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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Wed Jan 09, 2019 4:09 am
by B4real
its4inthemorning wrote:
Tue Jan 08, 2019 7:07 pm
Why did he change the words of Hallelujah to rhyme with "you" instead of the original "ya"?
B4real wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 2:04 am
..... and as I now see I forgot to think about Hallelujah
4, I’m not quite sure what you mean because the “you” I’m thinking of is the original word.
If it helps, check out the official Hallelujah lyrics on Various Positions and Cohen Live here at the Files – in the Song Index.

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Thu Jan 10, 2019 12:25 am
by its4inthemorning
Live in Dublin Redux

We decided to view Live in Dublin a few evenings ago. I read my original review beforehand and gave it to Joann to read. When she did, her first comment was, "you didn't send this yet, did you, I found some errors?" (Joann used to work as a copy editor, so fortunately her errors were confined to spelling and grammar rather than content--not that the content did not warrant criticism.)

My initial review covered the songs one-by-one, that is not something to be re-done here. Instead I am just going to relate some general thoughts and impressions that crept into my brain as I watched and listened.

"The Future" jarred me as I listened to the words, and I thought about its relevance when it was written (early 1990s) and today. Cohen could always paint vivid images with his words, and the images one gets from lyrics like these are terrifying: "no one left to torture...absolute control...slide in all directions...noting you can measure anymore...overturned the order of the ain't going any is murder"! "The Future" was written at a time when, for the first time in a long time, good seemed to be defeating evil; communism, at least the Russian variety, was in decline, technology was starting to benefit the masses, and swords were being beaten into plowshares (quite literally--the US defense budget was slashed to provide what was termed a "peace dividend.") Yet this is when Cohen threw all those scary lyrics out to us. He was right, of course, but how could he know then just how bad things might become 20 to 30 years hence? Now, in 2019, those same scary lyrics seem more like a news report than a dire prediction. I surmise that it does not necessarily matter whether (to quote from "Democracy") you are left or right, both sides can find ways to use the frightening lyrics as justification for their own views and causes.

When "Bird on the Wire" played, I told Joann (what I hope was) the genesis of the song, seeing the birds quickly acclimate to the first electric lines on Hydra and using them for perches as only birds can do. Hope the birds are still there in June.

About midway through the first set I began to pay attention to Neil Larsen. Because of his position on stage (and maybe his nature) he does not usually stand out. After concentrating on him awhile, I started to really appreciate his contributions--some pronounced and some subtle. His solo on "The Darkness" reminded me of Ray Manzarek of the Doors; Manzarek was hardly the virtuoso that Larsen is, but he did manage to turn a seven-year stint with the Doors into a lifetime career.

If one is into extreme self-deprecation, "Lover Lover Lover" offers the ultimate self-loathing line: "the one (name) I'm using now it's covered up with fear and filth and cowardice and shame." Talk about being hard on oneself.

Now, after having been depressed by "The Future," "Anthem" is saying there's still hope. Both songs appeared on the same album, which may (but not necessarily) mean they were written around the same time. I wonder which was written first. Maybe "Anthem" was meant as a continuation of "The Future," yeah it will be murder, but we can still try to make good triumph over evil. "Anthem" on the album "The Future" plays the role of "You Got Me Singing" on "Popular Problems."

I began to nod off occasionally as the second set began, so have nothing worthwhile to add. According to Google this DVD was recorded at the September 12, 2013 concert at O2 Arena in Dublin. The concert began at 7:40 pm and ended at 11:20 pm, so Cohen and the band played thirty songs over about 3 hours and 20 minutes (allowing for a 20-minute break). There is no explanation for the length of this, and of all the concerts after he went back on the road, other than that Leonard and the band wanted to--for themselves, for the audiences, or both. What gifts those concerts were (sorry you were late to the game Vickie).


