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Leonard Cohen in Joy and Sorrow: “Hallelujah”

Edward Curtin

“There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah”
Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

The last time I was in Montreal, Leonard Cohen, who had been dead two years, was on my mind.  How could it be otherwise for one who has admired his songs since his first album.

My daughter is named after perhaps his greatest song – Suzanne – (a heresy to some in light of this article about “Hallelujah”), and all his work has enchanted not just me but millions of other music lovers who desire depth in song.

“You want it darker/We kill the flame,” he sings, as he goes very deep indeed.  He is the king of darkness, perhaps matched only by Bob Dylan, who once wrote a seriously whimsical fantasy for the liner notes to John Wesley Harding:

And just how far would you like to go in?’ he [Frank] asked and the three kings all looked at each other. ‘Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there,’ said the first chief.

Who wants to go deep?  Who wants to go into the darkness?  Who will go all the way in?

Who prefers to say “we’ve been there” when they only took a walk in the park?

It’s easier to appreciate these singing poets at a superficial level without going where their art demands.  I say “their art” to distinguish the fallible men from their best creations. Not entirely, of course, but to note that the artist often pales in comparison to his creations, which often come through him as much as he shapes them.

Both Cohen and Dylan, prophets of song, have been so popular because in their darkest visions they also offer a glimmer of hope, not much, but a bit of light presented in enigmatic lyrics.  In Cohen’s words: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” 

A crack that runs through everyone in a story that can only be told by transcendent visionaries. Cohen:

Thеre’s a lover in the story
But thе story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle-class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission
To murder and to maim
You want it darker

And the light they offer is spiritual.  It is only available to those willing to follow them into hell, like Odysseus, Aeneas, and Dante who went far down into the underworld to bring back messages of hope.

They are what another master in words, the English author John Berger, calls “enclaves of the beyond,” windows in walls of words where faith pops out to overcome despair and fuels resistance to evil.  Little apertures onto hallelujahs despite life’s struggles and confusions.

Both Cohen and Dylan came to prominence in the 1960s when darkness and doom dominated the news. Both knew then and later that only a spiritual revolution offered hope, for spirit, secular or sacred, even when incognito, sustained the resistance to the political nihilism that was then rising to a crescendo.  Where it was absent, resistance collapsed.

Now we are undergoing the culmination of those years of mass slaughter in Vietnam, CIA assassinations of our anti-war and civil rights leaders, and a youth rebellion sadly coopted with drugs and other propaganda by the same CIA.  Cohen and Dylan sensed then what would come to pass.

Drug addictions, suicides, despair, loss of meaning, resignation, and a growing complacency as the population settled into a long sleep in the bed of consumer and war culture and the warfare state built its propaganda apparatus to the demonic digital level it is at today.

Perhaps they read Nietzsche.

Perhaps they were very frightened.

Perhaps they were just poetic geniuses who never lost touch with God.

Cohen was a haunted man and his art was an effort to find relief from his conflicts; he called his writing a “harbor” where he could give form to and find shelter from the combat in his soul.  So being in his birthplace with his massive painted face staring from the side of a tall building, I naturally wrote an article about him, and much more.

In The Cell Phone and the Virgin: A Montreal Odyssey, I wrote the following from one of Cohen’s haunts, Old Montreal down by the riverside:

I stood in front of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (Our Lady of Good Help), looking up at the Virgin glimmering in the afternoon sun. The old port. The sailor’s church. Like Henry Adams, I thought of the powerful force of the Virgin throughout history.  Her protection across life’s tempestuous seas.

And Leonard Cohen, the Montrealer, who as a young man would come to this chapel and sit in meditation and write his beautiful song, “Suzanne,” invoking “our lady of the harbor.” Leonard, who would stand in awe of the woman as protectress, mother, lover, killer, and muse:  As in the beautifully tuneful and complex song “Night Comes On”:

I went down to the place where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I’m frightened
The thunder and the lightning
I’ll never come through this alone
She said, “I’ll be with you
My shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go”

And the night came on
It was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, “Go back, go back to the
world”

We were fighting in Egypt
When they signed this agreement
That nobody else had to die
There was this terrible sound
My father went down
With a terrible wound in his side
He said, Try to go on
Take my books, take my gun
Remember, my son, how they lied

And the night comes on
It’s very calm
I’d like to pretend that my father was wrong
But you don’t want to lie, not to the young

For one who knows something about his relationship with his mother, and his father who died when Cohen was nine-years-old, such words may seem a bit mawkish, a sentimentalizing of their actual relationship, a distortion of reality with a cryptic political message.

This would be a misunderstanding of the artist at work; it would be to simplify a complex man, one who, like other conflicted artists (a redundancy?), takes personal relationships and transmogrifies them to find a temporary harbor in which to rest from a reality that roils them to their depths.

They sense, if do not explicitly say, that the personal can only be understood within the social.  Isn’t this what Homer and Virgil did?

Who is not roiled these days?

