Avalanche

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
BobDylan
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Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2011 7:58 pm

Avalanche

Postby BobDylan » Mon Aug 29, 2011 8:01 pm

Hey hey,

I love this song. But, I don't get all of it.

What do you guys think of the song? One of Cohen's best I believe.

Well I stepped into an avalanche,
it covered up my soul;
when I am not this hunchback that you see,
I sleep beneath the golden hill.
You who wish to conquer pain,
you must learn, learn to serve me well.

You strike my side by accident
as you go down for your gold.
The cripple here that you clothe and feed
is neither starved nor cold;
he does not ask for your company,
not at the centre, the centre of the world.

When I am on a pedestal,
you did not raise me there.
Your laws do not compel me
to kneel grotesque and bare.
I myself am the pedestal
for this ugly hump at which you stare.

You who wish to conquer pain,
you must learn what makes me kind;
the crumbs of love that you offer me,
they're the crumbs I've left behind.
Your pain is no credential here,
it's just the shadow, shadow of my wound.

I have begun to long for you,
I who have no greed;
I have begun to ask for you,
I who have no need.
You say you've gone away from me,
but I can feel you when you breathe.

Do not dress in those rags for me,
I know you are not poor;
don't love me quite so fiercely now
when you know that you are not sure,
it is your turn, beloved,
it is your flesh that I wear.
John Etherington
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Re: Avalanche

Postby John Etherington » Sat Sep 03, 2011 10:58 pm

Hi Bob,

(clearly you're posting under your own name!). Here's a re-post of a post that I made in 2008 under a thread (not mine) called "The Voice and the Word of God":

"I haven't had time to follow this thread in its entirety, but I would like to pick up on the earlier gnostic themes that emerged.

To recap, the gnostics believed that we all come form a Divine Source (God), but in this life we are trapped in the world of matter. We all have a spark of the Divine in us, and the goal is to re-connect with this, and ultimately to return to the source (Jesus role was to help us with this process). This basic idea influenced most of the western mystery teachings that followed right though to Rosicrucianism and modern New Age thought. I tend to agree with this myself. However, as I understand it, the more extreme beliefs of some original gnostics were that this world was created by an evil god (an other to the Divine Source) and that matter and the physical body are essentially evil (which I don't agree with).

In the light of these ideas, I would like to consider Leonard's "Avalanche", which I have always found compelling but difficult to understand lyrically. I should add that I have rarely read any attempted analysis of this song (though,if there is any here, please direct me!). The only analysis I can remember reading interpreted it literally as a hunchback talking to a woman. Indeed, it can be read this way - as that of one who feels physically or emotially disfigured adressing another. But, no doubt it can be interpreted on many levels. One that has begun to emerge for me is that it conveys a message from God or the divine spark within.

Thus, the soul or God coming into incarnation enters the material world (I stepped into an avalanche it covered up my soul).

Any being entering this world is to some degree disfigured (as an aside,I see that the Navajo religion talks of a "hunchback god").

To conquer the pain of existence we must serve God/the spark of the divine within us.

"You strike by side by accident" I would associate with the image of the soldier piercing the side of Christ on the cross (also in recent songs Leonard mentions "the spear of the age in your side").

Most people only offer "crumbs of love" to God or their own divinty. If we again consider the figure of Christ he is said to have carried, in the crucifixion, the suffering of mankind. Thus our individual pain, is only a shadow of His wounds.

God/the true Self within apparently longs to re-connect with us, but we have freedom of choice whether we seek re-connection.
("I have begun to long for you etc.).

Finally, it does not serve the greater purpose to either wear rags (sackcloth) or take the fierce approach of fundamentalism.

The words of God manifest in flesh, or the spark of divinity within us are there in the final lines:

'It is your turn, beloved,
It is your flesh that I wear'."

All good things, John E
kalinowt
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Re: Avalanche

Postby kalinowt » Sun Sep 04, 2011 8:19 am

Hi Bobdylan

I've heard this song interpreted a million different ways. I don't think there is any definitive agreement out there on what it means

One aspect of these debates about meaning that has seldom been touched on is the surface metaphor Cohen appears to be tapping into to convey his deeper meaning. It is not a coincidence that Leonard only chose to sing this song, for the most part, in Scandanavia and Germany on his last world tour. He is making an allusion to an ancient Viking myth in the song, see below. Even knowing this metaphor though; I can't say I have any profound understanding of the song. Many of Cohen's songs come across as almost Koans from Zen poetry; they exist to break down attempts at rational understanding to stab you right through the heart.

All the best on your Cohen journey!