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Sun Jan 13, 2019 10:57 am
by B4real
Ah 4, it’s interesting how things appear after a second look ;-)

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Sun Jan 13, 2019 10:45 pm
by its4inthemorning
B4, re "ya" vs "you" in Hallelujah, I erred by commenting about Leonard changing the word "you" when what I meant was him changing the way he pronounced it. On the original album the "yous" are pronounced to rhyme with "Hallelujah," that is what changed at some point. I especially liked the colloquial "what's it to ya?" when I first heard the song thinking, this great poet and turner of phrases can also speak the language of the street.

So many books have been published about Leonard since his death that it's hard to keep up, and I admit that I have not yet read any. The recent release, "Matters of Vital Interest," seems like a must read based on what I see elsewhere in the Forum, I think I will start there.


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Mon Jan 14, 2019 3:25 am
by B4real
4, I really used economy of words with my last post – it was meant as the same reply for both of yours :)
And the tyranny of distance strikes again! Thanks for clearing up that you meant sung and not written words. I should have twigged to that! But interestingly, it made me remember something LC said about “ya”.

Irony can be conveyed with the voice alone whereas on the page you generally have to have a larger construction around the irony for it to come through. You can't just write, “What’s it to ya?” If you sing, “What’s it to ya?” to some nice chords it really does sound like, “Well, what's it to yah, baby?” But just to see it written, it would need a location.

And yes, I've been considering buying that book too. It does sound different but something is nagging at me that maybe private things should be exactly that - private. Or maybe I'm 'reading' more into it than is actually revealed :razz:

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Mon Jan 14, 2019 5:05 pm
by its4inthemorning
B4, I am astounded that you found a quote from Leonard himself on the subject. What sort or Cohen library do you maintain to be able to do that so quickly? Unfortunately, after hearing what he said, I am still puzzled about the reason for the change in the sung "you." (Sounds like something on an Asian menu, we'll have the sung-you please.) I guess, extrapolating from your quote, that Leonard wanted to transform the line "what's it to you?" from a confrontational jab into merely a question.

Re the book, it never occurred to me that "Matters of Vital Interest" would reveal things that Leonard would really want kept private since the author says he is speaking based on a forty-year friendship. We shall see.


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:08 am
by B4real
4, For what it’s worth, my take on LC’s quote is that he’s just stating an example of how he would have to ‘further set the scene’ by adding more words in print around a particular line or word to obtain a similar scenario in song using chiefly emphasis and the inflection in his voice. We know he has done this repeatedly with many songs in concerts over the years when he wished to express verbally an enhanced or altered feeling of that written line or word at that particular time. I have found many such examples and still have more to discover :) So in this case, I reckon the formal written “you” is a sarcastic quarrelsome question but the sung “ya” or “yah” is more confrontational with its added provoking ‘right in ya face’ nuance.

Actually, I’ve just remembered what I consider (I have no proof) where the original source and definitely most provocatively explicit example of this line which found its way into Hallelujah originated from – The News You Really Hate in Death of a Lady’s Man. Absolutely no possibility with misunderstanding the intention of it and nothing would be needed to be added or subtracted from it in print or song to get the full intended meaning! Look up it and you’ll see what I mean :razz:

And it was a kismet moment with finding that quote. I was trying to verify some days ago what I remembered Leonard saying about Book of Mercy for Vickie and it found me for you! My source from years ago was the ever informative LC Files, thank you Jarkko!

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 7:22 am
by vlcoats
I haven't posted much here, but I am definitely following.

Bev, regardiing kismet, I have always struggled with that word. Does it mean 'fate' like wikipedia says? I am not so sure. Is it more like serendipity?

I haven't started Matters of Vital Interest yet either. I am not sure when I will but probably after my Lorca book and maybe after Half the Perfect World too. I am glad to hear you guys are maybe going to read it too.

As I am listening to the albums in order again for the fun of it, I also recently happened to look up one if our earlier posts because I wanted to quote it regarding Book of Mercy. Anyway, the post I was looking up happened to correspond with the album I was on, Recent Songs. As I was reading, I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of the songs that I was lukewarm about before, I really love now (Le Canadian Errant for instance). So...There is hope for me yet!

