Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Leonard Cohen's previous album (January 2012)
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david birkett
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Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby david birkett » Mon Apr 02, 2012 6:00 pm

I love this song, with its driving arrangement and the mixture of seriousness and humour, but am still puzzled as to its basic or even more subtle meanings. I have just come across another reference to a 'shadowy guest' which, while I think it's of no help at all, I could not reisist sharing.

http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/44567/
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby tomsakic » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:33 pm

At first I thought it is a love song, and I didn't like it's tracking as the last track - I was thinking the album would sound better if that song and Show Me the Place changed places... But then I read an excellent review which stated Different Sides is the opposite to the opening track, Going Home. In the first track we have two Leonard's, one real, outside of the game, whom nobody actually knows, and one fictional, the Leonard Cohen, the poet and truth-seeker, and the hidden Leonard is telling to our Leonard he is near the finishing line, just a little bit... And if they did or did not succeed in writing the manual for defeat or love song is not important - it was worth it and soon they're going home without their sorrow.

And the very last song of album then is the opposite - one Leonard wants get out of town, and other Leonard wants to stay where suffering is... The last words we hear, says the reviewer, are the words of continuing fight, and little irony, Leonard saying to himself "stop writing everything down". So basically we have two songs, the first and the last, about two sides of Leonard, two Leonard Cohens... Even if Different Sides is not exactly so easy to read that was (after all, he says "baby", and many clues tell it is about female lover and their exchange, and my first thought was it's Anjani who wants stay where suffering is, and LC being little more ironic, "wants get outta town"), it is still the perfect last song as any other song - particularly Come Healing or Show Me the Place - would dictate our understanding of Old Ideas as the farewell album... This way, it ends with fighting song and its military march arrangements.
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby John Etherington » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:52 pm

Ah, Leonard talking about his own shadow side...of course! I hadn't thought of it like that (great poem, by the way).
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby payitforward » Tue Apr 03, 2012 8:16 pm

So interesting to read the symbolism of "Different Sides". I am new to the forum and love all of Leonard Cohen's work. I know I will have some mind expanding experiences here. This song has become one of my favorites. It means man/woman relationship to me also. One of life's hardest lessons in love is how the feelings can be so strong, but different goals in life can change the outcome. Ahh, but the feelings and memories are worth every heartache.
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Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby meglos2000 » Fri Apr 13, 2012 8:03 am

It is a great song and so full of tension.

I had interpreted it more as being about divisions along the line of the Christian right vs liberal - expressed through a couple's altercation. One "on the side of the meek and the mild", the other on the side of "The Word". And the chorus about wanting to tell me how to make love, perhaps meaning one side is more judgemental on sexual mores.

I may of course be wildly off here, but I do find the song feels charged with modern day tensions.

Either way, it is a great song from an artist at his peak.
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby Meryam » Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:11 pm

To me "thrust of the sun" comes from Psalm 91.

I'm Dutch but I think the translation is:
The most dangerous demon called the noonday devil, the hermits tempted to spiritual dullness and ultimately giving their lifestyle. Especially if they lived alone were the ascetics often woefully stressed and they fell into depression, restlessness [...] Their mood, which mainly arose around noon, in the heat of the day, [...].
The verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 91, which the new Bible as follows: "the terror of the night, you do not fear the arrow that day on your blows off, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the plague that strikes middle on the day. "In modern English translation is called the psalm is that you do not have to worry 'for an attack of the noonday devil."'

I think man has to live the ocean of life, between the cool moon and the hot sun, between the I and the You. When he finally becomes whole and one, there are no more different sides.

Good that it is the last song. The battle isn't decided yet...
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby Meryam » Thu Oct 18, 2012 3:52 pm

There are 2 different sides to the individual LC, (like Gollem and Smeagol ;-) ): which side will you feed more, which sidete be whole and one (very Zen), but that’s not the case here. Here is unrest, discord and fairly harsh words from one to the other. The noses are not pointing in one direction ; on the contrary, neither of the two can convince the other, they are fixed on their own side of the drawn line.