TROLL
In Icelandic mythology, Trolls were a race of cannibalistic giants. They appear in various Northern mythologies. In Norse mythology Trolls are represented as a type of goblin, stumpy, misshaped, hunchbacked dwarves who live in mounds and hills, inclined to thieving and of substituting one of their own for a human baby. (reference Probert Encyclopedia)
John Etherington
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Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2004 10:17 pm

Re: Avalanche

Postby John Etherington » Sun Sep 04, 2011 12:25 pm

Hi Kalinowt,

This is very interesting! I've never seen a credible interpretation of "Avalanche" but you say you've heard "Avalanche" interpreted a million different ways. Could you please direct me to any of the other interpretations that you think are worth considering.

All good things, John E
John Etherington
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Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2004 10:17 pm

Re: Avalanche

Postby John Etherington » Sun Sep 04, 2011 1:54 pm

I stand by the value of my metaphysical interpretation above. However, I would suggest that to get an even better understanding of "Avalanche" it should be remembered that references to BDSM [or more specifically Masochism] occur frequently in Leonard's work. This explains the imagery of kneeling grotesque and bare and being placed on a pedestal in "Avalanche". Check out the section on "Christian Masochism" (page 31) in "The Masculinity Studies Reader": http://books.google.com/books?id=ec8w6Z ... &q&f=false

All good things, John E
kalinowt
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Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 10:53 pm

Re: Avalanche

Postby kalinowt » Mon Sep 05, 2011 7:35 am

John Etherington wrote:Hi Kalinowt,

This is very interesting! I've never seen a credible interpretation of "Avalanche" but you say you've heard "Avalanche" interpreted a million different ways. Could you please direct me to any of the other interpretations that you think are worth considering.

All good things, John E
Indeed you are right John. I have never seen a greatly credible interpretation of this song myself. But I have heard everything from reading it as a representation of drug addiction to Cohen's alter ego during his phases of depression and everything in between.

Keep chipping away at it!

kalinowt
John Etherington
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Re: Avalanche

Postby John Etherington » Mon Sep 05, 2011 10:43 am

A few more thoughts on "Avalanche"...Yesterday, I discussed the song with two people - one a singer, and one a writer (but not who you may think). Both of them found my own interpretations generally acceptable, but one took a more psychological approach to it (emphasing alter-ego and parents) and the other saw Leonard as speaking from various positions (his own, and God's for instance) and referred in particular to his Jewish roots. Both of them mentioned the holocaust in association with the song. I won't say any more here, in case either of the people in question decide to post their own thoughts.

The overall concensus was that all of the interpretations of the song are relevant. The common thread seems to be that the song is about a soul that seeks to overcome their suffering through some form healing/redemption and re-alignment with God or their own deeper self. I suggest as an idea that the song may have four main ways on which it can be interpreted, correlating with the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical levels - as symbolised in the Kaballistic Tree of Life and Four Elements.

However, like any great poem or song, it's probably best if "Avalanche" retains some of its mystery. When "Songs of Love and Hate" came out in 1971, I was working in Soho Records, in Dean Street London. I remember a customer who came in the shop and bought the album (a smartly-dressed man possibly of Persian origin who was often accompanied by glamourous women). I asked him what he thought of the album, and he said that he liked it very much but hadn't got a clue what "Avalanche" was about.I told him that I found the song to be extremely profound and deeply meaningful, even though at that time, I had no way of articulating what I was experiencing.

All good things, John E
clueless
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Re: Avalanche

Postby clueless » Mon Dec 26, 2011 9:47 am

I love this song too! Actually just joined this website now to attempt a shot at its meaning.
I don't understand the searching for references in religion or old stories. To find the meaning of the song from something Cohen may have read.
Sure- they're used as beautiful imagery.
All stories, poems, songs worth their salt all describe someting commonly human.
Cohen is fantastic at reaching that untainted common consciousness. (probably because he was such a fantastic narcissist; and I say this song is about himself, as are most).
I say the meaning is more human. A relationship with another human (for isn't it these that make us human, make us creative? makes any archetypes before they are written into stories, any metaphor was originally a real emotion. an aside...)