Curt, I love "What's it to ya?"


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:07 am
by B4real
vlcoats wrote:
Thu Jan 17, 2019 7:22 am
Bev, regardiing kismet, I have always struggled with that word. Does it mean 'fate' like wikipedia says? I am not so sure. Is it more like serendipity?
Vickie, I usually use the word "happenstance" as a generic one for coincidence, serendipity, luck, fate etc because I like it! But this time I thought I would change it up a bit and technically Wikipedia is right. Another source being Word says among other interpretations, "kismet" is also "luck" :)

And now welcome to the ever changing thoughts we all have from time to time about Leonard's songs! I found that reading the poems published around the same time as the albums can change how you feel about both the written and the sung word.


Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 12:45 pm
by Rob Marenghi
The following article was written by Rob Marenghi. Rob also makes music (think early Dylan, Cohen, Nick Drake) and recently recorded his album ‘Lets Compare Mythologies’ with U2 producer Andrea Lepori. His stuff is on Soundcloud, Spotify, Itunes, Facebook etc…

Songs of Love and Hate

This album is, for me, Leonard’s greatest. It is dark, rich, deep, funny, heart breaking, satirical, sarcastic, poetically brilliant… What more could one want?
The album kicks off with the incredibly powerful and dark song ‘Avalanche’. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried playing guitar like that, or singing like that, but let me tell you it is an ability reserved for the very few. It opens with an intense orchestral build up, giving one the feeling something wonderful and yet potentially terrifying is about to happen (as indeed it is - Dress Rehearsal Rag isn’t far away!). Avalanche finds Leonard in a particularly low and snarling singing key and delivery, the words dripping with venom, force and Leonard’s trademark dark humour and self-effacement. Lines like ‘I have begun to long for you, I have no greed. I have begun to ask for you, I have no need’ do a fantastic job of encapsulating Leonard’s uphill struggle with spiritual pursuits and their conflict with the sensual desire he so often wrote about. ‘I know you’ve gone away from me but I can feel you when you breathe’ show that poetic and poignant brilliance that I personally believe only he and Dylan are capable of in the musical world; perfectly describing powerful longing and acute loneliness. Longing is something Leonard conveys very well (one of his poetry anthologies is indeed called ‘Book of Longing’). This song would be a scorching and beautifully ominous opener to any album!
Next up is ‘Last Year’s Man’, a veritable short film of a song. This 6 minute epic finds Leonard at the height of his ability to weave romance and religious symbolism to create a powerful dark landscape of sensual desire and disaster. This has some of my favourite lines ever and the production of the song is so deep, rich and intimate that you feel you are in the room with the ‘stems of thumb tacs that still throw shadow on the wood.’ Leonard could, I believe, be describing either himself or Dylan in the opening lines – ‘The rain falls down on last year’s man, that’s a Jew’s harp on the table, that’s a crayon in his hand.’ Both men were Jewish, both played the harmonica (although Leonard never on record I believe) and both were seen as leading the charge of culture of the time – ‘Everything will happen if he only gives the word.’ There is wonderful triple metaphor deployed in this song, such as combining his lover’s antics with a period of war – ‘The wounded boys you lie beside, good night my friends, good night’ and ‘I was in that army, yes I stayed a little while.’ No-one can give casual sex epic significance like Leonard. The subtle orchestration and sparse backing vocals are also a delight, as is the deep dark powerful classical guitar that is Leonard’s musical trademark. This song almost reads like a verse from the old testament and, indeed, uses religious language to criticise monotheistic religion. I absolutely love ‘We read from pleasant bibles that are bound in blood and skin, but the wilderness is gathering all of its children back again.’ What a beautiful way to describe the loosening of the grip of Christianity from around our culture’s throat. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this song in a Top 50 songs of all time list. It’s probably too dark to be considered though!
Track 3 is probably the darkest song I’ve ever heard. It is a stark description of a suicidal man struggling with being at 4 o clock in the afternoon. His lodgings are falling apart, as is his eye sight, and the song is a relentless exploration of the darkest night of the soul. ‘If you can get your trembling fingers to behave why don’t you try unwrapping a stainless steel razorblade’ is particularly brutal, as is the descriptions of veins on the wrist ‘standing out like highways’. The first time I heard this song I could not relate at all to the suicidal mindset. I remember being impressed that somebody would ‘go there’ in a song, especially a folk song, where the lyrics play a more prominent part than in other genres of music. Since then I have been in that mindset for prolonged periods of time and now I am deeply grateful that Leonard ‘went there.’ That kind of brutal white-knuckle honesty is very rare and to know someone has felt that depth of darkness is a great comfort when one is down there oneself. The poetic brilliance is maintained of course and the song never becomes like a Foucault book – it’s not nihilism for the sake of nihilism. It’s a confession. The song culminates with the line ‘then the cameras pan, the stand in star man, dress rehearsal rag.’ All along the man in the song, which must have been for all intents and purposes Leonard himself, was indulging in self pity and knows all along that he won’t actually ‘do it’. It was probably this song that served as the final nail in the coffin of Leonard’s reputation as a gloom monger. I must disagree though; I’ve never found one second of his music depressing. Quite the opposite. But then our temperaments dictate what we like.
