A Banjo interpretation

Leonard Cohen's previous album (January 2012)
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Re: A Banjo interpretation

Postby MaryB » Fri Mar 30, 2012 8:14 am

holydove wrote:
brightnow wrote:Reminder: while we are all mortal, Mr. Cohen is (as far as we know) in good health and will (hopefully) live for many more happy and creative years. Let's hold the eulogies and farewells and just enjoy the work.
Hear, hear!! Thank you for that, Avi. I'm too tired (from being up 2 nights in a row buying tickets) to go into any detailed analysis right now, but I just want to mention this: Leonard Cohen has written & sung about death/mortality from day one of his artistic career. The fact that he is still singing/writing about it doesn't indicate anything about how close or far away from it he is; like Avi said, Mr. Cohen does seem to still have a rather super-human supply of energy, more than most people who are decades younger than him, so I would agree that we are likely to have a long way to go before any "farewells" are called for. There are many people who, like Leonard Cohen, start contemplating immortality/death at a very young age (& it is a very pervasive theme in Zen/Buddhist teachings).
I have found that with this new album he gives a a completely different perspective of mortality. So many times we see posts where fans have said that his music and words have 'brought them to tears' or have made them 'cry'. I think they were looking at it from a spiritual point of view. I have enjoed every moment of LC's concerts, but, I have never been brought to tears until I saw him perform 'Born In Chains' in Sligo.

This whole album (which has become my favorite) is so infused with a sense of mortality that it becomes overwhelming. As we all become older, this sense of mortality becomes a fact of life and one finds that it becomes pervasive. It becomes the main theme in how to live - 'Life's too short', 'Time is Precious'.

With this new album, and with Andrew's friends' interpretation and everyone else's, this album becomes even moreso an affirmation of the mortality of life. LC's music in words in this album give me a sense of peace because it seems that he has come to terms with the fact that we are all headed in the same direction and you know what?...'We've done our best', We've lived life according to our terms and that's okay' and 'Bring it on' because we have done what we've had to to and we are okay with it'.
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Re: A Banjo interpretation

Postby holydove » Fri Mar 30, 2012 7:59 pm

brightnow wrote:
holydove wrote:...There are many people who, like Leonard Cohen, start contemplating immortality/death at a very young age
For me it was 19.

I recently had dinner with the childhood friend who, at the age of 16, loaned me a tape titled "I'm Your Man" by an artist I never heard of before. He's a doctor now (the friend, not the artist) and, among other things, he performs surgery on cancer patients. He told me about a patient who started to contemplate the fact that he was going to die some day only after his cancer diagnosis, at the age of 85. Shocked, I replied: "But how can anyone truly live without a firm grasp on the fact that we are all going to die?!"
Very interesting story, Avi. I had a friend in college who told me that she went to a party one night, & as soon as she walked into the room, a man she had never met before walked up to her & said, "You're a Capricorn, right?" She said, "How do you know that?" And he said, "I can tell by the way you carry yourself. Capricorns are born knowing they are going to die". I am also a Capricorn.

Mary, though I may have been born knowing I'm going to die, the prospect of death certainly does get more real & vivid, the older I get - as it naturally does for everyone, including Leonard Cohen. And of course, the older we get, the closer we get to the inevitable event, & that can change our perspective on it (& one's perspective can become more accepting or less accepting, more fearful or less fearful, etc.). I was just saying that the phenomenon of aging, & increased consciousness of the reality of death, doesn't tell us anything about how much longer we will live. All we know is that we have less time left than we had before, & unless there are clear signs of terminal illness, or something of that nature, I am not inclined to support any hasty eulogies or farewells for anyone.
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Re: A Banjo interpretation

Postby daka » Wed Apr 25, 2012 3:07 pm

Hello all

Here is my interpretation of this song, which is my favorite on the cd. It is simple, easy to play, very meditative, and for me seems to express Leonard's honesty, humility and wisdom. The song also displays his poetry, very beautifully. I have a very hard time writing this way.

I hope the interpretation is useful to someone. I often question myself when I offer such interpretations; would Leonard mind?; does Leonard not intend for the meaning to be extracted personally?; would I mind if someone interpreted my (non-famous)songs? am I interfering with someone else's beneficial interpretation by offering mine? I am open to comment on these questions, as the jury is still out.



