Leonard Cohen at the Master’s feet
Leonard Cohen took his verse into music and stilled the world with his bleak melancholic. The euphoric “So Long Marianne”, “Sisters Of Mercy” and chilling “Who By Fire” continue to shiver through the lonely strains of a man’s heart. Tim Hardin sang his austere “Bird On The Wire”, (about birds on a telegraph wire in Hydra ) while the nineties gave us a superior version of Leonard’s “Hallelujah” through the octave gifted Jeff Buckley (son of Tim).
For those that can’t cry anymore Leonard took the pain and pierced it into our being so we could feel…. Leonard was the poet that caught the tears of Jesus and then washed the world, even more he was the waterbearer kneeling before the messiah as he carried the cross.
Leonard started out in a messianic Jewish family of Polish ancestry stemming from the highly acclaimed Koanim. Leonard’s first group The Buckskin Boys was a country endevour till the intellect of Mc Gill University pressed his first poetry book. Leonard’s swansong poetry book The Spice -Box Of Earth elevated him into the Canadian circles of poetry acceptance while his sexual Beautiful Losers and sarcastic innuendo Flowers For Hitler shocked Canadian reviewers. Cohen’s passion for Joni Mitchell at Newport in 67 resulted in Joni penning “The Gallery” and “That Song of Midway” for Leonard (Clouds) She speaks of Leonard as ‘You stood out like a Ruby in a Blackman’s Ear’. Leonard’s first live performance broke half way through the brittle “Suzanne”and stage fright sent him running into the wings. Judy led him back on stage and sang the ballad though with him. Leonard’s debut “Suzanne” dedicated not to his artist wife Suzanne Elrod, but to Suzanne Verdaal wife of Quebec sculptor Armand Vaillancourt came to light with Judy Collins.
“Suzanne” pre-emted Cohen’s’ gothic Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1967) backed by ex Floggs Chris Darrow / & Kaleidoscope (Suzanne really made tea out of orange peels) The first global illumination of the shadowy Songs of Leonard Cohen was in 1971 when M*A*S*H man Robert Altman use some of the songs for his soundtrack McCabe & Mrs. Miller. More definitively Leonard’s 1969 tour de force poetry songbook Songs From A Room was the peak illumination of poetry passion as it wheeled through the political waters of “The Partisan”, (French Resistance song by Anna Marly & Emmanuel d’Asier) or the working class tribute “A Bunch Of Lonesome Hero’s.” (back of the cover sat Marianne Jenson on the island of Hydra) Later Leonard would take the refrain of “A Bunch Of Lonesome Hero’s” and pay full tribute to Jenson with “So Long Marianne”.
Songs From A Room also conceived the daunting “Story Of Isaac” which blues guitarist Roy Buchanan covered superbly assisted by violinist Charlie Daniels.Leonard clearly saw himself as a leftist rebel with romantic virtues portrayed in the picture of him sporting a Che’ Guevara beard and military weariness. Having lived through the Cuban tensions of 1961 Leonard aligned himself with Fidel Castro plying through “Field Of Commander Cohen”, another political sapphire that illuminated his militant New Skin For Old Ceremony (answer to Buckley’s “No Man Can Find The War”).
Leonard felt passionately for the struggling partisan allowing another New Skin political Zeitgeist, the rousing “There Is A War” to open Gary Oldman’s soundtrack The Backwoods. New Skin also unravelled the aching “Take This Longing”, an unsung chalice of anointing oil. Leonard’s obsession with the underdog remained consistent from his ode to “The Partisan” or his “The Old Revolution” written from the point of a defeated loyalist.
The album also conceived Leonard’s #2 “Chelsea Hotel” which speaks of late night seance with Janis Joplin. Janis was apparently looking for Kris Kristofferson but didn’t care once wrapped in the loins of Leonard’s lament. Leonard’s Jewish heritage is deeply rooted in the lyrics of “Who By Fire”, a reflection of the Rosh Hashanah liturgical poem written by Unetaneh Tokef in the 11th century. Further Jewish flight into “Hallelujah” describes David’s attempt to please the Lord or more accurately sooth King Saul’s demonic oppression. Leonard the true loyalist toured Israel during the Yom Kippur war and often with Jennifer Warnes who restored Leonard’s US popularity with her tribute Famous Blue Raincoat. Jennifer’s stirring rendition of “First We Take Manhattan”, an anti-drug attack similar to the addict alleys of “Wir Kinderen Vom Banhof Zoo”, which Bowie enhanced through Christiane F. Jennifer also wades into the meditative strains of a sexual “Joan Of Arc”, a song that strokes the sensual illusions of Martin Scorsese’ The Last Temptation of Christ or Velvet Underground’s Nico.
The Nico conquest came during Leonard’s Songs Of Love And Hate which Nick Cave is still trying to emulate. Leonard was everywhere sharing a cognac with General Ariel Sharon and summing up his Middle Eastern Sabbatical with “Lover Lover Lover” for the wives / soldiers of Arab and Jew alike after been demoralised by the dead and wounded. Leonard’s 1984 Various Positions featured the understated “Hallelujah” a soaring hymn for Jeff Buckley. Leonard’s 1987 I’m Your Man marked a change in his music as it lauded itself in Nanni Moretti’s film Caro Diaro in 1993 with Moretti himself deciding to ride his Vespa along the streets of Rome to the sound of “I’m Your Man”. The Grunge generation got hooked line and tattoo to Leonard through Natural Born Killers ( “Waiting For The Miracle”) years after its original release. Leonard adopted a Buddhist lifestyle in the ensuing wartorn Arabic years of 2001. In Dec 2008 Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was embarrassingly discovered through American Idol, Jason Castro and now the world discovers Jeff Buckley’s angelic version some 14 years after Jeff released it on his riveting Grace. A few days later, Mr Cohen was inducted into the American ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ in recognition of his status -“highest and most influential echelon of songwriters”.
(Sadly like Carlos Santana it needed a hedonist embrace to enter the secluded door of poetic prognosis)
Mr Cohen was introduced by his old ‘Warhol Factory’ associate Lou Reed. January 13, 2008, Leonard Cohen announced a long-anticipated concert tour that froze Glastonbury with it’s intrinsic solace and then reached into the well and retrieved a gospel styled “Hallelujah” with Neil Larsen on the soulful Hammond. The London performance reached liquid actualisation on “Who by Fire” with Javier Mas reaching into the realm of a Grecian muse with his Banduria. This was later released on CD/ DVD bringing tears to members of Pink Floyd in the front row while I sat in distant shadows wondering ‘Is This What You Wanted’ ?
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