Was Odysseus roiled when he went to the underworld to consult Tiresias the seer about how to get home and met his mother’s ghost who, when he tried to embrace her, fluttered through his fingers, “sifting away like a shadow/dissolving like a dream”?

Was Aeneas roiled when he too went to the underworld and met his father’s shade whom he tried to embrace but felt “nothing, the phantom sifting through his fingers, light as wind, quick as a dream in flight”?

Cohen was a roiled and literate man, one who drew on the best in traditional literature.  He may have been from Montreal, but he was always a sailor lost at sea, a drowning man with no direction home who always quested after guidance to free him from his life-long depression.  He admitted that drink, drugs, religion, sex, or psychotherapy couldn’t free him.

But prayer as a toiling over words made into song granted him a temporary safe harbor from going under.

In the recent documentary about him – Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song – we get to see the artist at work on this process.  The film chronicles the history of one of Cohen’s songs – “Hallelujah” – that became an obsession with him. We learn that he wrote 150 verses over the years and that the original song took five years to complete.

It was included on his 1984 album Various Positions, but Columbia Records refused to release the album, thinking it of inferior quality. The album is actually great, with many wonderful songs. It was later released on a smaller label and Cohen sang different versions of it at his concerts.

Bob Dylan covered it in the late 1980s, which no doubt attests to Dylan’s great musical insight and his affinity for Cohen, brothers in song. Then in 1991 it was covered by John Cale and in 1994 by Jeff Buckley, who did a most passionate version.

The song was on its way, but to where was the question. It gained in popularity over the years and in 2001 it was featured in the movie, Shrek, a most unlikely place for it to be heard.  Kitsch met depth.  The passionately conflicted and highly sexualized Cohen’s “horny and holy” version had been neutered.

Over the years there have been more than 300 covers of the song and much debate about its meaning.  The mysterious poet/songwriter from Montreal had slipped into mainstream culture to his great amusement.  The song reached the Billboard Charts in 2016, the year of Cohen’s death.

The documentary is interesting in many ways, especially for its use of archival material from the Cohen Trust, including use of his notebooks, writing, performances, and interview footage.

Watching this excellent film, I was struck by how this song encapsulates Cohen’s spiritual journey.  For Hallelujah is a prayer in song, not in a mawkish way, but a prayer for our times when the old distinctions between the sacred and the secular have melded once again and people seek spiritual sustenance outside the traditional categories of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc.

One may begin life in one tradition, as Cohen and Dylan did in the Jewish faith, but eventually many cross over to explore other faiths while remaining somehow anchored in their beginnings, whether those beginnings were explicitly religious or not.

For many, the roots of a spiritual journey lie in the examples of their parents and whether or not their lives were lived with unspoken spiritual integrity – acta non verba.

The theologian John Dunne wrote in his brilliant 1972 book, The Way of All the Earth: Experiments in Truth and Religion, the following:

Is a religion coming to birth in our time? It could be. What seems to be occurring is a phenomenon we might call ‘passing over,’ passing over from one culture to another, from one way of life to another, from one religion to another. Passing over is a shifting of standpoint, a going over to the standpoint of another culture, another way of life, another religion. It is followed by an equal and opposite process we might call ‘coming back,’ coming back with new insight to one’s own culture, one’s own way of life, one’s own religion…The course such an adventure follows is that of an odyssey…One’s life is finally the homeland.

This seems to me to sum up Cohen’s odyssey.  He was a man of his turbulent times who “experimented with truth,” in Gandhi’s words. Not that he was in any way another Gandhi, for he was, by his own admission, seriously flawed (who isn’t? Gandhi, too) and “not somebody who’s seen the light” and yet could still praise life with his “cold” and “broken Hallelujah.”

He turned poetry into truth and truth into poetry without sparing himself. This took guts.

Like many poets, he could sound exalted and dejected simultaneously, morose and ecstatic (especially about sex and love), grating and sweet.  And like any cultural icon who is glorified by the media and whose personal life becomes somewhat of an open book, he is not an exemplar to follow.

But his work is, for it takes us into deep places where the heart’s desires meet and clash in a search for peace and reconciliation.

From his first song, Suzanne, to his last, Treaty, all his work, as he says in the documentary, is one piece. The words of a man cracked into many pieces but who, from beginning to end, searched for wholeness with his songs.

As my four-year-old daughter Susanne once said to me as we walked past a bordered-up church, “Papa, I think that when we die, God will put us all back together again.”  The words of a poet!  Mysterious and dark.

Sing “Hallelujah.”

Edward Curtin is an independent writer whose work has appeared widely over many years. His website is edwardcurtin.com and his new book is Seeking Truth in a Country of Lies.

