lundi 30 juin 2014

Notes on Cohen #8: I'm Your Man

Like so many things, I inherited my love of Leonard directly from my mother.  Like my big teeth, my fondness for seafood, my expertise in taking things the wrong way and my nicely-shaped breasts.  None of these things was originally mine.

My mum and I are in perfect agreement that this is the sexiest song ever written.  I'm not sure whether or not this is just an obvious assumption.

Recently, I was in a car with a man, listening to music.  We were listening to the male version of a torch song, all the old tropes, all about ownership and blame, idolatry and objectification.  I duly scoffed.

"It's just all a bit... creepy, isn't it?"

He argued with me.  "Is that just because he's male, and older?"  He is also both male, and older.  "Wouldn't you possibly think it romantic otherwise?"

He may well have been right.  He did, after all, point out that I don't find 'This Is Love' by PJ Harvey - full of ownership and objectification - in the least bit objectionable.

However, I knew he wasn't right, because of this song.  It's utterly objectionable, probably, but I have never heard anything sexier in my entire life.  You may remember it being used to perfect effect in the film 'Secretary', which I happen to think is nothing but a sweet, beautiful romance story.

Whatever your overarching viewpoint, whether like me you are the staunchest of feminists, surely we all want someone to...

...crawl to you, baby, and fall at your feet.
And I'll howl at your beauty like a dog in heat.
And I'll claw at your heart, I'll tear at the sheet,
I'll say please.
I'm your man.

You know, whether that's Leonard Cohen, or James Spader, or someone else entirely.

lundi 23 juin 2014

Notes on Cohen #7: Take This Longing

The second time I went to see Courtney Love live, she played a cover of this song - dressed in petticoats, surrounded by roses, her voice cracked; she was some kind of thin gypsy queen.  the first time I saw her, she was triumphant, brilliant, greater than I had dared to hope, at the culmination of years of waiting on my part.  Magnificent.  Vindicated, as she occasionally is.

But this was the second time.  The time I wished I hadn't gone at all.  The time I had to look away.  Because she was too broken.  And I couldn't stand to watch it and, worse, I couldn't stand the crowd, who were willing it to happen.  Who had paid for a show and wanted a story.

I don't know what Mr Cohen thinks of Ms Love - or, for that matter, her husband's afterworld - but, that night, this song was perfect for her.

It reminds me of secret assignations of my own, too.  Things I don't want to - shouldn't - think about.  It's the saddest refrain I can think of - "like you would do, for one you loved" - because the inference is always the same: it will never, ever be you.

lundi 16 juin 2014

Notes on Cohen #6: Going Home

Habitually, I am a fan of mid-period Leonard.  It may not be cool, but I kind of love 80s/90s production values - blame my age.  It's probably why I also love Pop Tarts.  I even have a tattoo of the cover of 'The Future' - Cohen's much-neglected 1992 album, which is my personal favourite.  Listen to it - it's nihilistic, cheesy and very, very funny.  It's great.

But for some reason, mid-period Cohen doesn't fit here in Hydra.  I haven't listened to any of it in my perpetual self-referential soundtrack.  Of course, I have been listening to the old songs, 'the classics', the ones he wrote here.  Even though they are not always my first preference at home.

More surprisingly, some of his newest songs (or, here, 'Old Ideas') fit in perfectly here, too.  Not to be too morbid about it - although I'm sure the great man himself would be proud - they sound like a bookend.

They have the benefit of an extra 50 years or so of self-awareness, recrimination and humour.  If they sound elegiac, then just remember that a lot of them always did.

Like most sane-thinking people, I am fundamentally against referring to oneself in the third person.  It's a sign of psychosis (or total dickheadness), right?  However, if there's one instance in which such a thing could be forgiven, it's surely here:

I love to speak with Leonard.
He's a sportsman, and a shepherd.
He's a lazy bastard living in a suit.

But he does say what I tell him,
Even when it isn't welcome.
He just doesn't have the freedom to refuse.

At the risk of descending into total dickheadness myself at this point, I believe that Leonard has just summed up the writer's life sentence, right there.

lundi 9 juin 2014

Notes on Cohen #5: A Singer Must Die

This takes me right back, to the back seat of my parents' car when I was a very tiny child.  To be fair, so do certain songs by Dire Straits and The Bangles.

We are a family of Cohen fans all, but his is not really appropriate driving music.  That's not a drive I want to go on, anyway.  So in the car, we used to listen to 'Famous Blue Raincoat: Jenny Sings Lenny', an album of covers sung by Jennifer Warnes.  They were made with the blessing and collaboration of 'Lenny' and it sounds like they had a lot of fun (although of course - of course - there is sadness there) and he even illustrated the inside sleeve.

It's so much slicker and full of 80s production, but it still has a different kind of soul, and it's no less for that.  This one would come on towards the end of the album and - particularly on a late-night drive home from somewhere - the opening chords were sinister enough to make me shiver every time.  Even the title scared me a little bit.

Here in our little Hydra house, one of the few records in the cabinet (along with Prince's 'Diamonds and Pearls' and, bizarrely, something by Boyz II Men) is, probably by virtue of tourist tokenism, 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony'.  The original version once again.  The more interesting one, in this case.

He sounds impassioned, rather than louche, for once.  I know I am prone to A Lot of Feelings when it comes to Leonard, but something very primal crashes up from my when he gets to:

It's their ways to detain,
Their ways to disgrace.
It's their knee in your balls,
It's their fist in your face.

And now when he sings "and all the ladies go moist", these days I find it much funnier than I did when I was a wholly oblivious child.

lundi 2 juin 2014

Notes on Cohen #4: Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye

I have always loved this song, just as I have loved them all.  However, I had viewed it as yet another charming-helpless-villain cop-out break-up song by the ever-blameless Casanova Cohen.  Look at me, I'm being self-aware enough that it must render me blameless!  "Let's not talk of love and chains" - let's be modern and cool; stop holding me back with your boring old feminine traditions.  Clearly you're the one with the problem, not me.  All told to a deceptively beautiful passive-aggressive tune.

Yeah.  Thanks a lot, Ernest Hemingway.  Thanks a lot.

And yet...

Don't judge me, but in my current consciousness - however no-brow you may think it - I find it impossible to listen to this song without thinking of the recent reports that Peaches Geldof's husband sang it at her funeral.  It doesn't matter a bit what you think of her, or her family's situation.  It's like when I heard that Carole King's 'So Far Away' was played at Amy Winehouse's funeral - a long-beloved song was rendered temporarily unbearable by someone I never even knew.  I still give a thought to that girl I never knew whenever I hear it, amongst other things of my own.  Sometimes they're impossible to untangle, like cheap necklaces jumbled in a really old jewellery box.

I never thought this was a song about death.  Listening to it now, how can it not be?

My love goes with you,
As your love stays with me.
It's just the way it changes,
Like the shoreline and the sea.

It's probably still just a crap break-up song, though.