A little while back, Mrs. C. came across a prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that we often return to when, as on our better days, we find a few minutes in the morning to stop and pray. It turns out it’s quite well known in the right circles, and there are a variety of English translations, but I’ll include here the one we know best: Continue reading Morning Prayer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen is about to release an album of recordings from his most recent concert tours: not so much the hits as the rarities. On it will be his performance of “Choices,” a song that George Jones made his own and made famous. George Jones and Leonard Cohen were both on concert tours in 2013. George Jones was then 81; Cohen was a fresh-faced 78 going on 79. George Jones didn’t quite make it through his tour, falling ill and then passing away on April 26th. His had been intended as a farewell tour, and indeed it was titled “The Grand Tour,” after his classic record of the same name. And Leonard Cohen’s new album is titled Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour. Continue reading Leonard Cohen’s Bow to George Jones
So, the other day I saw Leonard Cohen (who as previously mentioned has a new album out) being interviewed on a British television program and during it he was asked if he believed he was an optimistic person, and I thought his response to this question was quite penetrating and timely. He said (and good-naturedly, while wearing a slight smile):
Well, you know, I think those descriptions are kind of obsolete these days. Everybody’s kind of hanging on to their broken orange crate in the flood, and when you pass someone else and declare yourself an optimist or a pessimist, or pro-abortion or against abortion, or a conservative or a liberal, these descriptions are obsolete in the face of the catastrophe that everybody’s really dealing with.
At the present moment, I would daresay that those are words that would strike a definite chord with many of us. (By “us” I guess I’d be referring, in the broadest sense, to we who inhabit the most highly developed and consumerized societies of the world, and are presumed to be insulated from massive and generalized kinds of catastrophe.) I’d venture that many of us have a sense of impending disaster in this insecure age of Ebola and of ISIS and (I’d suggest) the impossible-to-grip transformations that the digital/internet age has wrought in our lives in such a short time. And that is not to even mention the many other manifestations of disorder and danger in the headlines.
However, the funny thing is that Leonard Cohen didn’t actually say these words in an interview just the other day. Continue reading Leonard Cohen Predicts the Future
Speaking of unnecessary yet needed things, Leonard Cohen (now an octogenarian) has just released a new album, titled Popular Problems. At a press availability in London (parts of which can be heard on BBC Radio 6), he was asked among other things about religion, and specifically how close he feels to his Jewish roots, and how that might manifest itself in his writing and his music. He answered:
Well, I grew up in a very conservative, observant family, so it’s not something that I ever felt any distance from, so it’s not something I have to publicize or display, but it is essential to my own survival. Those values that my family gave me—Torah values—are the ones that inform my life. So I never strayed very far from those influences.
It might actually surprise many to hear him speak in this way and also so directly on this, although perhaps it is uncommon for him to get asked the question so directly. Continue reading Leonard Cohen on Being Jewish
The video for David Bowie’s new single, “The Next Day,” has aroused considerable controversy due to its portrayal of Roman Catholic clergy-folk in a rather negative light, associating them with decadence, perversion, meanness, and sundry ills. The video also features some degree of “explicitness,” and climaxes (if you will) with one of the featured young ladies spewing great quantities of blood from holes in the palms of her hands. Bowie himself performs in the video dressed in robes that some say are intended to evoke a Jesus-Christ-like figure; I can’t say I disagree with that assessment. The video features actor Gary Oldman playing a priest and was directed by Floria Sigismondi. YouTube briefly pulled it due to the “explicitness,” but it’s been restored and can be viewed at this link.
