Archive for Leonard Cohen

(Guest Post) De Profundis

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on September 12, 2013 by telescoper

Time for a guest post, methinks. Here is a review of a recent concert by the one and only Leonard Cohen. I wasn’t lucky enough to be there myself, but the pseudonymous Miss Lemon certainly was, and here are her reflections on the performance.

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Merveilleux, superbe, meraviglioso, di sogno – I have run out of English superlatives to even try to begin to describe the masterclass that was Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas concert (NG Arena 8 September 2013). It’s not often that you can put the words magical and Birmingham in the same sentence (spoken as a Brummie) but this was one such occasion.

My initial introduction to the venerable man was as a teenager in the mid-70s. Whilst my parents and I sat downstairs probably watching something like Family at War, upstairs my slightly older, and much more in touch with her poetic side, teenage sister would allow the, as I/we heard it then, drones of Leonard Cohen to seep through the ceiling, much to the familial annoyance below. However, sometime later intrigued as to quite what this dirge-like music was, whilst Sis was back at school (I was fortunate to have longer school holidays), I listened to the Songs of Leonard Cohen and was bewitched by the, as I now realise, legend that is Leonard.

I first saw Mr Cohen back in the early ‘80s – a memorable and unexpectedly good-humoured concert – but nothing could have prepared me for Sunday’s dreamlike experience. His voice even more distinctive than I remember it and now ‘aged into a worn leather bass’. An audience whose ages ranged from early 20s to late 70s filled the cavernous halls of the NG Arena in Birmingham.  A large number of men of a certain age, not all with balding pates and ponytails, were adorned with Cohen fedoras and the first vision on the stage was that of all of the band wearing fedoras so that immediate identification of the great man himself was made a little difficult, which brought a wry smile to the assembled throng in the forum.

His nine-piece band, among them a glorious violin virtuoso, proved more than suitable playmates. An appealing alchemy of Leonard at his self-deprecating best enchanting us with songs old and new, the beautiful and haunting version of Alexandra Leaving sung by Sharon Robinson – even after three hours, like a bird on the wire, hey why not ask for more?

The esteemed Mr Cohen – modest and most generous of spirit – age has not diminished his ability to pen glorious words and sublime songs and to send 10,000 people home with a smile which would last even longer than his concert, nor has it dimmed the twinkle in his eye. He was indeed ‘born with the gift of a golden voice’.

Sincerely

Miss Lemon

There’s a shoulder where death comes to cry

Posted in Music, Poetry with tags , , , on July 26, 2012 by telescoper

I heard this song Take this Waltz by Leonard Cohen a long time ago, and found it very mysterious as I didn’t know what it was about. Lately I found this youtube clip with a preface by Mr Cohen himself that explains that it is a tribute to the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca. I can’t say I know much about Lorca’s poetry, even in English translation, but I wish I did.

Lorca was born in 1898, and was murdered in 1936 by fascists during the Spanish Civil War. His body was never found.

The Rain Falls Down

Posted in Music with tags , on June 3, 2012 by telescoper

The rain falls down on last year’s man, 
that’s a jew’s harp on the table, 
that’s a crayon in his hand. 
And the corners of the blueprint are ruined since they rolled 
far past the stems of thumbtacks 
that still throw shadows on the wood. 
And the skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend 
and all the rain falls down amen 
on the works of last year’s man. 

I met a lady, she was playing with her soldiers in the dark 
oh one by one she had to tell them 
that her name was Joan of Arc. 
I was in that army, yes I stayed a little while; 
I want to thank you, Joan of Arc, 
for treating me so well. 
And though I wear a uniform I was not born to fight; 
all these wounded boys you lie beside, 
goodnight, my friends, goodnight. 

I came upon a wedding that old families had contrived; 
Bethlehem the bridegroom, 
Babylon the bride. 
Great Babylon was naked, oh she stood there trembling for me, 
and Bethlehem inflamed us both 
like the shy one at some orgy. 
And when we fell together all our flesh was like a veil 
that I had to draw aside to see 
the serpent eat its tail. 

Some women wait for Jesus, and some women wait for Cain 
so I hang upon my altar 
and I hoist my axe again. 
And I take the one who finds me back to where it all began 
when Jesus was the honeymoon 
and Cain was just the man. 
And we read from pleasant Bibles that are bound in blood and skin 
that the wilderness is gathering 
all its children back again. 

The rain falls down on last year’s man, 
an hour has gone by 
and he has not moved his hand. 
But everything will happen if he only gives the word; 
the lovers will rise up 
and the mountains touch the ground. 
But the skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend 
and all the rain falls down amen 
on the works of last year’s man.

I’m your Man

Posted in Music with tags , on January 7, 2012 by telescoper

Everybody Knows…

Posted in Music, Politics with tags , on November 30, 2011 by telescoper

 

Dress Rehearsal Rag

Posted in Music with tags , on January 16, 2011 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted anything by Leonard Cohen, so how about this live performance of his own cheerful little ditty Dress Rehearsal Rag? The Maestro himself delivers a health warning at the start of the recording, so please don’t listen to this if you’re of a depressive disposition…

Here are the lyrics

Four o’clock in the afternoon
and I didn’t feel like very much.
I said to myself, “Where are you golden boy,
where is your famous golden touch?”
I thought you knew where
all of the elephants lie down,
I thought you were the crown prince
of all the wheels in Ivory Town.
Just take a look at your body now,
there’s nothing much to save
and a bitter voice in the mirror cries,
“Hey, Prince, you need a shave.”
Now if you can manage to get
your trembling fingers to behave,
why don’t you try unwrapping
a stainless steel razor blade?
That’s right, it’s come to this,
yes it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
wasn’t it a strange way down?

