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Sunday, 15 March 2009

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Andrew Shields

The Zurich concert last fall was absolutely brilliant from start to finish: a full band with no synthesizers, brilliant backup singers, and widely varying arrangements of the songs from start to finish. An absolute masterpiece of a show.

The Modesto Kid

Thanks for hipping me to some of Cohen's music, SEK -- I've got to say I don't fit into either of your categories. (Though as a brand-new listener to Cohen I guess "Cohenim" is not a category that includes me anyways.) Of the three albums I've been listening to I like "Songs of LC" (pre-L&H) and "New Skins" (post-L&H) both pretty equally, and both a whole lot more than I like Love and Hate. Listening to both of those records I feel like Cohen's persona comes through the speakers pretty fully formed -- Love and Hate is comparatively cryptic -- it's like I'm listening to a cipher with a golden voice.

Rich Puchalsky

Have to admit I like the Austin Lounge Lizards on Cohen, but don't have much of an opinion on him himself. (Link is to a truncated live version.)

Adam Roberts

Speaking personally, I prefer 'The Riders of Cohen'.

Ahistoricality

Rich, I mentioned the A.L.L. parody the last time Cohen came up at this blog, and didn't get any traction.

Regarding "Hallelujah," it's an OK Cohen song, to be sure (though I'm partial to Suzanne and That's no way to say goodbye), and I'm sure there aren't too many other ways to make it work besides Buckley's (I'm also sure that, having heard it, I don't need to hear it again for a long time).

But I don't understand how some things become classics and others don't. I don't know why "Last thing on my mind" is Tom Paxton's greatest hit, when "Outward Bound" is one of the greatest love songs in the English language (I do understand why "Marvelous Toy" was his second most popular song, though), or why Garnet Rogers isn't played on every country station on the continent, why Ellis Paul doesn't have the cachet that Cohen does.

I can't decide if that makes me old and sad, or young and callow.

JPool

I haven't spent enough time with Cohen's albums as albums -- though this post has inspired me to ask my public library to hook me up -- but I generally agree with you about the arc of his recorded material. It's an interesting contrast to Marianne Faithful whose heroin-ravaged voice was ill served by synth-pop and faux-reggae arrangements for years (though certain songs like "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" work well with their Eno-synthy music), but in more recent albums (Before the Poison and 20th Century Blues) has achieved true brilliance with more spare, acoustic music.

On concerts, have you listened to the recent Cohen concert that NPR podcast and that Bob Boilen raved about? I haven't had a chance to yet, but it sounds promising. On "Hallelujah," Buckley's great, but I do honestly prefer both John Cale's and Rufus Wainwright's versions.

Finally, I'm not entirely sure what Adam's talking about, but I hope that everyone will come out to see my forthcoming alt-country Cohen cover band, Children of the Cohen.

JPool

Ahistoricality, how about middle-aged and sallow.

Adam Roberts

JP: "Finally, I'm not entirely sure what Adam's talking about..."

Really? The Riders of Cohen is too obscure? (The Cohirrim?) Damn. I need to find me some less obscure cultural allusions.

JPool

I'm sure others got it instantly, I just didn't have my Tolkiendar switched on.

Also, it may be a dialect thing. In American English the H isn't pronounced (or at least isn't voiced) in Cohen and the second vowel is completely different from Rohan.

Adam Roberts

You can stop hitting now, dude. I think it's dead.

Ahistoricality

I kind of thought it was a "Riders In The Sky" reference, myself, but since I don't get a lot of Cohen references, I let it pass.

JPool, I'll cop to "middle-aged," anyway.

Rohan Maitzen

In American English the H isn't pronounced (or at least isn't voiced) in Cohen and the second vowel is completely different from Rohan.

Well, that depends... is it a "known fact" that the Tolkein pronunciation is "Ro-Han"? (I have a vested interest, obviously. My name is pronounced to rhyme with "Cohen." One of my life's FAQ is "Oh, were you named for those riders in Tolkein?")

The Modesto Kid

were you named for those riders in Tolkien?

(wondering all of a sudden how many 8-year-olds are out there named Frodo.)

Robert Zimmerman

The first assignment I give students in my songwriting class is find a song that has an especially strong synergy between words and music. About half the time, it seems, someone picks "Hallelujah." They bring in either the Buckley or Cale versions--it's a pretty even split. A year or so ago someone in class had Cohen's version on her iPod, and for some reason we played that one as well (I think she was claiming that Buckley had done it wrong). Most everyone who was used to the other versions was shocked if not mortified, including me. My first reaction was that it sounded positively sleezy.

Now that I've adjusted, I'd say that it's really a matter of sincerity. Cohen's is on the line between ironic and insincere, especially for the first couple of verses--it's not music for Shrek and Fiona to moon around to (I see it's on the Watchmen soundtrack, which seems like a better fit, though I haven't seen the movie). Everyone else approaches it with a superabundance of sincerity. They also approach it with the chops to really milk the second half of the verse--it's a sustained arc that takes more vocal fortitude than your average pop song. So maybe it's just that Cohen wrote a great song that he's not well suited to sing, which speaks well of his commitment to songwriting.

I'm not sure how that idea sits with the Cohenim, but it's a theory.

Rohan Maitzen

Just to be clear (not that anyone here cares), the answer to that FAQ is "No, I wasn't." I'll spare you the long answer!

I'm partial to "Suzanne" as well.

The Modesto Kid

"Suzanne" is indeed great, but here's a song that I'm really enthusiastic about right now: The Stranger Song. The verse endings -- "He was just some Joseph looking for a manger", "I told you when I came I was a stranger", "He wants to trade the game he plays for shelter" -- stay with me for hours after listening, these little crystaline images.

DellaD

Seems most of the Cohen community at the top site for his music, The Leonard Cohen Files, don't think much of the Jeff Buckley cover of "Hallelujah". I personally don't enjoy the Buckley version but it has, clearly, its devotees. It's been over-marketed and, now, more versions are being heard.

I believe the comment that Cohen's written a great song for singers is true.

Haven't yet seen The Watchmen, but I believe it's the live Cohen recording used for that scene aboard the Owl Ship. Director Zack Snyder had the Allison Crowe version in the movie but found it too sexy and beautiful so switched to Cohen for a more twisted experience.

Whatever unpredictability there was to Leonard Cohen concerts in years past, since he resumed touring last year his performances are consistently wonderful. Great band, and choice song sets. NPR has online a sampling from a recent NYC date.

JPool

My favorite cover of a Cohen song is The Pixies take on "I Can't Forget." The Cohen version is dreadful, but Black Francis (as he then was) both makes it positively jaunty and manages a nice balance between a swagger and a cry for help.

Ahistoricality

(wondering all of a sudden how many 8-year-olds are out there named Frodo.)

According to the Baby Name Voyager, I can't find any obviously LotR names in the top thousand.

Josh

Wait, SEK, we're only allowed to like the first three albums (four, including Live Songs) or the last ten? Huh? And does Blue Alert count as a Leonard Cohen album? I'm with JPool: it's easier to make distinctions by song than by album. But I don't see a reason to prefer the folky mode to the campy lounge singer mode or vice versa --it's all good by me, except maybe Dear Heather and Cohen Live. Best covers? Probably Fairport Convention, Jennifer Warnes, Johnny Cash, Rufus Wainwright, and a number of the artists on the I'm Your Fan album. Weakest covers have got to include Emmylou Harris's version of "Ballad of the Absent Mare" and some artists on the Tower of Song album.

Watchmen, IIRC, uses the original album version.

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