Saturday, April 8, 2006

Leonard, the Master

I was introduced to his words via Jeff Buckley's reinvention of 'Hallelujah'. From then on, Leonard's poetry had me rapt, for it is rare that music and literature fuse so perfectly - but his music didn't quite do it yet for me. For instance, I didn't think much of his nasal voice after hearing Jeff Buckley. To me, Leonard and Bob Dylan had one thing in common: their songs sounded better sung by other people.

And then there were other peeves, such as his use of 'thee' instead of 'you', and sometimes the lazy drums on his ballads.

My perceptions, of course, changed entirely one fateful morning.

One day, Tahi put on a Leonard Cohen CD into our stereo-alarm-clock. (It always is much more pleasant waking up to one's favourite music instead of a rude ring.) So it was that one morning, Leonard's song (this will make my Perfect List, btw) 'Suzanne' drifted out of my dreams and into the morning light. By the time he got to the chorus:

And you want to travel with her / And you want to travel blind / And you know that she will trust you / For you've touched her perfect body with your mind

I thought, I know how that feels completely. Suzanne is about two friends who can only be best described in our language as "soul lovers". I'm sure the Greeks, with their many terms for love, have a better term. After that, there was no turning back. I loved Leonard's voice, and was always disappointed when he had other people sing it for him on his records.

His music from the 80s is edgy and witty:

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win / You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline / How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin / First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

...which still manages to interest me despite the record's 80-ish sounds. Even with his latest record, I have learnt to appreciate Leonard's stubborn adherence to dated-sounding synths; somehow he manages to make them sound sexy.

After a long silence, Leonard finally released in 2004 his latest effort: 'Dear Heather'. When it appeared in the stores, we got it immediately. To my relief, it was different from anything he had done before, and it gets better with every listen.

Like John Keats, Leonard the poet is also Leonard the lover. Nowadays he spends most of his time on Mount Baldy, where he practises Rinzai Zen under his master. Despite the seeming abstinence from hedonism, he still manages to perform some highly erotic lyrics in his now deep husky voice:

Because of a few songs / Wherein I spoke of their mystery, / Women have been / Exceptionally kind to my old age. They make a secret place / In their busy lives / And they take me there. / They become naked / In their different ways and they say, / "Look at me, Leonard / Look at me one last time." / Then they bend over the bed / And cover me up / Like a baby that is shivering.

I'd be exceptionally kind to you, Leonard *wink*. Now, dear reader, I'll leave you with the words from the quietly magnificent Suzanne in its entirety:

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.

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
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
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
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.


gnute said...

Some links, if I've piqued your interest.

There is available a transcript of a 'fan' q & a. One part in particular had me burst out laughing:

Marco: Once you said that you wished you could have been like a poet whose songs are sung from chinese women washing clothes on a river. Is it still this your goal? Thank you for EVERYTHING

Leonard Cohen: Dear Marco, They don't have to be Chinese. Thanks for listening.


Anonymous said...

his soft guitars and gentle man voice would make very good wake up noises...but i fear i might sleep even more pleasantly if "songs from a room" were played. so nice hor..

Anonymous said...

- jun

gnute said...

His records have been on rotation on our stereo for the past week :)

It's high time he made a new one, dontcha think.