There’s no hot water
and the cold is running thin.
Well, what do you expect from
the kind of places you’ve been living in?
Don’t drink from that cup,
it’s all caked and cracked along the rim.
That’s not the electric light, my friend,
that is your vision growing dim.
Cover up your face with soap, there,
now you’re Santa Claus.
And you’ve got a gift for anyone
who will give you his applause.
I thought you were a racing man,
ah, but you couldn’t take the pace.
That’s a funeral in the mirror
and it’s stopping at your face.
That’s right, it’s come to this,
yes it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
ah wasn’t it a strange way down?

Once there was a path
and a girl with chestnut hair,
and you passed the summers
picking all of the berries that grew there;
there were times she was a woman,
oh, there were times she was just a child,
and you held her in the shadows
where the raspberries grow wild.
And you climbed the twilight mountains
and you sang about the view,
and everywhere that you wandered
love seemed to go along with you.
That’s a hard one to remember,
yes it makes you clench your fist.
And then the veins stand out like highways,
all along your wrist.
And yes it’s come to this,
it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
wasn’t it a strange way down?

You can still find a job,
go out and talk to a friend.
On the back of every magazine
there are those coupons you can send.
Why don’t you join the Rosicrucians,
they can give you back your hope,
you can find your love with diagrams
on a plain brown envelope.
But you’ve used up all your coupons
except the one that seems
to be written on your wrist
along with several thousand dreams.
Now Santa Claus comes forward,
that’s a razor in his mit;
and he puts on his dark glasses
and he shows you where to hit;
and then the cameras pan,
the stand in stunt man,
dress rehearsal rag,
it’s just the dress rehearsal rag,
you know this dress rehearsal rag,
it’s just a dress rehearsal rag.

Incidentally, the song he refers to in the preamble,  Gloomy Sunday, in fact originated in Hungary, not Czechoslovakia; check out the classic version by Billie Holliday, but only if you’re feeling brave…


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Tower of Song

Posted in Music with tags , on October 16, 2010 by telescoper

 

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
In the Tower of Song

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the great beyond
They tied me to this table right here
In the Tower of Song

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all
I’m standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah they don’t let a woman kill you
Not in the Tower of Song

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And theres a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the Tower of Song

I see you standing on the other side
I don’t know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
Well never have to lose it again

Now I bid you farewell, I dont know when Ill be back
There moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but Im not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song


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Rain

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on July 21, 2010 by telescoper

Now that the traditional rainy Cardiff summer has arrived,  and I’ve just watched an old black-and-white movie on DVD, I thought I’d share this, the title poem of a marvellous collection by Don Paterson.

 
I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one long thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold
on a rain-dark gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign,
and I’d read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

And, while I’m on the theme of rain, why not add this great song by Leonard Cohen?

Of the Last Verses in the Book

Posted in Biographical, Columbo, Poetry with tags , , , on February 5, 2010 by telescoper

I was having some quality Columbo time last night, giving my old moggy a good going-over with his favourite brush while watching a DVD featuring the detective with the  same name. Columbo (the cat) loves being brushed with a metal brush, especially on his head and his face. If I stop he grabs hold of it and pulls it back onto his muzzle as if to say “All right then, I’ll do it myself.” He likes such a firm application of the brush that it seems incredible to me that it doesn’t hurt him, but he clearly enjoys it,  so what the hell…

When I’d finished he looked even more handsome than usual, but as he sat next to me on the sofa I reflected on the fact that he is starting to show his age a bit especially around the face – possibly owing to his penchant for the brush! Nowadays his purring sounds more like snoring, his kittenish moments are rarer and crotchety episodes a bit more common. He also gets stiffness in his legs from time to time, which the vet attributes to rheumatism and, although it doesn’t cause him actual pain, this problem  makes him a lot less active than he used to be.  Still, he has a right to take things easy. He’ll be 16 next month, which is quite a venerable age for a Tom cat.

I’ve been feeling pretty old myself this week,  probably caused by fatigue associated with the onset of lecturing. All that walking up and down and waving your arms about can be quite tiring, I can tell you. Not sleeping much might have something to do with it too. I’m also feeling miserable because I  need new spectacles,  another sign of ongoing physical deterioration.  I’ve got less excuse for feeling my age than Columbo, however, as I’m only 46. I think that’s only about 6 in cat years!

However, getting older definitely has its good points too.  Twenty years ago I would never have envisaged myself sitting at home reading dusty old poetry books rather than going out to some sleazy nightclub, but the cardigan, carpet slippers and Columbo are suiting me just fine these days. Next week I’m going to go wild and have a night at the Opera, something that always makes me feel young. I may be no chicken, but I’m still younger than the average  opera-goer!

I haven’t posted any poems for a few days, so here’s one that seems to fit. It’s by a relatively obscure poet and politician called Edmund Waller. The wikipedia page about him isn’t very complimetary about his talents as a poet, but he is at least credited with having pioneered the use of heroic couplets in English verse. His biography is interesting too. He narrowly escaped being executed in 1643, during the English Civil War,  and was instead imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was only released after paying a fine of £10,000 – a truly enormous amount of money for the time. Although banished on his release, he subsequently returned to politics and lived to the ripe old age of 81.

Although his poetry is very unfashionable, this one is quite well known and – I think – rather marvellous, especially the last verse which puts me in mind of the lines from Leonard Cohen‘s great song Anthem:

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The poem is called Of the Last Verses in the Book.

When we for age could neither read nor write,
The subject made us able to indite.
The soul, with nobler resolutions deckt,
The body stooping, does herself erect:
No mortal parts are requisite to raise
Her, that unbodied can her Maker praise.

The seas are quiet, when the winds give o’er,
So calm are we, when passions are no more:
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness, which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,
Lets in new light through chinks that time has made;
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home:
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new

(And, please, no jokes about “cottages”….)

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