Monday, November 21, 2016

Leonard Cohen ZT"L

Leonard Cohen died two weeks ago. Those of us who knew his work mourn. The initials in the title of this post ZT"L signify zekher tzadik livrakha,  a Hebrew phrase meaning "may the memory of
the righteous be a blessing". They reflect my estimate of Leonard's importance as a spiritual figure in our time.

My daughter, who used to work in the music industry, had the privileged of working with Leonard within recent years. She worked with a lot of pop stars, and has very little use for most of them. She loved Leonard, whom she said was a better human being than he was an artist.

Many of Leonard's fans thought that he deserved the Nobel prize over Bob Dylan. I don't have a strong view on that. I love Bob's music too. And it was Bob who pioneered the use of popular music as the vehicle for lyric poetry in the modern age. Leonard, who was older than Bob, and who had embarked on a literary career before Bob burst on the scene, followed Bob.

On the other hand, Leonard's lyrics are to me profound and moving, more poetic than musical, but ultimately they are rewarding and will endure for many years.

The following is a list of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs, with links to YouTube video's of them and a brief comment  that reflects nothing more than my naive view. I urge to try some of them, you will be glad you did.

Leonard's first hit, which he first published as a poem, and later set it to music. It was recorded by Judy Collins and became a hit for her in 1967:
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever

Leonard Cohen early recording:
The truth is that Leonard couldn't sing. In later years he got better at hiding behind his back-up
Leonard knew it:
"Tower of Song"
 (Live in London) --
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

"A Thousand Kisses Deep"
Leonard Cohen:

Leonard had an many loves

"In My Secret Life"

Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson:

Leonard struggled with Eros.

"Everybody Knows"
Leonard Cohen:
You did not want to be one of his ex girlfriends:
Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

"Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodby"
Except sometimes
Roberta Flack's cover is killer:


Speaking of Covers
Willie Nelson covers one of Leonard's first songs so well, you might think Willie wrote it.
"Bird on a Wire"


"Sisters of Mercy"
Leonard Cohen:

One of his first songs, but best sung by him at age 73 in 2008.

 "First We Take Manhattan (Then We Take Berlin)"
Leonard Cohen:

Kind of funny, but it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

 "Dance Me to the End of Love"
Leonard Cohen:
For your wedding and your fiftieth anniversary
The video will make you cry.
David and Bathsheba, with a touch of Samson and Delilah, and Leonard and one of his ex girlfriends.
Studio version by Leonard Cohen:
Leonard's London, UK concert:
Best Cover by Jeff Buckley:
"Here It Is"
Leonard Cohen:

Leonard flips the script and identifies with a King

"If It Be Your Will"
Leonard Cohen (with Jennifer Warnes):
A prayer. See Ps 98:8


Leonard Cohen:
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Based on the Kabbalah of Rabbi Issac Luria (1534-72) and the "Zohar" (Book of Splendor, a medieval mystical commentary on the Torah).
"The Future"
Leonard Cohen:
Leonard's dire prophecy:

You don't know me from the wind you never will, you never did.
I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible.
I've seen the nations rise and fall.
I've heard their stories, heard them all, but love's the only engine of survival.
Your servant here, he has been told to say it clear, to say it cold:
It's over, it ain't going any further.
And now the wheels of heaven stop, you feel the devil's riding crop.
Get ready for the future -- it is murder.
Things are going to slide, slide in all directions.
There won't be nothing you can measure anymore.
The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and has overturned the order of the soul.
When they said repent, I wonder what they meant.
"Who by Fire"
Leonard Cohen:
Great instrumental work on this version:
Leonard answers his own question from "The Future" in this song. It is from the liturgy of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah new year and Yom Kippur day of repentance). The section called Unetanneh Tokef, says:

On Rosh Hashanah the Book of Life is written,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed,
Who shall live and who shall die
Who at the measure of days and who before
Who by fire ...
The song uses some of the traditional wording, and adds a couple:
And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt
Who by avalanche, who by powder
But, to me, the brilliant addition that makes the prayer much more immediate is the repeated line:

"And who shall I say is calling?"

The prayer, but not the song, ends with the refrain: "Repentance, prayer, and charity temper the stern decree"
"By the Rivers Dark"
Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson:
Leonard strives with God.
Gen 32:28 Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."
Leonard Cohen:

Leonard mocks old age
"Going Home"
Leonard Cohen:

God and Leonard discuss the end of life
"You Want It Darker"
Leonard Cohen"
The song was released on September 21, 2016. Leonard died on November 7. The song is very clearly his his vidui (confession) and valedictory. It features Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the men’s choir of Montreal synagogue Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (Gates of Heaven), where Cohen grew up, and where he was buried.
The first refrain is:
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name This is the beginning of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for Mourners
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame A reference to Jesus, or perhaps
A million candles burning for the love that never came The Holocaust
The second refrain is:
Hineni, hineni, I'm ready, my Lord

Hinneni is a Hebrew word used in the Bible: “Here I am!” (Abraham to God, Genesis 22:1); an by God: “I promised and am now at hand (hinneni)” (Isaiah 52:6).
It is the essence of the song.

The song is very difficult for me to listen to. It is somber, sad, frightening, and very beautiful.

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