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Sue
Sue
Nov 27, 2022 12:18 PM

Jude Roberts did a cover of Hallelujah with a few verses of his own added re the scamdemic: Hallelujah | Jude Roberts (bandcamp.com)

Pilgrim Shadow
Pilgrim Shadow
Nov 24, 2022 4:35 AM

“You won’t like what comes after America.” — Leonard Cohen

vitiate
vitiate
Nov 22, 2022 4:47 PM

Cohen was clearly a Satan-worshiper who liked to tell people what the elites were doing, as they did it. Remorseless, cold, calculating, and he clearly loved every bit of it.
Comparing him to Dylan is pretty accurate for this reason. Dylan at least admitted which god he serves.

jax
jax
Nov 21, 2022 11:44 PM

Cohen, awful shill, anyone with any major following at all is controlled. Masters of demoralization. Weaken the family unit. Push the peasants towards drugs and alcohol and debauchery. No one is on your side. Work till you die and mask up in silence.

Marilyn Shepherd
Marilyn Shepherd
Nov 21, 2022 6:10 PM

For sheer joy I can’t go past the I am you Man concert with the wonderful Wainwright siblings, the McGarrigle’s, Nick Cave, the Handsome family and the fabulous Anthony singing ‘”If it be your will”. When I feel blue I watch it again, have watched it a dozen or so times.

Here is my favourite from the concert. (2988) Martha Wainwright – The Traitor written by Leonard Cohen – YouTube It wrenches my gut everytime I hear it with her amazing voice.

Sebastian
Sebastian
Nov 21, 2022 3:49 PM

A little bit off-topic, however, this is a good review of Bono’s new book:

https://johnwaters.substack.com/p/book-review-bonos-new-wemoir

Mann Friedmann
Mann Friedmann
Nov 21, 2022 11:23 PM
Reply to  Sebastian

Bozo, Bojo, and Bono!
Change a single letter; they are all the same.

Placental_Mammal
Placental_Mammal
Nov 21, 2022 11:23 AM

Celebrating

Should we be celebrating muscians after what we have been through for the last three years ? Given how most of them behaved through that dark period ?

Howard
Howard
Nov 21, 2022 5:08 PM

Yes, we should – if we used to like their work, then there’s still that to celebrate.

I recall when Yusuff Islam (aka Cat Stevens) spoke ill of Salman Rushdie and DJs all over the place were smashing his records and advising people to stop listening to his music. I certainly didn’t agree with his take on Mr. Rushdie; but it had absolutely no effect on my regard for his music – especially “Where Do The Children Play?”, one of the greatest pop songs of all time.

Marilyn Shepherd
Marilyn Shepherd
Nov 21, 2022 6:11 PM
Reply to  Howard

I love all his music too, but Wild World floats my boat.

Marilyn Shepherd
Marilyn Shepherd
Nov 21, 2022 6:29 PM

The music is as good as it ever was, their brainwashing over a virus does not take that away

Hele
Hele
Nov 21, 2022 8:35 AM

Never been a huge cohen fan,though realize he was around at a time when music encapsulated a literary, imaginative spirit.But,that beautiful culture has ended unceremoniously:The songs sold to corporations to advertise Depends.

Howard
Howard
Nov 21, 2022 5:11 PM
Reply to  Hele

Indeed. I was disappointed when the great Bob Seger song “Like A Rock” became Chevy Silverado’s anthem for quite a while. To me, Bob Seger has more soul than any other singer I’ve ever heard. His song will be there long after all the Silverados have rusted away.

MaryLS
MaryLS
Nov 21, 2022 3:07 AM

Beautiful. A moving tribute to a artist who captured the zeitgeist of an era.

Sebastian
Sebastian
Nov 21, 2022 3:02 AM

The Presentation.

Dan
Dan
Nov 21, 2022 2:30 AM

I’ve always despised Cohen, but this song is like fingernails on the chalkboard.

Placental Mammal
Placental Mammal
Nov 21, 2022 2:26 AM

Ariel Sharon

There is a photograph of Cohen serenading Ariel Sharon during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The latter later allowed the butchery of refugees in Beirut.

Nick Baam
Nick Baam
Nov 20, 2022 11:45 PM

I never have to hear Hallelujah again, sung by anyone.

Give me, ‘I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder’ any day.

NixonScraypes
NixonScraypes
Nov 20, 2022 11:05 PM

I really liked “Suzanne” when I was about sixteen but even then the Jesus verse stuck out like the sailor’s tattoo on her perfect thigh. What had it to do with the rest of the song? Now it just says Frankfurt School as clear as a bell to me. CBS had/has strong CIA connections so what’s new. “The little Jew who wrote the bible” was brilliant though, “a nightmare moving through the station” but I’ve had enough of stagnant injections and I’m heading for the sun.

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 21, 2022 11:53 AM
Reply to  NixonScraypes

The Jesus verse is my favourite. Especially this bit:

And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him

He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them

Goosebumps!

NixonScraypes
NixonScraypes
Nov 22, 2022 9:33 AM
Reply to  George Mc

Yeah, I suppose you have to know you’re gonna die to understand the interior meaning of the man’s message and how to break free from the slavers who own the world. Have you noticed Burnham Wood recently?