The I take it a little easier: he calls himself to be mild, he has suffered a lot and wants (because of that?) to go out of town and to have a good time. He dismisses all criticism, wants a kiss, and his making-love-style is fine, nothing wrong with that!.He shows - despite his being mild - great irritation: I do not like your tone, stop writing everything down! And it's more than irritation, it is a real struggle, almost a war: one must win and the I claims to have already won. Not: I win but: I have won. The music also is sometimes pushy: do you not expect me to give in!

The You is stricter, and judgmental, the one who wants change and action, to live where the suffering is. The You never speaks for himself, he is quoted by the I and it is questionable whether that is an objective quote….

I recognize it, though. I try every morning to sit / meditate and sometimes I say to myself afterwards: well, that was not very good, Meryam, you can and should do better! Then I am a severe You, too...

The middle part I do not quite understand:

The pull of the moon, the thrust of the sun
Thus the ocean is crossed
The waters are blessed while a shadowy guest
Kindles a light for the lost

Who is the shadowy guest who rears a candle for the lost (singular or plural?)? His own shadow side?
Meryam
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby Meryam » Thu Oct 18, 2012 4:16 pm

sorry
"which sidete be whole and one (very Zen)"
must be
"which side will you feed more, which side will turn out to be stronger? The higher goal (in the higher eye, like the Eye of the Camp?) is: to be whole and one (very Zen)"
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby IMM » Sat Oct 20, 2012 11:48 am

Meryam wrote:There are 2 different sides to the individual LC, (like Gollem and Smeagol )
I like fishies!
They also make good CD/DVD inclusions. ;-)
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby blonde madonna » Thu Oct 25, 2012 12:01 pm

It took me awhile to get to this song and it first reminded me of "There is a war" from New Skin for the Old Ceremony ... but it is like a grown up, way more multi layered version of that song. It seems to be about inner turmoil, relationships, spiritual conflict and global matters all at once.

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1980 -- Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
1985 -- State Theatre, Melbourne
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2009 -- Rochford Winery, Yarra Valley
2010 -- Melbourne
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby Wantima » Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:46 am

My take on the lyrics has a little more insidious and dark interpretation to those above - but I suspect I'm correct here (no arrogance here I'm afraid).

This is Cohen playfully dancing around the differences between Judaism (perhaps incorporating Christianity) and Islam. Consider the following:

1. 'Meek and the mild versus the word' :- see the new testament Matthew 5:5. Conversely, see references in the Koran for the 'word' of Allah.
2. 'By virtue of suffering I claim to have won You claim to have never been heard' :- A nice summary for the proclaimed voicelessness of the Islam struggle, versus the self-righteousness of Jewish (and Western) prominence.
3. 'The pull of the moon, the thrust of the sun':- anyone know if a crescent moon is present in Islam anywhere, say? Sun worship is part of historical Catholicism.
3. 'You want to live where the suffering is I want to get out of town' - Jews have fled from turmoil historically. Poverty is rife in many parts of the Muslim world. The Muslim world draws apparent strength from their predicament.
4. 'You want to change the way I make love I want to leave it alone' - definitely a judgment on sexual mores.
5. I could reach for meanings to 'laws to obey' and 'not liking your tone', 'shouldn’t, you couldn’t, you can’t', 'stop writing everything down' - etc. Most would find resonance in the above interpretation.

Am I deluding myself here? Could Cohen be so bold as to throw this characterization of Islam into the public space? My guess is that it's sufficiently cryptic to get away with it. And I love the song, and Leonard, for this fact.
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby JudiN » Sun Feb 17, 2013 12:46 am

I've been a huge fan of Mr. Cohen's for a very long time but am new to this forum. I love reading the different interpretations of his work! Just listening on my own I'm forever hearing different things and getting different meanings. Now I have so many other interesting ideas to incorporate into my own thinking. Of course that's such a big part of the true beauty of his songs--they're so multi-layered that even the simplest sounding ones can keep you thinking and feeling forever. Thanks to everyone for sharing!
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby scocoh » Thu Feb 21, 2013 2:21 am

david birkett wrote:I love this song, with its driving arrangement and the mixture of seriousness and humour, but am still puzzled as to its basic or even more subtle meanings. I have just come across another reference to a 'shadowy guest' which, while I think it's of no help at all, I could not reisist sharing.

http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/44567/

It seems to me that both 'shadowy guest' references in the song and the poem are to the Holy Spirit. (Henry Timrod, like Our Man, was a wonderful poet. He was one of the people Bob Dylan cribbed from a few years back.)