What can one say? Aside from that which seems so obvious; i.e., that this is exceedingly boring territory. Attacking Roman Catholic clergy for sexual sins and hypocrisy is hardly groundbreaking stuff in 2013. Is David Bowie feeling so oppressed that he just had to make this kind of statement? The Roman Catholic Church, and Christianity generally, is waning to such a degree in Bowie’s native Europe that this seems an egregious case of kicking someone when they’re down. However, I think that one will notice, when observing mobs, that kicking someone when they’re down is a kind of primal urge that many people feel helpless to resist. Continue reading “The Next Day” – David Bowie Video Controversy
Scheduled for release on April 23rd in the U.S. (on Rounder Records) is a new album from Tom Jones, titled Spirit in the Room. It was released on the other side of the pond last year. I confess I’ve only just become aware of it, and that was through my encountering on YouTube the video for Tom Jones’ rendition of Leonard Cohen’s great old tune “Tower of Song,” which is the first track on the album.
This is one of those cases where yours truly tries not to come across too hyperbolic and breathless, but, frankly, hearing Tom Jones’ performance of this song left me simultanously devastated and delighted. It’s one of those musical moments I would compare to tripping over a bag in the street stuffed with two million dollars in unmarked bills, and making it all the way home with it safely. Those are the good days. If you have not heard it, do take a listen to it via the embedded YouTube clip here and I’ll say a few more words of my own about it below.
(A side-note: Many other artists ought to watch that clip and learn that there are ways to make videos that neither detract nor distract from the song. Kudos to the director, one Paul Caslin.)
The song was first recorded by Leonard Cohen on his great 1988 album I’m Your Man. Leonard’s version features a sparse kind of piano/synth arrangement, with backing singers, distinctly low-budget but witty. Yet Tom Jones’ stripped-down rendition makes Cohen’s seem exceedingly ornate by comparison.
To me, at least, Tom Jones’ version of “Tower of Song” is one of those revelatory performances where a singer takes a song to a place that the songwriter himself could not have envisioned, and lives in it and makes it his own.
When Cohen wrote the tune, it was the song and testament of a songwriter. He sounded pretty darned old in 1988, singing this song and looking back (and to a degree looking forward) on his life and the vocation of songwriting and meditating both profoundly and humorously upon it. He was in fact about fifty-four years of age. (Who knew that twenty-five years later he’d be experiencing a peak of popularity, undertaking huge concert tours and continuing to write some of the best songs of his career? Certainly he, of all people, did not know it.)
There is a couplet in the song that I think is crucial both to the original rendition and to this cover version:
I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
In Cohen’s version, this is an exquisite joke—a self-deprecating piece of irony. No one ever accused Leonard of having a golden voice, although many have accused him of having a voice comparable to considerably less precious substances. The couplet is both a gag and a metaphor: his gift, as we know, is actually that he is a writer. He is obliged by some ineffable commandment to write his songs, but he also finds that he must sing them himself, regardless of his voice, simply so that they will be heard.
Yet, sung by Tom Jones, the magical and beautiful thing is that Continue reading Tom Jones and a Towering “Tower of Song”
In concert lately, Leonard Cohen has been following his song “Amen” with his song “Come Healing,” which are both from his most recent album, Old Ideas.
There’s a fan’s YouTube clip embedded below, and a few thoughts from yours truly on the songs below that.
I think that “Amen” is as harrowing a song as he’s ever written. To my ears at any rate it is a deep moan to God, without sentimentality, laying out the worst of this world, begging maybe just to be able to believe it will be put right. Can God really want us, actually love us, after all of it? It’s a prayer for the evidence. Continue reading Leonard Cohen: “Amen” and “Come Healing”
We will never forget what happened. And we will never forget why.
I personally find Leonard Cohen’s “On That Day” to be a very affecting and exceptionally fine song. Embedded via YouTube below. (That “boinging” sound is Leonard’s self-accompaniment with a Jew’s Harp.)
Some people say
It’s what we deserve
For sins against g-d
For crimes in the world
I wouldn’t know
I’m just holding the fort
Since that day
They wounded New York
Some people say
They hate us of old
Our women unveiled
Our slaves and our gold
I wouldn’t know
I’m just holding the fort
But answer me this
I won’t take you to court
Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day
On that day
They wounded New York