Next up is ‘Diamonds in the mine’, one of two songs that provide the album with a little comic relie. Leonard sings this like he’s chewing gravel. The line ‘I saw the man in question it was just the other night, he was eating up a lady where the lions and Christians fight’ is a particularly strong jolt to the imagination and particularly growly and gravelly. I guess a song like this was needed after the all-out stark brutality of ‘Dress rehearsal rag’. There is also more blatant instrumentation on this song and the lyrics are in general more simple and noun focused than the first three – ‘there are no chocolates in your boxes anymore and there no diamonds in the mine.’ This song is also a bit scruffy and reminds me of Dylan’s live version of ‘Quinn the Eskimo’; it has a shambolic live feel, much in contrast to the preceding three perfectly constructed pieces.
‘Love calls you by your name’ takes us back down into powerful moody Leonard. The beautiful yearning finger picking guitar part still sends into a trance when I hear it. I think this track has some of his most beautiful and memorable lines – ‘between the snowmen and the rain love calls you by your name’ or ‘you stumble into this movie house and you climb you climb into the frame.’ It comes across like a more mellow and forgiving version of ‘Avalanche’ and is, in a way, still soothing us after track three! I would recommend playing this to people who say Leonard can’t sing, as I would recommend playing Dylan b-side ‘Blind Willie McTell’ to people who say Dylan can’t sing.’ I remember once seeing a very immature and bitter interviewer, who’s opening question to Leonard was ‘What made you think you could sing?’ Leonard asked for a cigarette and replied ‘it’s not about that’. This is true, as it’s really all about can you convey the mood of the song or not, but play this song to even that interviewer and, internally at least, he would have to admit Leonard’s technique cannot be questioned when he wants to apply it.
Next up is what some consider to be Leonard’s greatest work, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. When you listen to it it becomes hard to dispute this claim. You really are in the room with him in this song as he writes his letter to his ‘brother’ and ‘killer’. Great production is needed to achieve this, but great production has to have masterful performance alongside it to create the desired effect. The dynamics of the finger picked guitar, the gentle wind chimes, the subtle female backing vocals, the gentle haunting lead vocal, the excellent lyrics…all these combine to make a song so intimate and poignant that the best adjective I can think of to describe it is ‘Shakespearian’. The words in this song really are truly inspired, cementing once again Leonard’s place in that elite group of lyricists. ‘Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes, I thought it was there for good so I never tried’ is just perfect in its wisdom and confessional tone. ‘I see you there with a rose in your teeth, one more thin gypsy thief’ is truly beautiful poetry – the stark image of the gypsy, the juxtaposition of what is considered beautiful with what is considered ugly and the acknowledgement that both are temporary and in abundance. This was the first Leonard song I had to learn how to play. It called to me in a way very few songs had done before or have since.
‘Sing another song, boys’ is the second and final dose of comic relief we get in the album. The live shambolic feel and reminds me again of some Dylan songs, the lyrics too – ‘the money lender’s lovely little daughter, she is eaten she is eaten with desire, and she will learn to touch herself so well.’ Leonard’s trademark dark comedic wisdom comes out in full force in this song – ‘he stands where it is steep, I suppose he thinks that he’s the very first one’ is my favourite of these, showing again his self-effacing humorous descriptions of struggles with spiritual matters. The song begins with Leonard drawling ‘Let’s sing another song boys, this one has grown old and bitter’ and moves into the first line ‘His fingernails I see their broken, his ships are all on fire.’ So vivid, so dark, so Leonard. It’s the throwing in of songs like this that make the album eclectic and interesting. I, and I’m guessing you, am not sure I could handle 8 Dress Rehearsal Rags.
The masterpiece closes with Joan of Arc, the wonderful story of Joan’s wedding with the fire and the conversation they strike up during the ceremonial process. Joan of Arc is also mentioned in Last Year’s Man. It is rare for Leonard to repeat himself and I find this exception intriguing. Many have said this song is about Hungarian singer Nico, formerly of the Velvet Underground, and famous heroin addict. Leonard does indeed express his desire to win ‘such a cold and lonesome heroine.’ These double and triple meanings are common in Leonard’s work, as they are with any great poet, and weaving together seamlessly the horrific burning to death of Loan of Arc with a wedding story is territory reserved for very few wordsmiths, especially in the medium of music where I personally think the number of great poets can be counted on one hand. This song is the only piece on the album that finds Leonard being his own backing singer, saying each line rather crudely and flatly just after he sings it. This works well but I’m glad he didn’t do it in every song. I mean, it would have destroyed Suzanne right!
Throughout the album there is very beautiful and subtle orchestration with a variety of classical instruments. These are much lower in the mix than one usually hears them and, in this album as in much of Leonard’s work, they serve to colour the songs. The same is true of the rich and haunting female backing singers often deployed. These beautiful additions are very much in the background though; it’s all about the guitar, the voice and the words, a triptych which, any Leonard fan would agree, should always be at the forefront of his work. This is easily in my top 10 albums of all time and is easily my favourite Leonard record. If you haven’t heard it I envy the artistic experience you are about to embark on.