This is merely an assumption:
Cohen was a woman hunter.
A compassion and empathy THIEF.
Not in a bad way, light is achieved more frequently if you just take it.
And all these fallen robins gave him some lovely material that we can all read his lines to ;)
He is speaking to a lover whom he believes he knows something about.
He has managed to find a young woman with a young sense of compassion.
Cohen is going through a time of sorrow, giving him a hump (just simple posture not a deformity) which anyone looking for sorrow will see clearly. But Cohen is wise, he knows what place he is in and it does not worry him. He also knows that it is this that has drawn this young, caring woman to him.
He tells her that she is wrong, that he doesn't need her compassion like she thinks he does - she hasn't impressed him. She is only a willing servant.
He even goes so far to say "I myself am the pedestal/ for this ugly hump at which you stare." Suggesting that he is in control of this emotion, making him in control of the very reason why she wants him.
Now this must be pride or he wouldn't have a "hump" if he was in control, I don't believe him; just because he's figured out whats going on doesn't mean he planned it from the beginning.
What a narcissist. But then the woman is sorrow-hungry and fair enough it's not something you give away "Your laws do not compel me/ to kneel grotesque and bare".
She freely gives him compassion, she is young and wants to conquer pain, but she is too young to understand how to really go about this, and he has already experienced her novice pains.
But now after some whiles of a pretty lady's company, Cohen longs for her more and more. And feels he has a right, that he owns a piece of her now.
In the end he has taken and infused her compassion for himself to get him through his sorrow for a while, no longer with a hump as he is wearing HER flesh now.
He did warn her that she would lose something....
Atzilut
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Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:00 pm

Re: Avalanche

Postby Atzilut » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:01 pm

Bearing in mind Cohen's Jewish heritage, there are many references
which would indicate the Jewish concept of G-d and the soul as it
finds itself far from Atzmooto Ohr Ain Sof, the unlimited light and
its purpose to raise the sparks that have fallen and are bound with
the ugliness of the incarnated world.
It is a beautiful piece.
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bean
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Location: Millhaven

Re: Avalanche

Postby bean » Sat Jan 28, 2012 12:20 am

I don't know what it means to be honest but I do know that it is one of my favourite LC songs.

The opening line is one of my favourite lines from any song.

Also like the Nick Cave cover version.
Meryam
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Re: Avalanche

Postby Meryam » Mon Oct 22, 2012 10:00 am

The I steps deliberately in the avalanche, he is not overtaken by it, it is his choice.
A deadly avalanche: his soul is (almost) dead.

Either the woman does not see him as he is, or the I puts a brave face:
“I'm not the hunchback, I'm not cold and hungry! Your job is only to serve me, that’s the only thing you're good for. I do not need you: I live on a golden hill!”

Her love is refused, it is only crumbs to him.
Her pain is not important to him, it doesn’t soften him, because his pain is worse

It all sounds very angry, defensive and condescending
He rejects her compassionate love, he insults her.
He says it's her turn: He now wears her flesh, she is now the hunchback!
The roles are reversed

A black, (self) hating song of a man who sees the world distorted.
Poor naive woman who means well and is sarcastically rejected. She has no chance at all.
And poor I who must live a life like this.
IMM
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Location: Canada

Re: Avalanche

Postby IMM » Tue Oct 23, 2012 1:37 pm

Meryam wrote:I do not need you: I live on a golden hill!
I think the line is actually "I sleep beneath the golden hill."

Some thoughts on the golden hill as an Axis Mundi:
An Axis Mundi is quite a general concept across various belief systems, as the link above indicates.
In Jewish tradition it could well be Mt. Zion, with David asleep in his tomb under it.
In Buddhist or Bön tradition (and quite a few others) it could be Mount Kailash
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Goldin
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Re: Avalanche

Postby Goldin » Tue Oct 23, 2012 1:44 pm

IMM wrote: I think the line is actually "I sleep beneath the golden hill."

In Jewish tradition it could well be Mt. Zion, with David asleep in his tomb under it.
King in/under the mountain
Roman aka Hermitage Prisoner

The Arcadian dream has all fallen through
But the Albion sails on course
IMM
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Re: Avalanche

Postby IMM » Tue Oct 23, 2012 1:51 pm

I agree entirely - I wasn't trying to exhaust the subject - just trying to put the term Golden Hill into the mountain :)

-Edit -
I should have added a link such as http://www.indianetzone.com/33/rishabha ... n_hill.htm to explain that Rishabha is a name of a golden hill on the top of Kailash.
Meryam
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Re: Avalanche

Postby Meryam » Wed Oct 24, 2012 7:55 am

You are right. Interesting, thanks.

But the first impression I get: the I is boasting : I'm of good descent, I live in a rich place, I am not just a boy from the street, I am a good catch!
He is suspicious, expects the woman to go for gold, while in reality she is compassionate.
Very sad.

(By the way, there are a few songs I like to comment.
But on this forum I cannot find "Waiting for the miracle")

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