46 am

Only a worker in science, Joe. And we are ugly but we do have music in the laboratories to get by. :)

I am reminded of another quote of LC (and I may not recall the exact words): "People want to know the meaning of my songs. And if they are French they want to know the meaning of the meaning."
Going by this thread, I'd say Mr. C grossly underestimated the curiosity of the non-French.

I mentioned earlier that Anne & I visited the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and when we were in Dallas we visited the Perot Museum. Experiencing those places makes me appreciate the vastness of the Universe and the great unstated seriousness of the Universe. It is difficult to comprehend the vastness and try to appreciate any personal relationship with a Creator etc.
I have to say I have not visited either of those places but will plan on doing both soon. Thanks for the mention. I will be making a short trip to Dallas in a few weeks and maybe try to make it to Perot Museum. I don't think it has been around for very long..

One destination later this year will definitely be Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon in southern Colorado and New Mexico and visit the observatories, both ancient and modern. I want to see the stars and feel the dark skies as the Ancient Ones did.

https://www.exploratorium.edu/chaco/HTML/canyon.html

Indeed, we may be ugly but we have always had the music of the stars.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:52 am

vickiwoodyard wrote:Hi Diane,

I am simply agreeing with what you have said about YWID. As someone on the path of unfolding, of developing awareness, I feel into these songs rather than get technical about them. As Leonard himself said, in so many words, "you don't have to understand an embrace."

I do feel he was speaking of Jesus, of the Christ Consciousness, in ISBW. He is full of doubt facing his own suffering and imminent death, as was Jesus. Who wouldn't be? This is an inescapable stage of the path back home.

I have listened to the album many times, as we all have, and feel each of us will get our sense of personal meaning anyway. But it is interesting to hear the many different interpretations of those who love him.

It is a master of love speaking to us, one who faced his own cross silently and with reverence and devotion.
Dear Vicki,
Very well said, and yes, we can all appreciate the love that Leonard was lavising on all of us with his masterful album.

Doron, as always, you give us great insights.

"The opening of the fifth and final verse brings together the expressions opening the first three with “Steer your way, O my heart” towards “the one who was never never equal to the task / Who knows he’s been convicted, who knows he will be shot” – who is this “one”? Since Jesus has such a formidable presence in this album including in this song (although never mentioned by name), it is tempting to consider him as the one, but other options are also possible, including the speaker in the song himself, who in a circular movement comes back – after all those years, months, days and thoughts – to realize that he has fundamentally failed and now faces execution (bringing to mind “A Singer Must Die”). Or are there other options? In any case, the song ends as dark as it began, and still that incessant violin rings in my ear, posing the question: why adorn such dark lyrics with such an uplifting arrangement? Perhaps it is a sign for his notion that existence is not single-dimensional, and that even when it’s totally dark some light might still filter in."

I agree that the "one" is an open question. I also notice that Leonard has made death by execution by firing squad an image in a number of his more recent songs. I wonder what this means. It seems cynical that these deaths are not necessarily natural, but pre-determined-and who are the executioners? I would like to re-visit this.

I also wonder about the sequence of "Year by year" etc. There must be more significance to it that we are not quite understanding.

Kush, I've never been to Chaco Canyon, but Mesa Verde is one of my favorite places. It is interesting that today is the Christian Epiphany. Anne & I still cling to our religion-as Leonard would say, "We have a perfectly good religion-so no need to look for a new one." Our Priest today commented on the three Wise Men and mentioned that the song (which we sang, "We Three Kings") depicts people who were not Kings. They were Astrologers and having some basic knowlege of astronomy were able to elevate their status by projecting such things as solar eclipses.

It seems to me that Leonard included more images of science ("a thread of light, a particle, a wave") in his late songs.

Violet,

"Pain eclipses everything. And through its violence there’s the conflation of God and self: "that smashed the Cosmic Model that blinded every View.”

But then the mortal steps back: “And please don’t make me go there, tho’ there be a God or not.”"

I'm not so sure that it is a conflation of God and self-I think that it may be more an understanding/perception of the great "doubt" that arises upon considering the Cosmic Model. Smashing it is a choice, blinded may be a fall back position.

Anyway, it is a great song with a nice melody and accompaniment. As they used to say on Dick Clark's American Bandstand-"I would rate it an 8 because it has a good melody and is easy to dance to."

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

Postby Violet » Mon Jan 09, 2017 8:12 am

Joe Way wrote:
Violet,

"Pain eclipses everything. And through its violence there’s the conflation of God and self: "that smashed the Cosmic Model that blinded every View.”

But then the mortal steps back: “And please don’t make me go there, tho’ there be a God or not.”"

I'm not so sure that it is a conflation of God and self-I think that it may be more an understanding/perception of the great "doubt" that arises upon considering the Cosmic Model. Smashing it is a choice, blinded may be a fall back position.
Well, first, take what I said in light of LC's letter:
God needs a human education to heal its agonizing and monstrous bi-plar predicament, which apparently is why we were created to restore a balance to the system that was fractured when the world was formed. Not a casual mission, as we are dealing with the One who in a panic of Materialization, created life and death, night and day, joy and suffering, good and evil. Hard to swallow, but that is what the Jewish mystics dare to tell us. We are that part of the Broken System specifically designed to repair the System.
Remember, too, how the subject (in LC's songs) continually vascillates, and it can happen all at once -- mid sentence -- the way unspeakable pain can.. the way "he" the artist becomes God and then mortal -- or is both. That these eyes can't see becomes God's blindness, the way that pain is like the poison that "enters everything."

LC's words are containers and condensers of experience. You suggest an armchair consideration, when lightening has struck (!)
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Wed Jan 11, 2017 3:20 am

"The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say "Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!”

Violet, I really appreciate all of your views. I'm not trying to start any argument. We are so blessed to have these complicated songs to discuss now. What a gift, that Leonard has left us.

Joe
"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."

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