Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen ( 1934 - 2016 )

Closing Time

Goddamn it. Knew the news was coming, but wasn't ready for it just now.

Ah we're lonely, we're romantic
And the cider's laced with acid
And the holy spirit's crying, where's the beef?
And the moon is swimming naked
And the summer night is fragrant
With a mighty expectation of relief

So we struggle and we stagger
Down the snakes and up the ladder
To the tower where the blessed hours chime
And I swear it happened just like this
A sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss
The gates of love they budged an inch
I can't say much has happened since
But closing time
Closing time
Closing time
Closing time 

 Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius. Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like ‘The Law,’ which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines.

His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres. In the song ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ for instance, the verses are four elemental lines which change and move at predictable intervals . . . The song just comes in and states a fact. And after that anything can happen and it does, and Leonard allows it to happen...

‘Sisters of Mercy’ is verse after verse of four distinctive lines, in perfect meter, with no chorus, quivering with drama. ... This is a deceptively unusual musical theme, with or without lyrics. But it’s so subtle a listener doesn’t realize he’s been taken on a musical journey and dropped off somewhere, with or without lyrics.
I see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all. There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening. He’s very much a descendant of Irving Berlin... [whose] songs did the same thing. Berlin was also connected to some kind of celestial sphere.
And, like Leonard, he probably had no classical music training, either. Both of them just hear melodies that most of us can only strive for. Berlin’s lyrics also fell into place and consisted of half lines, full lines at surprising intervals, using simple elongated words. Both Leonard and Berlin are incredibly crafty. Leonard particularly uses chord progressions that seem classical in shape. He is a much more savvy musician than you’d think.
-- Bob Dylan 
I loved you for your beauty
But that doesn't make a fool of me
You were in it for your beauty too
And I loved you for your body
There's a voice that sounds like god to me
Declaring, (declaring) declaring, declaring that your body's really you
And I loved you when our love was blessed
And I love you now there's nothing left
But sorrow and a sense of overtime

I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not. It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to cooperate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.

What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol (divine voice). You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it... At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.

-- Leonard Cohen / September, 2016
And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows
And I missed you since the place got wrecked
And I just don't care what happens next
Looks like freedom but it feels like death
It's something in between, I guess
It's closing time
closing time
closing time
closing time


MEHR, Several Hours Later:  The last thing I wanted to do was write a post about this man that had even a hint of self-reference, but remembered a thirty-year-old conversation. 

A long time ago: someone said in a discussion of Sufis and 'The Work' that "There are a lot of people around who say they're looking for answers, want self-enlightenment, and they present a posture -- removed, serious, aesthetic. Like a parody of the Holy Man. And the feeling I get is, they're not authentic. The Sufis I've met have been raw and real, man; There's grit in their voices -- they're like Blues singers. They've been around the fucking block, they've done some things, and they know what really matters. They're not saints -- 'rogue sage'; you know? -- but about the Big Things, you can trust them."

Cohen loved the Blues. He sang them, no matter what style his songs were.  He spoke simply, straight from the heart, about The Big Questions.  His music, the way he lived his life, was grappling with those questions and his human condition, and ours, unashamedly. He was no saint, but an honest and sincere seeker of Truth -- and his music was a commentary on that stumbling around in the dark. His work was illuminated by a long family Rabbinical tradition; he was born with a Heart On Fire.

His songs were in the language of missed chances, relationships spoiled by ego or greed or a simple misunderstanding; ecstatic revelry and bone-crushing disappointment. When he sang politics, it was about choice and betrayal from the level of someone in the street. He told you: This is what happened to me. I don't know what all this is. I don't know what I'm doing, either; you're not alone out here. It was like the end of Moby Dick: A thing happened; buoyed up by a coffin, I came back to tell thee.

And what he sang about was a reminder that everything in this world was part of something else  -- The Big Questions, maybe. And he sang about that all the way to the end -- "You Want It Darker", his album released in October.

People sense how much truth they're being told by others, moment to moment, moving through the world. The number of people who speak in an authentic voice that we recognize, instinctively, as being true are very few. Poets can do this; Cohen was a poet, first, which is how I met him (only discovered later that the guy had albums of music, too, which made sense). From his work, he was recognizable as being as egotistical, confused, scheming, greedy; fucked up; kind, generous; lonely and longing -- as human, as I am. He had the energy and talent to share his particular vision, and it resonated with a wide audience.

When someone like that leaves the room, I grieve, because they're so few. And I'm pretty damned sad (The Best Friend texted back "Goddamned shit storm November" when I told them Cohen had died). I understand: never knew the man personally; it's the connections on so many levels to memory and hope and experience that add to the emotions. And there was Fucking Tuesday; and, today.  We're all going to have to leave the room -- if I can bow out in the same frame of mind, with the same intent as he was reported to have, that would be an act of grace.

Another Mensch leaves us. Now he knows what we do not -- but he was frankly curious, without much fear, as to whatever that is.

Also, remembering the day, and Absent Friends. "We Have Done So Much With So Little For So Long That We Could Do Everything With Nothing Forever" (1969 - 1971)

1 comment:

  1. Everybody got this broken feeling
    Like their father or their dog just died

    my father and my first cat died within three months of each other seven years ago - that was really something

    i hadn't thought of irving berlin and leonard cohen as similar - that zimmerman guy, joker and thief that he is, is also quite perceptive

    "what is truth?" said jesting pilate - your thoughts about how people sense when they encounter a truth teller have me musing on how some large fraction of the american people voted for trump (although a smaller number than voted for hillary) because in some sense they believed him - perhaps because hillary was so thoroughly non-authentic that, by comparison, trump is your uncle in a figurative sense

    once again i quote irving berlin, as i so often do -

    may the Creative Forces of the Universe stand beside us, and guide us, through the Night with the Light from Above - poetically speaking