Rock & Roll RePast: Lyrics of Leonard Cohen

Posted: November 16th, 2023 | Filed under: Culture, Music, Rock & Roll Rewind | No Comments »

I am a lifelong rock & roller. I’ve got stories. Lots of stories. Here’s another.

It’s a game college hoops fans play while sitting around musing about their favorite sport.

If you need one play to be drawn up in a huddle to win a big game, what coach would you choose to do it?

Which rather specious analogy brings me to the subject or rock & roll lyrics.

Who is the best? Who is in the conversation?

Dylan (No first name necessary). Duh.

Joni (No last name necessary).

Paul Simon. Lucinda. John Prine.

Chuck Berry. (Surprise entry I know, but go listen to his wordcraft, brilliantly tapping into teen zeitgeist.)

Rock the coin into the slot/ Gotta hear somethin’ that’s really hot

There are others, of course.

Most of all, the enigmatic fellow who is the subject today.

Leonard Cohen. Whose universal fame came later in life. When his persona and craggy voice had softened.

His was a life of contradictions. Trysts. Chelsea Hotel. Rebecca DeMornay. Joni Mitchell. The spiritual. Jewish. Buddhist. A half decade of seclusion in a Zen monastery.

Late in life, he needed to tour incessantly to make up for the money a manager pilfered.

Cohen’s stature had been magnified by the popularity of his most famous tune, “Hallelujah.”

Which attention ironically only manifested itself, after John Cale crafted a stirring version on the tribute album “I’m Your Fan.”

Cohen’s masterpiece is indeed worthy of all the praise. It is full with all the contradictions of the songwriter’s life and contemplations.

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord/ That David played and it pleased the Lord/ But you don’t really care for music, do ya?/ It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth/ The minor fall, the major lift/ The baffled king composing “Hallelujah”

Then his ever present juxtaposition of the sacred and profane.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof/ You saw her bathing on the roof/ Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you/ She tied you to a kitchen chair/ She broke your throne, and she cut your hair/ And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

I always wonder if people are actually listening when it is played at oh so many weddings.

But it is too easy to fall in the trap of ignoring his many other creations equally as brilliant and compelling. Like “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/ Oh, a hundred floors above me in the tower of song

Or “Dance Me To The End of Love.”

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born/ Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn/ Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn/ Dance me to the end of love

Pure evocative genius. There are many more.

Oh my, like “Suzanne,” how could I forget? Its appearance on a Judy Collins album in the early 60s was my introduction.

And Jesus was a sailor/ When He walked upon the water/ And He spent a long time watching/ From His lonely wooden tower/ And when He knew for certain/ Only drowning men could see Him/ He said, “All men will be sailors then/ Until the sea shall free them”/ But He Himself was broken/ Long before the sky would open/ Forsaken, almost human/ He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

Or, “Everybody Knows.”

And everybody knows that it’s now or never/ Everybody knows that it’s me or you/ And everybody knows that you live forever/ Ah, when you’ve done a line or two/ Everybody knows the deal is rotten/ Old Black Joe’s still picking cotton/ For your ribbons and bows/ And everybody knows

I was blessed to hear Cohen live several times in his later years. He was a generous sweet performer, talking his way through his endless catalog. With an incredible ensemble, including the songbirds, Charley and Hattie Webb.

All of which is to offer: You looking for some lyric at an important moment, you might caste your gaze to fedored Leonard Cohen up there looking out a window of the Tower of Song.

— c d kaplan


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