Keith
Keith
Nov 20, 2022 7:58 PM

“many claims have been made about Leonard Cohen by his former girlfriend … include the allegations that Cohen’s role involved much more than pushing the usual Satanic cultural subversion … and that he was in fact a valued military-intelligence agent with connections to the Tavistock Institute …”

Mark Devlin p348 Musical Truth 3

Hereticdrummer
Hereticdrummer
Nov 20, 2022 7:33 PM

The tranny Joni Mitchell, once said that , “Everything about Bob Dylan is fake.” She knew him well and Cohen also. She, among others, declared that Cohen ghost wrote Dylan’s songs.

CK_
CK_
Nov 20, 2022 9:16 PM
Reply to  Hereticdrummer

Yup, Dylan is a fraud:
http://mileswmathis.com/dylan.pdf

Johnny
Johnny
Nov 21, 2022 8:45 AM
Reply to  CK_

Methinks Miles reeks of envy.
And sleeps with his Id close at hand.

Victor G.
Victor G.
Nov 21, 2022 1:21 PM
Reply to  Hereticdrummer

Still amazed by her(his) voice! What a unique falsetto … roll over, Farinelli, tell Tiny Tim the news!

Mann Friedmann
Mann Friedmann
Nov 21, 2022 11:27 PM
Reply to  Hereticdrummer

Joni NOT a tranny.

rubberheid
rubberheid
Nov 20, 2022 7:12 PM

buckley’s version on max fedayeev’s (??) donbass roads of war back then… or just itself…

but credit where due.

rob2
rob2
Nov 20, 2022 6:38 PM

It doesn’t seem right, but Cohen’s performance does nothing for me. Truly, Buckley owns it:

rob2
rob2
Nov 20, 2022 6:39 PM
Reply to  rob2

“Video unavailable”?!

NOT cool!

Justin O Smith
Justin O Smith
Nov 20, 2022 6:28 PM

Why am I unable to post a comment. Please excuse me for my technological illiteracy. ~ Justin

Sam - Admin2
Admin
Sam - Admin2
Nov 20, 2022 8:28 PM
Reply to  Justin O Smith

Your comment was diverted to spam, I fished it out. Don’t be surprised if you get diverted to pending for a time but it’ll settle out. Thanks for flagging it up, A2

Justin O Smith
Justin O Smith
Nov 20, 2022 8:34 PM
Reply to  Sam - Admin2

Thank You, Sam, for Your timely attention to this. I appreciate it, and I will look forward to more great content such as this article.

B L
B L
Nov 20, 2022 6:22 PM

Where is the Leonard Cohen song or the Bob Dylan song about the suffering of the Palestinians? Surely they knew they could have made a great difference simply by writing and recording a song about Israeli atrocities. But they didn’t do that: Why not? “:..the artist often pales in comparison to his creations, which often come through him as much as he shapes them.” So, why didn’t anything about the Palestinians ‘come through’ these two artists? A bit shameful of Curtain to write about these very influential songwriters without even mentioning the greatest moral failure in their lives.

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 20, 2022 7:16 PM
Reply to  B L

Oh it’s worse than that. Bob wrote a song called “Neighbourhood Bully” which is a defense of Israel against aggressive attackers!

B L
B L
Nov 20, 2022 8:13 PM
Reply to  George Mc

Yes: And prepared his listeners with a narrative frame that justified the destruction of Iraq a few years later: They say he’s never performed the song in concert though:…

Jeffrey Strahl
Jeffrey Strahl
Nov 20, 2022 7:45 PM
Reply to  B L

I don’t know about Cohen, but Dylan is a raving Zionist.

Marilyn Shepherd
Marilyn Shepherd
Nov 21, 2022 6:13 PM
Reply to  Jeffrey Strahl

Cohen was mainly a buddhist

Victor G.
Victor G.
Nov 21, 2022 1:27 PM
Reply to  B L

Some folks simply refuse to go there … Just look at OG. When was the last time you read an article about the suffering of the Palestinians here? When was the last time they hosted Ramzy Baroud?

Berlin Beerman
Berlin Beerman
Nov 20, 2022 3:04 PM

To compare Mr.Dylan ( or what ever his real name is) to Mr.Cohen, on multiple levels, is sacrilege. The fake and the real.

S Cooper
S Cooper
Nov 20, 2022 4:18 PM
Reply to  Berlin Beerman

FYI

“Mary Rotolo and Robert Zimmerman. For what is worth Mary did not care much for Bob.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Rotolo

“But for what it is worth, Joni Mitchell did not care much for the plagiarist either.” .

