Saturday, November 12, 2016

Leonard Can Talk to Hank Now


Well, the master songwriter Leonard Cohen is gone. After the election I'm literally in a state of depression that has really hampered my ability to get excited about the arts, which of course is the raison d'etre for this site. But I must soldier on! Cohen himself liked military metaphors for his art. On tour he called himself Field Commander Cohen, and when he spoke of writing it was always as an effort or a battle. For him it was work, noble work. He wrote slowly and his works favored precision. He liked to tell a story about when he met Dylan. He expressed his affection for Bob's "I and I" while Dylan spoke kindly of Cohen's famous "Hallelujah." Cohen asked how long it took to write "I and I" and Bob said 20 minutes. Cohen responded that "Hallelujah" took him several years. Note: this later song demonstrates how Cohen, raised as a Jew in Montreal, chose to infuse his work with the kind of Christian imagery that surrounded him there.

Most tributes are going with "Hallelujah" but I'll go with "Tower of Song" from his best or at least most accessible album, I'm Your Man. That album opens with a nice piece of attitude: "Well they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom / for trying to change the system from within." No, Cohen wasn't political, and maybe there's some solace in that right now.

"Tower of Song" features Cohen's trademark irony and wit. And also his humility. Note that Hank Williams is 100 stories above him there. And it features a couplet that is among the best any songwriter has ever come up with, a couplet that is small 'p' political I guess, and which is resigned, not cynical. If were just cynical, it wouldn't be funny. "Now, you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure," Leonard observes. "The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor."

I'm so glad my wife and I saw his North American tour, three or four years ago. Tremendous. So farewell, Leonard. When you get to heaven you will have the option of having your pain taken away, but I bet you will choose to keep it. That's where some of the best songs come from.

"Tower of Song"

Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song

I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Song

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I'm very sorry, baby, doesn't look like me at all
I'm standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah, they don't let a woman kill you, not in the Tower of Song

Now, you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song

I see you standing on the other side
I don't know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We'll never, we'll never have to lose it again

Now I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back
They're moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone
I'll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song

Yeah, my friends are gone and my hair is gray
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song

1 comment:

  1. Good job! (Don't let the bastards get you down. Conflict fuels creation— friction makes a pearl.)

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