Let’s just ignore the elephant in the room for a moment, shall we? Yes, for someone who has the ability to speak out against racism and misogyny and homophobia (dons Stroke Bloke hat – or ablism) to choose to stay silent on these matters is the same as condoning them. So let’s be clear – I’m against these things here, in my life, and in my art.
Does that make me a phobophobe?
Help Ricky figure his shit out in the Apoplexy Tiny Letter.But, what else was going on last week?
He was Canadian, you sink hole of fucking stupidity pic.twitter.com/5K4xv5ar7L
— Rachael (@RachaelvsWorld) November 11, 2016
Leonard Cohen’s music is something else that I haven’t yet completely figured out yet. Not that one would want to completely figure it out. Part of the problem, I think, is that the songs that accompanied one of his periodic resurgences in popularity when I was a younger lad were subject to what I thought were particularly unsympathetic arrangement and production.
Yet, at the years have passed, Leonard Cohen’s work has continued to be brought to my attention by friends and artists whose opinions I respect. That first introduction was from the cleverest lads in my high school.
When I discovered Jeff Buckley a few years later, the showstopper on his Grace album was the cover of Cohen’s Hallelujah. And seeing Buckley live at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall, who couldn’t be influenced by the taste of that beautiful young man with the angelic voice, the impish sense of humour, and the musical wherewithal to cover Leonard, The Smiths, Cannibal Corpse, and Benjamin Britten in the course of a single evening?
Of course, now Hallelujah is a staple of television talent shows and the resulting cash-in singles. But at least even that stirs Damon Albarn to perhaps his funniest lyric, in Blur’s beautiful abortive comeback single, Under the Westway.
On a permanent basis I apologize
But I am going to sing…
A university friend of taste and distinction kept Leonard on the edge of my radar when I studied in Philadephia. Later, by the time I had lived in New York City for a few years, and begun the journey to Angry Middle-Aged Man, part of the deal was reviving my love of Lloyd Cole, who had given himself to booze and pool and existentialism Downtown.
I saw Lloyd at the Mercury Lounge on East Houston Street first, then picked up tickets whenever he was in town.
You’re not fooling anyone, bookish middle-class boy with Scottish connections!
As Lloyd entered his sit-down songwriter gig period, this would entail going to see him perform a few blocks north at Joe’s Pub in NoHo. One time in particular, he opened his set with The Partisan.
Years later, I still remember being gripped, transfixed by this powerful song. I knew nothing of its origins, other than it was clearly a song about the French Resistance in World War II. Lloyd was cryptic, gnomic, about it, as if we should all be in on the joke. Of course, he was covering it after one of his heroes, Leonard Cohen.
As described by Cohen’s biography on AllMusic, his sophomore album, Songs from a Room,
was characterized by an even greater spirit of melancholy [than The Songs of Leonard Cohen…], and the one song not written by Cohen, The Partisan, was a grim narrative about the reasons for and consequences of resistance to tyranny.
It turns out the words of La Complainte du Partisan were written in 1943 in London by Emmanuel d’Astier, one of the founders of the French Resistance, and then adapted in English by Hy Zaret, the American Tin Pan Alley lyricist and composer best known for Unchained Melody.
So, thanks to everyone who has brought me a little Leonard Cohen. I used to think it morbid or mawkish to rake over an artist’s work in the wake of their death, but like Bowie before him, Cohen has claimed his own death as a subject and given us an avenue into his life’s work. The title track of his recent studio album You Want It Darker, it says here, is eerie and mortality-themed.
And I’m looking forward to learning more.