There's something that I'm watching
means a lot to me more important by the day Leonard's mortality / Death
There's something that I'm watching
means a lot to me
It's a broken banjo bobbing dead Leonard analogy
on the dark infested sea World analogy
It's a broken banjo bobbing
on the dark infested sea

Don't know how it got there Mystery of why we die..when..how
maybe taken by the wave Wave analogous to life events
Don't know how it got there
probably taken by the wave
Off of someone's shoulder (The suddenness of death (uncertainty of when)
or out of someone's grave
Off of someone's shoulder
or out of someone's grave Certainty of death happening

(instrumental bridge)
E Am E Am
F G A# G

It's coming for me darling
no matter where I go can't escape death
It's coming for me darling
no matter where I go
Its duty is to harm me it's job is cause pain/suffering
my duty is to know
Its duty is to harm me
my duty is to know our job is to know it is coming

There's something that I'm watching
means a lot to me
There's something that I'm watching
means a lot to me
It's a broken banjo bobbing
on the dark infested sea it's a broken banjo bobbing
on the dark infested sea

Buddhism speaks at great length about death, it's certainty, and our dilemma of not knowing the actual date. We avoid the truth of death. Leonard, being in his seventies, and having studied Buddhism for nearly forty years, is simply writing about this truth, very eloquently. The broken banjo is Leonard, unable to perform as a musician once he is dead. The dark infested sea is “samsara” where we live.

If you become the ocean you will not become seasick....Jikan (aka Leonard Cohen)

It's comin' from the feel that this ain't exactly real, or it's real, but it ain't exactly there! . Jikan
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Re: A Banjo interpretation

Postby imaginary friend » Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:39 am

Thanks Sean,

Your interpretation 'fits' for me and I appreciate the simplicity with which you've presented it. The banjo metaphor is so haunting and poetic; it gives individuality and depth to LC's acknowledgement that death is inevitable. None of us get out of here alive anyway.

Nice to see you on the forum again.
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Re: A Banjo interpretation

Postby holydove » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:27 pm

I think the death/coffin level of interpretation is a valid one & it makes sense. However, I've been contemplating another possible layer, which, in a sense, overlaps with that, but is a little different.

"There's something that I'm watching": there is alot of discussion, in Buddhist teachings, about "watching the mind" - in fact, that is a very basic instruction in terms of what one is to do when one meditates - you are instructed to "watch your mind". And I would venture to guess that Leonard's mind means alot to him.

The broken banjo, then, could potentially be a part of his mind/psyche that he perceives as broken, or that he foresees will be broken, at some point ("it's coming for me. . .no matter where I go"). In this context, the "banjo" could be the part of his psyche connected with creative/artistic expression, & it's the "brokenness" that is coming for him.

"Don't know how it got there": he does not know how it arrived at this state of brokenness.

"Maybe taken by the wave": powerful waves of emotion can shatter the mind. And the "dark infested sea" would be the emotional turmoil from which the wave has arisen.

"Off of someone's shoulder/ or out of someone's grave": the grave & the shoulder can be seen as physical representations of the threshold between one state of being & another - in this case, between wholeness & brokenness. The idea of the wave carrying the brokenness to him, from someone else's shoulder or grave, could be a reference to the interdependence of all existence - emotional/spiritual energy has no borders - if you are broken, I am broken too - whether you are still here with us, or already buried in your grave.
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Re: A Banjo interpretation - Harold and Maude connection

Postby wakeupmartin » Sat Aug 25, 2012 12:46 pm

A couple of months ago I watched the film "Harold and Maude" for the first time. The final scene, for obvious reasons, reminded me of the the song "Banjo". I wonder if Leonard had this scene somewhere in his mind. The film is considered one of the greatest dark comedies of all time, and is very much about life and death.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen this film, and want to. Stop reading now. ;)
Here's a link to the final scene, just after Maude dies, leaving Harold alone:
Watch from 2.30 to about 3.30 and you'll see what I mean.
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Re: A Banjo interpretation

Postby blonde madonna » Thu Oct 25, 2012 12:32 pm

Watching Harold and Maude is now on my to do list (and I watched that clip, how I miss Cat Stevens).

This song has puzzled me and I couldn't get into it but I have found the various interpretations very interesting. It does bring to mind a sort of outer body experience, like some of the other songs on this album, Leonard is looking at himself from the outside or another side.
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