Justin O Smith
Justin O Smith
Nov 20, 2022 6:17 PM
Reply to  S Cooper

“But, unfortunately, in the Camus, I found he [Leonard Cohen] lifted lines. ‘Walk me to the corner, our steps will always …’ That’s literally a Camus line. So I thought that’s like Bob Dylan … When I realized that Bob and Leonard were lifting lines, I was very disappointed. And then I thought that there’s this kind of a self-righteous quality about — you’re a plagiarist and I’m not. So I plagiarized from Camus in ‘Come In from the Cold’ intentionally. I forget which verse it is, but when I put the single out, I edited that verse out. I just took it out. Leonard got mad at me actually, because I put a line of his, a line that he said, in one of my songs. To me, that’s not plagiarism. You either steal from life or you steal from books. Life is fair game, but books are not. That’s my personal opinion. Don’t steal from somebody else’s art, that’s cheating. Steal from life — it’s up for grabs, right? So I put something that he said in one of my songs and he got real irritable, [saying], ‘I’m glad I wrote that.’” ~ Joni Mitchell

https://allanshowalter.com/2020/06/24/joni-mitchell-accuses-leonard-cohen-of-lifting-lines-from-camus-leonard-cohen-responds/

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 20, 2022 7:17 PM
Reply to  S Cooper

Then again there is the old saying that talent borrows and genius steals.

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 20, 2022 10:47 PM
Reply to  S Cooper

I wouldn’t worry much about this “plagiarism” thing. That was what folk music was all about and classical composers did it all the time. They even admitted it with their “Variations on a theme by” stuff. It’s not what you take but what you do with it that counts.

Thinktwice
Thinktwice
Nov 21, 2022 12:58 AM
Reply to  S Cooper

There is some Cohen/Dylan cooperation on the 1977 “Phil Spector album” Death of a ladies man.

Thom
Thom
Nov 20, 2022 2:56 PM

An excellent tribute. I never grow tired of Cohen’s work, and he always came across as a warm and genuine human being too.
Endless subtlety in his work – is Hallelujah actually an ode to joy or a parody of the record industry with the slightly silly rhymes?

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 3:14 PM
Reply to  Thom

That would be almost Platonic if Hallelujah were a parody of the record industry – a parody of a parody.

Edwige
Edwige
Nov 20, 2022 2:15 PM

Family backgrounds and other curiosities of some musicians (or “musicians”):

1) Jim Morrison – father commanded the Gulf of Tonkin fleet that was the source of the false flag that triggered the Vietnam War.
2) Frank Zappa – father worked at the Edgewood Arsenal, home of US chemical weapons and site of much MK Ultra “research”.
3) Dave Grohl – his father worked for a Taft desdended from the founder of Skull n Bones.
4) David Crosby – descended from the Van Courtlands who arrived on the Mayflower. Van Courtland Park is full of Occult symbolism and was one of the locations for the Satanic activities of the group behind the Son of Sam murders.
5) Mick Jones (The Clash) – cousin of Grant Schapps.
6) Peter Gabriel – grandfather was Lord Mayor of London.
7) Felix Mendelssohn – his grandfather founded “Reform” or “Enlightemnent” Judaism. Before him, there was no “Orthodox” Judaism, it was just Judaism. It might be remembered that Orthodox Jews protested strongly against convid nonsense unlike Reform Jews.
8) Madonna – even the msm has reported how she seems to be related to an insane number of other celebrities (ranging from Celine Dion to Camilla Parker-Bowles).
9) Simon John Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious) – both parents were in the military and his father worked at Buckingham Palace.
10) Stewart Copeland (The Police) – father Miles was a CIA bigwig.
11) Jeff Baxter (guitarist) – now works as a defense contractor (like any good hippie!).
12) Bono – cousin of an Irish barrister who lobbied for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.
13) Pink, MIchael Stipe, Christine Aguilera, Jackson Browne, Dee Dee Ramone, Joni Mitchell and many others – all had parents in the military.
14) Brian Jones – father worked in the UK military-industrial complex. The house where Jones died had been owned by A.A. MIlne and there’s a lot to be known about him (as with virtually every “great” children’s author). Jones and his father’s actual first names were Lewis which is the term for “son of a Freemason”.
15) Chris Martin (Coldplay) – his grandfather was Lord Mayor of Exeter and he’s the nephew of a Conservative ex-MP with even a distant connection into the Churchills.

Those rock’n’roll, anti-establishment heroes, eh? How they “stuck it to the man” during Convid!

ophiaps
ophiaps
Nov 20, 2022 5:49 PM
Reply to  Edwige

How come you haven’t worked out your hero – Jay dyer ??

mjh
mjh
Nov 20, 2022 7:39 PM
Reply to  Edwige

How is most of this remotely relevant? — how can a person be blamed for who his father (or his cousin) was??

mgeo
mgeo
Nov 21, 2022 7:23 AM
Reply to  mjh

Lots of things are relevent to Edvige, such as every other number.

Jeffrey Strahl
Jeffrey Strahl
Nov 20, 2022 7:53 PM
Reply to  Edwige

#1 is utter bullshit. Jim Morrison’s father hated his son’s songs, forbade any of his music from being played on board ships he commanded. JM was one of the first people in rock n’ roll to write about the Vietnam War and about ecocide.
#4: So we are now attacking Crosby over a distant relative and something which happened in a park named after that relative? Deep. As in NOT!
#5-7: more of this blaming on the basis of relatives.
#13: more of “fuck you because your parents were fucked up.”

