Leonard Cohen

Video filled with wonderful photographs of Leonard Cohen at this link – Leonard Cohen.

New post from 1HeckOfAGuy – http://1heckofaguy.com/2011/01/27/leonard-cohen-and-his-romanian-friend/

 

 

LEONARD COHEN

“I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch / He said to me, you must not ask for so much / And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door / She cried to me, hey, why not ask for more?”

When making a case for the greatness of any particular songwriter, instinct urges us to cast a broad net across that songwriter’s oeuvre. But Leonard Cohen’s significance accrues in the finely wrought, deceptively simple details that ornament his songs like scrimshaw. As we learned from 1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man—an overproduced disaster with Phil Spector lurking behind the arras—Cohen’s music founders when it attempts to amplify instead of condense. His most enduring work is all essences and vapors, fleeting wisps of insight and longing. So instead of taking the wider view, it behooves us to lean in close and listen to his pianissimo prophecies.

Like all great songs, Cohen’s transcend their deeply personal concerns to achieve a timeless eloquence and relevance—their individual subject matters are just occasions for conjuring the human experience in all its boundless complexity. Nowhere does Cohen attain this metonymical alchemy more fully than on the flawless “The Stranger Song,” from his 1968 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s world, paradoxically, is too large to take in panoramically, yet it’s small enough to fit inside a hotel room, and “Stranger Song” is the keyhole through we which we glimpse the furniture he minutely repositions time and again to achieve this stunning effect. “The Stranger Song,” like all of Cohen’s best, is brutally spare—his fingertips dance lightly and monochromatically across the guitar strings, evoking the quiet urgency of a life given over to unstinting attention. His iconic baritone is a colorless solution of melancholy and desperation, weariness and sophistication, hope and dread.

With this translucence established, Cohen’s lyrical genius beams out unmediated as he enumerates the tensions between security and freedom using striking, precisely hallucinatory images that unfurl with the clipped photorealism of a slide show: “You’ve seen that man before / His golden arm dispatching cards / But now it’s rusted from the elbows to the finger.” The titular stranger who “wants to trade the game he knows for shelter”—a stand-in for the famously restless Cohen (“I have tried in my way to be free,” he understated in “Bird on the Wire”)—passes through the song like a phantom flickering between presence and absence. In the same breath, while “taking from his wallet an old schedule of trains,” Cohen’s stranger professes that his will to roam is broken; he “talks his dreams to sleep” even as the highway is “curling just like smoke above his shoulder.”

Raised Jewish, and later in life a Buddhist, Cohen often uses religious imagery to offset his more worldly concerns, and the stranger, despite the selfishness inherent in “watching for the card that is so high and wild, he’ll never need to deal another,” is redeemed: “He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.” This precarious balance of sonic simplicity and thematic complexity, religious faith and apostate cynicism; piety and sexuality, is writ large across all Cohen’s most lasting achievements. One “Suzanne” cancels out an album’s worth of tepid mid-career synth pop; one “Last Year’s Man” would be enough to merit Cohen’s placement on this list even if he’d never written another note. “Please understand I never had a secret chart / To get me to the heart of this or any other matter,” Cohen says in “Stranger Song,” a typically humble assertion from a man who pierces that secret heart so deeply and often, both his own and ours. Brian Howe

Excerpt from http://www.pastemagazine.com/

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