Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's hard to hold the hand of anyone who is reaching for the sky just to surrender.

Leonard Cohen makes me feel okay. Not "okay" as in, "yeah, I'm okay, could be better," but "okay" in the most thrilling sense: "You know, maybe I'm not just that flagitious, lurching half-human wastrel I feel like inside; maybe I'm actually pretty okay."

Considering we're talking about a guy who did a hell of a lot of writing about depression and social injustice, I guess that makes a sideways sort of sense.

Most people I know have heard Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah", or at least remember the creepy songs "Everybody Knows" or "I'm Your Man" from one of several recent movie soundtracks, but there's way more interesting stuff you should know about Leonard Cohen. He wrote and was actively publishing poetry for eleven years before he started recording music. This explains a lot, because he is most celebrated for being a brilliant lyricist. He has released seventeen albums (some of which are actually "essentials" and "best-ofs", so they don't really count), but the best, by far, is the first, The Songs of Leonard Cohen. It came out in 1967 and if you ask me, he could have never made another song after that, and he still would be respected as one of the best songwriters of the last fifty years. Here -- the lyrics to "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong":

I lit a thin green candle, to make you jealous of me.
But the room just filled up with mosquitos,
they heard that my body was free.
Then I took the dust of a long sleepless night
and I put it in your little shoe.
And then I confess that I tortured the dress
that you wore for the world to look through.

I showed my heart to the doctor: he said I just have to quit.
Then he wrote himself a prescription,
and your name was mentioned in it!
Then he locked himself in a library shelf
with the details of our honeymoon,
and I hear from the nurse that he's gotten much worse
and his practice is all in a ruin.

I heard of a saint who had loved you,
so I studied all night in his school.
He taught that the duty of lovers
is to tarnish the golden rule.
And just when I was sure that his teachings were pure
he drowned himself in the pool.
His body is gone but back here on the lawn
his spirit continues to drool.

An Eskimo showed me a movie
he'd recently taken of you:
the poor man could hardly stop shivering,
his lips and his fingers were blue.
I suppose that he froze when the wind took your clothes
and I guess he just never got warm.
But you stand there so nice, in your blizzard of ice,
oh please let me come into the storm.


Here's some more Leonard Cohen trivia: He lived for several years on the Greek island of Hydra, where he wrote a book of poetry and two novels, The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers. While he was there, he became romantically involved with the wife of another writer (a guy named Axel something-or-other whom Cohen was supposedly friends with), which is where the song "So Long, Marianne" came from. After that he moved to New York and, duh, lived in The Chelsea Hotel (where he hooked up with Janis Joplin and subsequently wrote "Chelsea Hotel #2", which contains the line, "giving me head/on the unmade bed/while the limousines wait in the street"). Three of the songs from his 1992 album The Future were used in the soundtrack to the movie Natural Born Killers. Cohen is Jewish (go figure) but spent somewhere between three and five years at a Buddhist center and was eventually ordained a Zen Buddhist monk. Oh, and did I mention he's Canadian?

When I was loooking up the lyrics to some of his songs to use in this post, I found out that Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this past March, and is touring this summer, for the first time in -- I think -- thirteen years. Which I guess makes this an astoundingly timely plug. Also, there's apparently a Lionsgate/Sundance documentary on his life called "I'm Your Man", and his first three albums were re-mastered and re-released last year, so you should go listen to them. And don't say I never did you any favors.


j said...

wow you're really into Lenny eh? I can't honestly say how I feel about him, a couple old gf's would throw him on and I wasn't a fan, but I have a feeling it's one of those things where if you don't like the voice, you're not going to get into it, like Dylan, etc.

what's up in FL.? party?

V said...

it's almost like there are two lennys: early folksy-scratchy-high-baritone lenny, and old deep-smooth-lounge-singer lenny. and you're totally right; early lenny has that weird semi-annoying dylan thing going on. what sucks is that lenny's older, deeper voice is AWESOME in a mark lanegan-y way, but the music is way too lounge cheese. guess you can't have it all. but you can't deny that lenny's lyrics kick so much ass you'll go blind if you don't watch out.

jesse said...

A long, slow tour...

Beanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
V said...

hey there, *deleted*, thank YOU for sharing your lenny love.

i will have to wrap my ear around one (or more) of those covers of "famous blue raincoat".

jesse said...

Are you serious? Outed- Beanie is my little sister.

V said...

i know. i wasn't going to say it out loud, because the only people who'd have seen her comment are the three of us who got the follow-up e-mails. but it was a nice comment, and i wanted to acknowledge that without electronically pantsing her.

jesse said...

I think it was a good comment too, that's why I don't get why she'd turn her back on it. What a nutter.