Recycled bullshit from Dave McGowan’s Laurel Canyon fables.

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 20, 2022 10:44 PM
Reply to  Jeffrey Strahl

#1 is not “utter bullshit” but factually correct. Jim’s father was indeed commander of United States naval forces during the Gulf of Tonkin.

Jeffrey Strahl
Jeffrey Strahl
Nov 21, 2022 4:47 AM
Reply to  George Mc

And? I didn’t contest the fact, but the idea that discredited Jim Morrison, as is implied in the last sentence of the item i was responding to.

Dan
Dan
Nov 21, 2022 2:37 AM
Reply to  Edwige

Sounds like Miles Mattis BS.

Marilyn Shepherd
Marilyn Shepherd
Nov 21, 2022 6:15 PM
Reply to  Edwige

Since when did the ancestry of anyone matter a fucking toss

Howard
Howard
Nov 22, 2022 4:58 PM
Reply to  Edwige

Thank God I can’t sing or play a musical instrument or I’d make your list for sure. My father was in the army (some think he may even have been a spy) and I worked at Edgewood Arsenal (as a civilian, just out of High School).

Had I been a pop star, I doubt that my refusal to be drafted would have made my bio – but I’m sure the stuff I listed above would have. Ah, what a crazy mixed up world!

Cyndee J
Cyndee J
Nov 20, 2022 1:52 PM

What a beautiful sentiment from your Susanne, Edward.

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 1:45 PM

Artists, as Mr. Curtin understands, are as much receptacles as creators.

There are ideas that work their way through reality much as planets revolve. A few humans can receive them as they float by. Fewer still can give form to them. Then they’re gone, their journey taking them elsewhere. They may not return for a million or a billion years.

A true artist knows better than to ever say “This work was mine alone.” He knows better. The greater the art, the greater the plagiarism of reality. The great artist is a thief; but the reality he pilfers forgives him.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 3:09 PM
Reply to  Howard

My astonishing piano teacher way back pointed to the word, “performer”.
He indicated how its actual meaning is for the art to pass through the artist, but not without his active participation.
It is a conscious act of reception, shaping – or reshaping – and then passing on the result.

In that sense, I have come to understand the process as a collaboration, and not a theft.
In fact a great artist like Beethoven expected the performers of his work to collaborate with him in this way. That’s why he is truly immortal.
He even said to a nervous student who was playing one of his works for him and making a lot of mistakes, “A wrong note or two is of no importance, but to play without musicality is unforgivable.”

It’s that ‘musicality’ which is the collaborative element in the process, and the thing which genuine performing artists strive to master. The best of them play as if they knew Beethoven intimately, and they try to take the composer’s struggle and tremendous hard work as seriously as if it were their own life-and-death struggle.

I mention Beethoven a lot because my teacher was a specialist who went ‘very deeply’ into what human creativity is, but of course the principles involved concern all great art and its edifying influence.

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 3:35 PM
Reply to  wardropper

Wonderful observation – thank you. Perhaps I err in distinguishing creator from performer – perhaps they really are the same.

Music is really the strangest artform, though, in that the creator must necessarily also be the performer.

Plays, by contrast, offer a clear separation of creator and performer in that the creator of a play may have no interest in acting it out. Though in a (I’ll call it) philosophic sense, the very performance of a play is in essence the writer acting out all the parts, as well as the scenery and everything else attendant to the work.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 3:47 PM
Reply to  Howard

Thank you too for the interesting comparison with theatre.

The subject of the creator/performer often comes up in my field, especially since the great pianists (and other instrumentalists) of the past were always composers and improvisers too, so there was an enormous amount of creative ‘cross-pollination’, as it were, without any clear boundaries.
It was just expected that a performer would also create new music, either written down, or just improvised on the spot.

This is now a lost art, although some try to recapture it.
I have even tried composing myself, but the results always sound too much like the composer whose works I am currently working on… 🙁

I think I have found a happy medium though, since I have become very enthusiastic about arranging some of the shorter orchestral works by the masters for two pianos – basically so I can play them myself with a colleague, or my wife if they’re not too difficult for her.
I’ve noticed that other people are playing some of my arrangements, so here’s a shameless plug:
https://youtu.be/3lhOKuR39sA

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 5:12 PM
Reply to  wardropper

I’ll check this link out – since I do go to YouTube for music.

Re your composing being influenced by the composer you’re working on, I think memory also divides into right and left brain. The left (I guess it’s the left) involves studied memory: rote and the like. Whereas the right is more like a sponge, and simply absorbs, often without the conscious knowledge of the person.

Since I like to write stories, novels, etc., my biggest fear is that I’ve inadvertently plagiarized something I read decades ago without realizing it. Not that that matters on a practical level since I’m not published; but it does matter on an artistic level.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 6:26 PM
Reply to  Howard

I think I can reassure you on that point.
“Inadvertently plagiarizing” isn’t really plagiarizing at all, if we have in mind, for example, that in the days before copyright was a big thing, composers played around with each other’s music and deliberately took melodies from each other, then wrote variations upon those themes.
Nobody thought this was anything other than very clever of them, and the overlap of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s dates shows clearly that many things in Beethoven’s early works are extremely Mozartian.

