Who By Fire

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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WiTS
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby WiTS » Sat Jan 24, 2015 1:38 pm

Just watched Leonard Cohen Under Review 1934-1977

When talking about Who by Fire, Andrew Mueller comments about "who shall I say is calling"

"it's a great gag to put in the middle of a recast prayer."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCbekHrQNYU
1hour 01min 22sec
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WiTS
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby WiTS » Sat Jan 24, 2015 3:25 pm

who by powder means traditional burial? like "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust"? or by gunpowder/war?
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby holydove » Sat Jan 24, 2015 9:57 pm

WiTS wrote:who by powder means traditional burial? like "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust"? or by gunpowder/war?
Initially, I thought it was gunpowder, but given the context of the whole line ("who by avalanche, who by powder"), I later came to believe that the "powder" refers to cocaine, which obviously looks like powder, & is often called "snow" (in jargon lingo). An avalanche usually involves huge amounts of snow, & death by cocaine would involve a relatively tiny amount of "snow", so that interpretation would make it consistent with the "opposites" motif that is employed throughout the song.
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Jean Fournell
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Jean Fournell » Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:43 pm

Wouldn't cocaine be a quasi-repetition of "barbiturate"?
(But I don't mean to exclude that possibility, of course.)

Here a few alternative suggestions of oppositions:

• avalanche of snow powder snow (snow falling slowly, in few, very small, dry flakes)

• avalanche of snow a cannon fired in order to artificially release a threatening avalanche in a controlled manner

• avalanche of stones and rocks powder as a synonym of dust
(or the stifling ashes of Pompeii; or the cold resulting from too much dust and ashes in the stratosphere, when they reflect too much sunlight back into space)

• "I stepped into an avalanche" "A forty-five beside her head"
(The latter would be a quasi-repetition of "who by his own hand", however...)

As for the question the song is asking, it seems very similar to the question Al-Hallaj got answered (directly, that is, with nothing to go between him and Him):
"And who [shall I say] is calling?" — "[Say:] You."
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
holydove
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby holydove » Mon Jan 26, 2015 10:25 pm

Jean Fournell wrote:Wouldn't cocaine be a quasi-repetition of "barbiturate"?
(But I don't mean to exclude that possibility, of course.)

Here a few alternative suggestions of oppositions:

• avalanche of snow powder snow (snow falling slowly, in few, very small, dry flakes)

• avalanche of snow a cannon fired in order to artificially release a threatening avalanche in a controlled manner

• avalanche of stones and rocks powder as a synonym of dust
(or the stifling ashes of Pompeii; or the cold resulting from too much dust and ashes in the stratosphere, when they reflect too much sunlight back into space)
It would be a quasi-repetition, & that has occurred to me as a potential issue with that interpretation. On the other hand, they are very different kinds of drugs - barbiturate is a "downer" drug. as it makes one feel very relaxed, & cocaine is an "upper" drug, a stimulant. So they are, one might say, "opposite" types of drugs, which would give us a motif of opposites within (or overlaid upon) opposites.

But I also like your alternative suggestions, Jean, & they are certainly valid interpretations - thanks for that.
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Jean Fournell
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Jean Fournell » Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:12 pm

Thanks for the info, Holydove! I'm no good at "artificial paradises" indeed.

So there would be the opposition cocaine barbiturate, but not as a couple, not in the same verse. And as such, wouldn't it be the only one of that type, "of opposites within (or overlaid upon) opposites"?
All the others couples of opposites seem to me independent of each other, precisely not opposed, but contributing to a multi-facetted whole...
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
holydove
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby holydove » Wed Jan 28, 2015 2:30 am

Jean Fournell wrote:
So there would be the opposition cocaine barbiturate, but not as a couple, not in the same verse. And as such, wouldn't it be the only one of that type, "of opposites within (or overlaid upon) opposites"?
Actually, the (speculative) cocaine-barbiturate opposition is not in the same line, like the other oppositions, but it's in the same verse - at the end of the first & third lines of the second verse. The song has a total of three verses, & and I'd say that the third verse also has oppositions at the end of the first & third lines: ". . .who by accident" in the first line, & ". . .who by his own hand", (which would indicate a deliberate act, as opposed to an accident), in the third line. I don't see anything like that in the first verse, though; & I'm not implying that the existence of those sets of opposites, in the second & third verse, prove or disprove anything; it was just an observation that I thought was kind of interesting. . .I still think the powder could also refer to gunpowder (a more consolidated & controlled form of powder, as opposed to the huge & uncontrolled avalanche of snow/powder ), or whatever other ideas one might come up with. . .
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Claus » Sun Oct 15, 2017 4:27 am

holydove wrote:
Wed Jan 28, 2015 2:30 am
Jean Fournell wrote:
So there would be the opposition cocaine barbiturate, but not as a couple, not in the same verse. And as such, wouldn't it be the only one of that type, "of opposites within (or overlaid upon) opposites"?
Interpretation 1: An avalanche kills by great external violence. An avalanche arises only from large amounts of snow (a white powder). <= O => Cocaine (also a white powder) kills from within and not with thousands of tons but with a few grams.

Interpretation 2. In German there is not the term "gunpowder", the Germans say "Schwarzpulver" (black powder). And so the term is also formed in Italian, Turkish, Japanese and in Farsi, because the charcoal in the classic recipe colors the explosive black.

In the line there are therefore two causes of death: a white powder and a natural force, against a black powder with the man kill other humans.

In essence, I mean that here great natural power as a cause of death is contrasting with great human power, especially war.

The white avalanche stands for all natural disasters, black powder stands for all the great wars and civil wars.

I also think that Leonard Cohen does not deal twice with drugs / self-poisoning as a cause of death, but does not address the issue of war.
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Jean Fournell
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Re: Who By Fire

Postby Jean Fournell » Sun Oct 15, 2017 7:04 pm

Superb!

Tons of natural white powder versus a few grams of manmade black powder, for one shot.

Well done, Claus.
Thank you.
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)

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