By Rob Marenghi

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:52 pm
by its4inthemorning
Rob, the verbal ride you take us on through SOLAH is second only to actually listening to the album, I can hear the orchestral beginning of "Avalanche," Leonard's rasping voice on "Dress Rehearsal Rag," the guitar on "Famous Blue Raincoat," all of it, just reading your words.

Thanks for sharing your article on what is also my favorite Cohen album...we certainly could have used you on this thread over the past two years!


Re: 'Along the way......"

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:00 am
by vlcoats
Rob Marenghi wrote:...The album kicks off with the incredibly powerful and dark song ‘Avalanche’....It opens with an intense orchestral build up, giving one the feeling something wonderful and yet potentially terrifying is about to happen...

Hi Rob,
I just had to say that what you wrote here summed up exactly what I felt as I heard Avalanche for the first time. I remember I was on my way to work, and I had to pull over, because I was done for.
I also appreciated much of the rest of what you wrote. Although my feelings on Dress Rehearsal Rag are different than yours (suicide remains foreign to me... in thought and deed), the line you quoted from Diamonds in the Mine "I saw the man in question it was just the other night, he was eating up a lady where the lions and Christians fight", is one of my very favorite on the album, although I have my own thoughts on the meaning.

It was also great to hear your thoughts on Famous Blue Raincoat. This one seems to take a good deal of all of our time, doesn't it! ;-) There are so may things about this song that make us all want to understand what he was getting at.