This simply wasn’t an issue.
People still refer to “the language of music”, and it truly is a language, with such things as correct ‘pronunciation’ of its elements and coherent interpretation of its larger structures no less important than in spoken language.
In this overlap period with Mozart and Beethoven, we can see clearly that they both spoke the same language, and could therefore appreciate each other’s work fully. As they matured, their ‘language’ acquired a colouring of its own, but within certain prescribed limits.

Nowadays, of course, composers – including those who merely call themselves composers – often try so hard to be ‘original’ and different from everybody else, that the paradoxical result is that they all sound the same – and equally awful.
That didn’t happen in the old days. Back then they were content – and even honoured – to speak the same language as Bach and Haydn. After all, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”… 🙂

It was only when the publishing companies began to see the potential profit in acquiring a famous name for their book-keeping that people started to fear “plagiarizing”…

Howard
Howard
Nov 21, 2022 4:32 AM
Reply to  wardropper

I had read something (on an album sleeve I think) that Brahms felt very much in Beethoven’s shadow. And when someone pointed out to him a similarity between one of his works and Beethoven’s, Brahms’ response was “A donkey could see that!”

Maybe there just weren’t as many lawyers back then to try and coerce artists into spending half their time looking over their shoulder.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 21, 2022 2:16 PM
Reply to  Howard

That´s exactly it.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 21, 2022 3:24 PM
Reply to  Howard

Precisely because he felt so much in Beethoven’s shadow, Brahms apparently hesitated a long time before daring to write his first symphony – this was after Beethoven’s Ninth . . .

Still, a quick listen to the first 21/2 minutes of Brahms’s First is proof enough that he had plenty to say on his own terms. Beethoven never did this:
https://youtu.be/vzv8n-eAiiQ

Howard
Howard
Nov 22, 2022 5:03 PM
Reply to  wardropper

I’ll take a listen. It’s been decades since I listened to Brahms’ First Symphony. His First Concerto, however, I listen to all the time – I dearly love it.

On another album sleeve was the comment (in reply to one critic’s statement that Brahms’ First Concerto was his boyhood, but his Second Concerto was his manhood) that his First Concerto was his manhood, his Second was his godhood.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 8:29 PM
Reply to  Howard

I’d relax on the matter of ‘inadvertent plagiarizing’.
Beethoven borrowed whole tunes from Mozart and wrote his own variations on them, which everybody thought was very clever.
They were all pianist-composers in those days, and spoke the same musical language.

Many publishers today are like Big Pharm, only interested in profit, so it suits them to have big names on their books and to protect their copyright ferociously.

My feeling is that copyright is a good idea as far as a composer and his partner are concerned, but things have got out of hand when the grandchildren – who have no talent, are allergic to hard work, and want undeserved profit – start trying to have copyright extended to 100 years after the death of the actual composer . . . I think that’s a shame when coming generations could potentially build upon the original work.

It’s not as if I’m condoning the outright stealing of somebody else’s work and pretending it’s my own . . .

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 8:37 PM
Reply to  wardropper

Sorry about the pretty-much duplicated post.
After a couple of hours, I thought the original one hadn’t got through, even though there wasn’t a ‘pending’ label on it . . .

Ann Caddigan
Ann Caddigan
Nov 20, 2022 5:13 PM
Reply to  wardropper

Wardropper,
Bravo!
Thank you Edward and thank you all for this wonderful conversation on a Sunday morning.
Warm Regards,
Ann

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 6:09 PM
Reply to  Ann Caddigan

Thank you too Ann.
Hope your Sunday evening is just as good!

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 6:58 PM
Reply to  wardropper

I watched/listened to the program. I have nothing to compare it against, so it would be presumptuous of me to say I liked or disliked the arrangement.

If it won’t seem too irrelevant, what nationality were the pianists? Were they Koren?

At any rate, thank you for this.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 8:11 PM
Reply to  Howard

I think they are Japanese, since it says the video was directed there.

They are wearing incredibly fine clothes – looks like white silk – perhaps rather over-the-top, given the laid-back, almost blues-like nature of the music, but at least it shows respect for Ravel, and they do make a nice, gentle, singing sound.

I imagine the composer himself would probably have preferred a normal suit with a bow-tie though . . .

The Pavane was originally composed for solo piano, and Ravel later arranged it for symphony orchestra. It was the orchestral version which inspired me to make a version for 2 pianos, since it’s quite hard going for only one, which sounds rather thin in comparison…

Thanks for your interest.

bleak
bleak
Nov 21, 2022 2:55 AM
Reply to  wardropper

There are and always will be thousands of princes, but there is only one Beethoven! ― Ludwig van Beethoven

That quote gives me goose flesh. I listen to the Missa Solemnis almost everyday.

