lundi 26 mai 2014

Notes on Cohen #3: The Partisan

There's such a thing as stretching a metaphor too far, particularly in song.  Conceptual, role-playing songs have rarely been a success, at least to my limited knowledge.  Not so for Field Commander Cohen.  Given the shady facts of his life, this extended metaphor seems apt.  "The frontiers are my prison."

Interestingly, it's one of many references here that LC makes to changing his name - a common theme, maybe a fantasy.  Here, rather touchingly:

I have changed my name so often,
I have lost my wife and children.
But I've many friends.

Although you suspect in reality this state may be more self-induced than he's prepared to let on.

Pure speculation on my part, but I think this song sums up how he saw himself at this stage in life - a mixture of the cowardly and the heroic.  "I took my gun and vanished."

Cohen wasn't an old man when he wrote this, but there's a line in here that feels prescient to me - how I imagine I might feel when I'm my grandmother's age (if I'm that lucky) and pretty much the age the great man is now.

There were three of us this morning.
I'm the only one this evening.
But I must go on.

I can all too easily imagine a night when writing lines like "oh, the wind, the wind is blowing/Through the graves the wind is blowing/Freedom soon will come" seems like a good - the only - idea.  Even when that metaphor is stretched out to breaking point.

I believe LC himself even says he still likes to listen to this one.  Only to look forward to the bit when the kids start singing.

lundi 19 mai 2014

Notes on Cohen #2: So Long, Marianne

This song makes perfect sense here in Hydra.  I am such a dreadful cliche but I have been listening to it on repeat up here on the roof terrace, with its views of the port, mountains and Leonard's house.  I've also been reading, writing, drinking lots of coffee and wine at various times of day, doing a bit of yoga - of course.  Now I've seen this island, I'm not sure it could have been written anywhere else.  I'm writing on the roof terrace now.

Still, I once listened to a Radio 4 documentary about Leonard and Marianne, and it depressed me terribly.  she spoke of him as the love of her life; she felt honoured by the songs, by association.  He just made some amusing but slightly insulting comment about how he'd always accidentally mixed up friendship and sex.

This morning before breakfast, I really did climb the mountainside.  It even rained, a tiny bit.  It's sunny again now.

The jaunty beat of this is cleverly crafted to distract us from the fact that he is the baddy.  It works - of course.

lundi 12 mai 2014

Notes on Cohen #1: Famous Blue Raincoat

I have always loved a story.  I'm aware that this probably doesn't make me a special little budding-novelist snowflake.  Still, it did mean that as a small child I was fascinated by this song.  Lest that makes me sound like too much of a hipster kid at the age of seven, I should also note here that I felt similarly about 'Hazard' by Richard Marx.  "I swear I left her by the river/I swear I left her safe and sound."  BUT MUMMY, DID HE KILL HER?  IS HE LYING OR NOT?!  I REALLY NEED TO KNOW!

I think at expressly epistolary form is pretty rare in popular songs.  I mean, there are probably loads out there but I can't think of any offhand.  Let me know if there are any good ones.

The story still fascinates me.  Who is Jane?  And 'my brother, my killer'?  Why did he disappear deep in the desert, living for nothing now?

I now have my theories, but this is still an opaque song, for all its straightforward format.  All I know for sure is the same as what I knew back then.  Something terribly bad has happened.  Lives were ruined, friendships lost.  Maybe it's all his fault.  He wants you to know that your enemy's sleeping and his woman is free, but I'm not sure the addressee will see it like that, ever.

"Sincerely, L. Cohen" - there's a finality to it.  I don't think there will be a reply to this letter.  Maybe it will never even be sent.  It marks the end of something.

dimanche 11 mai 2014


I have just returned from a week on the beautiful island of Hydra.

I confess I first heard of it because it was where Leonard Cohen used to live and still owns a house (I have form when it comes to Cohen-related travels - I've visited the monastery where  he lived in California and my Chelsea Hotel pilgrimage was obviously inspired in part by him).  However, although this was what piqued my interest, I was also keen to visit because it's a beautiful island with no cars and many donkeys.  So, thanks to Leonard for sparking off the research in the first place.

I had a really beautiful time on Hydra.  I stayed in a gorgeous little house with a roof terrace; drank a lot of coffee, which I don't usually like; did a bit of writing; went on a lot of long mountainous walks; slept unusually well.

Of course, I also listened to a lot of Leonard Cohen songs.  I also wrote some pretentious mini essays about them, while I was there.  I'm going to type them up and schedule them in here: one a week, on a Monday for the next little while.  You may have no interest in Leonard Cohen or my thoughts on his works, but I enjoyed writing them.  t's probably pretty tragic that this is my idea of holiday fun.

mardi 6 mai 2014

Cry me a river?

This video came on recently while I was in the gym.

As happens from time to time when you are nearly 33 years old (!), I was struck by how times and fashions have changed.

This song, if I remember correctly, heralded Justin Timberlake's (I refuse to make a lame 'trousersnake' joke here) arrival as proper pop star pin up sexy boy type thing.  Even I liked this song, and I was most definitely not into Timberlake kind of stuff.  I'm pretty sure we all thought this video was sort of sexy.