Talk about FBR always makes me think of our earlier conversation regarding the blackbird and whether it is worth slitting its throat to get to the heart of its song.

I read something in Angel Del Rio's introduction to Lorca's Poet in New York that reminded me of all of this He said, "Every rational analysis of poetry is wanting in what really constitutes true poetic perception, because the poet does not explain reality but reacts to it in his own peculiar language. Poetry conveys feeling, communicates experience, and is below and above rational and historical understandings. It deals with certain truths. Its language is a language of symbols, signals and images, set in rhythm with a special time or tempo, which awake a certain type of response in the reader, shaken or moved into contemplation or awakened to the mystery of things." He goes on to say, "This why true criticism of poetry should deal primarily with poetic structure and language rather than with ideas or even sentiments; should strive to explain how the different elements that the poet uses find their place and order-- a peculiar order-- in the poem....."

Or more succinctly, as I read recently in the book "Thomas Gray, Philosopher Cat" by Philip J. Davis, where the character Barbara said to Luke, "I should think that too much knowledge might spoil a poem".

Thank you again....

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:01 pm
by Jean Fournell
Rob, I liked your post.
May I nevertheless suggest double-checking your quotations?

vlcoats wrote: my feelings on Dress Rehearsal Rag are different than yours (suicide remains foreign to me... in thought and deed)
Agreed: the stunt man (not "star" man) doesn't seem likely to commit suicide, panned by the cameras as he is, in this dress rehearsal where he stands in for the narrator who is playing in a rag.

Maybe it's a warming-up exercise for our puzzling over the "carpentry" of "Famous Blue Raincoat"…

vlcoats wrote: although I have my own thoughts on the meaning
[of the line "I saw the man in question, it was just the other night, he was eating up a lady where the lions and Christians fight"]

I obviously don't have the slightest idea of what your thoughts might be ;-), but your circumspect way of (not) expressing them makes me think that they won't differ all that much from mine…

vlcoats wrote: the character Barbara said to Luke, "I should think that too much knowledge might spoil a poem".
Sounds like some time-honoured reasoning by students trying to dodge their homework…
A good poem cannot be killed by whichever comment or information. The poor ones can, yes, but that's tough luck.
A real piece of art contains all possible comments, past, present, and future, and it will always be more than their sum. No need to worry about the blackbird's throat. If there is a blackbird in the poem, it is beyond the commentator's reach and can only be set free; and if there is no blackbird inside, even the best comments will be unable to add one.
There are standard ways of approaching poetry, useful to introduce students to writing more or less sensible things instead of being lost because overwhelmed, but basically a (good) poem triggers its own responses. Then, crutches are no longer required.

Nobody knows where the good stuff comes from.
Art simply is "a cold and it's a very lonely Hallelujah".

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Wed Jan 30, 2019 4:12 am
by vlcoats
Jean Fournell wrote:A good poem cannot be killed by whichever comment or information
Touchét my friend! What a very good point.
Thank you also for setting my mind at ease about the blackbird. Must you always make sense? Just kidding of course, because sometimes I struggle to have any idea what you are talking about...... but this time I think I do.
Art simply is "a cold and it's a very lonely Hallelujah"
Maybe the thing about Leonard’s art is that any and all manner of thinking or talking about it—whether it is right or wrong or slits a thousand blackbird’s throats or even if it is incomprehensible to everyone but the person doing the thinking or talking—is much better than the alternative.

Thank you for reminding me of that!


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's albums

Posted: Thu Feb 28, 2019 12:49 am
by vlcoats
Hi everyone!

I was able to finish reading Lorca's Poet in New York today! We had a snow day from school, so I didn't have to go to work. It was a perfect way to spend my day. I also had time to write what I thought of it, but I didn't post it on this thread because I wasn't sure if Jarkko would be okay with that. So I posted it here ... 30#p371131

Have you all had a chance to finish PINY yet?