Victor G.
Victor G.
Nov 20, 2022 12:42 PM

Thank you, Edward Curtin. By all accounts, Leonard Cohen derived comfort from the practice of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.

Sullivan
Sullivan
Nov 20, 2022 7:13 PM
Reply to  Victor G.

So he could escape from the hordes of young women throwing themselves at him

red lester
red lester
Nov 20, 2022 11:58 AM

I picture the North Koreans listening to Leonard Cohen – in a similiar way to Albanians watching Norman Wisdom.

Robert Esbrandt
Robert Esbrandt
Nov 20, 2022 11:11 AM

Cohen is a freemasonic sellout just like the rest of the artists we used to think of as heroes. The imagery is everywhere on his album covers, lyrics , videos, interviews, etc…this is one of the worst parts of our new painful reality

Wolf Warrior
Wolf Warrior
Nov 20, 2022 1:53 PM

I can think of much worse parts. The world is not a binary abode. We all bring different influences from different parts of our lives into our current reality. This is what makes us human. The current ‘cancel culture’ would have us think otherwise. Even if Cohen is a ‘freemasonic sellout’, as you postulate, I can still find connection with his music from my own experiences and understanding of existence.

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 3:06 PM

“Masonic” imagery is not unique to the Freemasons: it is universal imagery. They may have co-opted it (just as the Olympic Committee co-opted the term “Olympic,” bringing lawsuits in the ’80s against anyone else using the name – that’s when I swore I would never watch another Olympic event, and haven’t). But it’s no more “theirs” than any other set of universal images belongs to one entity alone.

Sean Veeda
Sean Veeda
Nov 20, 2022 10:39 AM

John Wesley Harding, I learnt from a Bellamy Brothers song, shot a man for snoring.

On that song, they sang:

Living in the west
Must have been the best
Must have been the greatest times of all

I can’t imagine anyone writing that about the West nowadays.

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 20, 2022 9:44 AM

Everyone likes to talk about how Cohen is such a “dark” singer but there’s a lot of humour of a droll and wry kind. (He would have appreciated Neil’s comment in The Young Ones: “No-one ever listens to me. I may as well be a Leonard Cohen album.”)

I’m not up on everything LC did but from what I have heard Suzanne is indeed the best. I had a prejudice about Hallelujah i.e. this was a “big official hit” and therefore I was resistant to it. I feel the same way about other things too e.g. Tolkien’s work was enormously attractive to me for as long as I thought it was a kind of peripheral semi-obscure thing – which is the way it seemed to me when I was discovering it back in the 70s. But the moment it becomes this big movie franchise and everyone is talking about it – YUCK! Nothing kills like success.

Johnny
Johnny
Nov 20, 2022 11:41 AM
Reply to  George Mc

Leonard Cohen had the ability to be self deprecating, dry, witty and extremely perceptive. Rare qualities in a ‘star’
I miss him.

Thinktwice
Thinktwice
Nov 21, 2022 1:02 AM
Reply to  Johnny

Yeah! (here Memories live with Jennifer Warnes)

Howard
Howard
Nov 20, 2022 3:21 PM
Reply to  George Mc

You bring up an interesting point regarding art. I agree that Suzanne may be the best of Mr. Cohen’s popular songs; but it isn’t my favorite (that would be Nancy).

The best of an artist’s work may not resonate with someone as much as another work, which may not be quite as good. The question then becomes which is the more succinct category: favorite or best?

mjh
mjh
Nov 20, 2022 7:37 PM
Reply to  Howard

I personally love “Alexandra Leaving.”

Justin O Smith
Justin O Smith
Nov 20, 2022 8:41 PM
Reply to  Howard

Don’t forget about “Nevermind’ or ‘Everybody Knows’. One will find these pretty fascinating if they pay close attention to the lyrics. And what a fantastic backup team Cohen had with Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters, who he always gave special recognition during their appearances with him in concert.

theobalt
theobalt
Nov 20, 2022 6:47 PM
Reply to  George Mc

or maturity.

George Mc
George Mc
Nov 20, 2022 9:35 AM

Dylan wasn’t happy about Nietzsche saying “God is dead” – though Nietzsche’s remark has been misunderstood. As Paul Johnson says, unlike those other modern iconoclasts Freud and Marx, Nietzsche didn’t see God as an illusion so much as a casualty. Indeed the very statement that God is dead is most unusual for a supposed atheist. Nietzsche’s concern wasn’t the factual truth but the effect of beliefs on behaviour. He was reporting on a profound psychological reality in the modern world – the collapse of belief in God and, with it, the collapse of belief in an objective moral order.

wardropper
wardropper
Nov 20, 2022 3:12 PM
Reply to  George Mc

Thanks for that very timely comment on Nietzsche.

Paul Vonharnish
Paul Vonharnish
Nov 20, 2022 3:45 PM
Reply to  George Mc

Excellent interpretation of Nietzsche’s statement. “God is dead”. Most persons didn’t understand the context.