Thursday, December 27, 2012

songs of leonard cohen

Leonard Cohen emerged as a powerful creative force at the pinnacle of his powers with the plaintive and poignant musical portraits of his pensive and personal poetry.  The Canadian poet and novelist had some minor success before moving to New York to become a singer / songwriter.  He had lived on the Greek island of Hydra and visited Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and his songs and delivery exuded a world weary wisdom.  He was discovered by John H. Hammond who signed him to Columbia Records.   'Songs of Leonard Cohen' was recorded at Columbia's Studio E in New York with producer John Simon, who replaced Hammond at the last minute because of illness.  Although Cohen wanted a very sparse sound, Simon insisted on doing arrangements with strings and horns. Cohen remembers:  "We did have a falling out over the song 'Suzanne'. He wanted a heavy piano syncopated and maybe drums and I didn't want drums on any of my songs, so that was a bone of contention. Also, he was ready to substitute this heavy chordal structure under the song to give it forward movement and I didn't like that."  The sessions also included some musical backing by the band Kaleidoscope and vocals by Nancy Priddy.  Cohen oversaw the final mix; but was unable to remove some of the additions from the master tape.  'Songs of Leonard Cohen' went to number eighty-three in the US and number thirteen in the UK. 

Cohen calls 'Suzanne' "a miracle. I don't know where the good songs come from or else I'd go there more often. I knew that I was on top of something. I developed the picking pattern first. I was spending a lot of time on the waterfront and the harbor area of Montreal. It hadn't been reconstructed yet. It's now called Old Montreal and a lot of buildings have been restored. It wasn't at that time. And there was that sailor's church that has the statue of the Virgin. Gilded so that the sun comes down on her. And I knew there was a song there. Then I met Suzanne, who was the wife of Armand Vaillancourt, a friend of mine. She was a dancer and she took me down to a place near the river. She was one of the first people to have a loft on the St. Laurent. I knew that it was about that church and I knew that it was about the river. I didn't know I had anything to crystallize the song. And then her name entered into the song, and then it was a matter of reportage, of really just being as accurate as I could about what she did." 

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.

'So Long, Marianne'
was inspired by Cohen's relationship with Marianne Jensen:  "I've always felt that the most important thing in this vale of tears was the relationships. I always thought that this was the real politics and that, you know, I think I wrote in purple prose somewhere that the state rose on a festered kiss, that all these institutions were the desperate and dismal alternatives to a failed embrace, and as Ginsberg observed, 'sex is the sport of the young', especially in those days when there were no epidemic inhibitions, so we were all struggling with our own desires, but Marianna consented to live with me, and she brought a tremendous sense of order into my life. She lived in a house very beautifully, it was really a great privilege to live in a house with her, she came from a Norwegian family that had roots in the countryside, and she had been brought up by her grandmother in the war, so she had the education of an older generation. Just the way that she laid a table, or lit candles, or cleaned the house, and she wasn't by any means confined to these kinds of activities that have come under the suspicion of feminists, but the way she inhabited a house was very, very nourishing. So it was a great privilege to be with her. She would put a gardenia on my table in the morning, and I was able to lead a very orderly life. She'd bring a sandwich to me while I was working. Well, these were not exactly, um, they had a real economic function, my work involved the support of our little family. It wasn't just that she was the muse, shining in front of the poet. She understood that it was a good idea to get me to my desk. So it was a very nourishing situation."

Come over to the window, my little darling, 
I'd like to try to read your palm. 
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy 
before I let you take me home. 
Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began 
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again. 
Well you know that I love to live with you, 
but you make me forget so very much. 
I forget to pray for the angels 
and then the angels forget to pray for us. 
Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ... 
We met when we were almost young 
deep in the green lilac park. 
You held on to me like I was a crucifix, 
as we went kneeling through the dark. 
Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ... 
Your letters they all say that you're beside me now. 
Then why do I feel alone? 
I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web 
is fastening my ankle to a stone. 
Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ... 
For now I need your hidden love. 
I'm cold as a new razor blade. 
You left when I told you I was curious, 
I never said that I was brave. 
Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ... 
Oh, you are really such a pretty one. 
I see you've gone and changed your name again. 
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside, 
to wash my eyelids in the rain! 
Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began ...

 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' full album:

01 00:00 "Suzanne" 
02 03:49 "Master Song" 
03 09:44 "Winter Lady" 
04 12:00 "The Stranger Song" 
05 17:06 "Sisters of Mercy" 
06 20:41 "So Long, Marianne" 
07 26:19 "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" 
08 29:15 "Stories of the Street" 
09 33:49 "Teachers" 
10 36:50 "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong"

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