Timrod's poem about the ending of the war, with the lines

Take with thee all thy gloom
And guilt, and all our griefs, save what the breast,
Without a wrong to some dear shadowy guest,
May not surrender even to the tomb.


All the gloom, the guilt, the grief can go, yet the soul can not go to the tomb unless by some wrong to God.

(Similarly, see Byron's/Cohen's 'Go No More A Roving':

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
)

In 'Different Sides' we see the gulf between man and woman, and between mankind and God.

The pull of the moon, the thrust of the sun
And thus the ocean is crossed
The waters are blessed while a shadowy guest
Kindles a light for the lost


The sexual urges of woman and man (sun/moon are common symbols of male/female) are used to bridge that gulf and when "the two become one" the Holy Spirit draws man and woman closer to each other and to God.
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby holydove » Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:39 pm

scocoh wrote: The pull of the moon, the thrust of the sun
And thus the ocean is crossed
The waters are blessed while a shadowy guest
Kindles a light for the lost


The sexual urges of woman and man (sun/moon are common symbols of male/female) are used to bridge that gulf and when "the two become one" the Holy Spirit draws man and woman closer to each other and to God.
Very nicely said, scocoh - thank you for that.

I also thought this verse has to do with the sacred union of male & female energies, & the light that arises as a result of this merging. And your description of the Holy Spirit being stirred by the urge toward oneness, reminds me of:

"I remember when I moved in you/ and the holy dove/ she was moving too. . ."
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Re: Symbolism of 'Different Sides'

Postby KatFib » Tue May 21, 2013 10:01 pm

I completely agree with:
blonde madonna wrote:It seems to be about inner turmoil, relationships, spiritual conflict and global matters all at once.
I would say that "different sides" can be seen at more than one level:

1) man x woman:
scocoh wrote:In 'Different Sides' we see the gulf between man and woman, and between mankind and God.
The pull of the moon, the thrust of the sun
And thus the ocean is crossed
The waters are blessed while a shadowy guest
Kindles a light for the lost

The sexual urges of woman and man (sun/moon are common symbols of male/female) are used to bridge that gulf and when "the two become one" the Holy Spirit draws man and woman closer to each other and to God.
holydove wrote:I also thought this verse has to do with the sacred union of male & female energies, & the light that arises as a result of this merging. And your description of the Holy Spirit being stirred by the urge toward oneness, reminds me of: "I remember when I moved in you/ and the holy dove/ she was moving too. . ."
2) Ego/Id/Human x Superego/God/Law:
tomsakic wrote:about two sides of Leonard, two Leonard Cohens...
Meryam wrote:There are 2 different sides to the individual LC [...] The I take it a little easier [...] The You is stricter, and judgmental [...]
3) liberal x conservative attitudes/values/lifestyles:
meglos2000 wrote:I had interpreted it more as being about divisions along the line of the Christian right vs liberal - expressed through a couple's altercation. One "on the side of the meek and the mild", the other on the side of "The Word". And the chorus about wanting to tell me how to make love, perhaps meaning one side is more judgemental on sexual mores.
payitforward wrote:It means man/woman relationship to me also. One of life's hardest lessons in love is how the feelings can be so strong, but different goals in life can change the outcome.
I think the song doesn´t priviledge any of them. It seems to me that the song is much more about how we deal with these differencies/oppositions. I see the message like this:

Yes, definitely,there are different (here two, so opposite) ways of thinking/feeling/living but both of them are necessary like two sides of one coin are, they make sense only when together. Their coexistence may lead to tensions and conflicts, of course! But it is neither through silence, nor war but only throught interaction and communication (in the song: kissing and love making) that we can reach and maintain a kind of (dynamic and dialectical) "harmony" between the two sides...

To me, it´s one of the best songs ever! Lyrics, melody, female voices and... L.C. ;-) - just a masterpiece!
PS: Sorry for my bad English :-)

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