Sunday, August 10, 2014

new skin for the old ceremony

Leonard Cohen died for the lies on the battlefield of love and turned boredom advertised as poetry into haunted spirit songs of touristry, transference, and truth.  After a trio of critically acclaimed albums ('Songs of Leonard Cohen', 'Songs from a Room', and 'Songs of Love and Hate') he had become disillusioned with the music business and sought to disentangle himself:  "I just cannot stand to remain a part of it.  I've reached a state when I'm just not writing anything and that's no way to be.  I'll still write songs if I feel they are good I'll think about recording them; but there'll be no case of my writing songs just for the sake of it."  

Cohen continued to write poetry and songs and in April of 1974 went into Sound Ideas Studio in New York to record 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony' with co-producer John Lissauer.  The album features Leonard Cohen on guitar and vocals;  with  John Lissauer on woodwinds, keyboards, backup vocals, and arrangements;   Jeff Layton on banjo, mandolin, guitar, and trumpet;   Janis Ian on vocals;   Emily Bindiger, Erin Dickins, and Gail Kantor on backup vocals;  Gerald Chamberlain on trombones;   Lewis Furey on viola;  Ralph Gibson on guitar;   Armen Halburian and Barry Lazarowitz on percussion;   John Miller and Don Payne on bass;  and Roy Markowitz on drums.   

Cohen would reflect at the time:   "I really never left. The announcement of my retirement was the result of a bit of sensationalism by a journalist who either took very lightly, or freely interpreted, something I said. There are times when one is facing a crisis, and the tone of what is said can be freely interpreted by anyone with a little imagination. In one of those good or bad moments of sincerity, when words come from the heart more than from the brain, that announcement was generated...It's hard from the very first, when I first start thinking of immersing myself again into the hecticness of constant travel, interviews, concerts. Today I sing here and tomorrow there, which means I never get to know people, the cities they live in, their problems, their circumstances. That makes me feel strange, as if I were not really me, only a person who is passing through, at whom people look, whom they hear, and nothing more. But I also do this in order to give myself some concrete answers at specific times in my life. I decided to make this tour, for example, as a way of reviewing my own capabilities, as a profound analysis...My work is always autobiographical, and, I hope, objective. Of course, I am like my songs; but I don't consider myself sad, so I don't think my songs are sad...It's possible that sincerity might be confused with many things, especially in the world of music, where so many commercial currents run. In any case, it's only a question of coloring. My music is a reflection of my personality, and my personality is a reflection of all that surrounds me. For me, seeing all of this as my work, the most important thing is to be worthy. So, I treat this world that surrounds me with the integrity and dignity necessary to bring it, through me, to everyone else. After that, it is the spiritual state of each person that determines how it will affect her or him. A person could think that I or my songs are sad because of that person's own spiritual state, because they are not affected by the chaotic emotions that surround us, because they are living in another state, and I don't mean to say that that state is more superficial or ordinary, on the contrary, it is the way of being forged by each individual, in which they live. But their power to understand will be affected by what they feel, and by the meaning they give to things. My songs are life and the facts of each day, and I am my songs...My songs have to be lived from the inside. No one will be able to see anything in them, if they are on the outside. The fact that people buy my albums or that people are interested in me means that there are many people inside these songs. We can't talk about virtues, only about creating some relationships which people can then identify with...People are a complex of everyday heroes, at least that's what I feel. There are millions of faces and personalities, but all together they form a people. Then, within each group, there emerges a value system that makes some into leaders and others into followers, that makes some into celebrities, and others into unknown people. All of them are heroes, but each with a different destiny...I don't consider myself a great singer. I just play the guitar and interpret my lyrics. I do what I do because I have a need to do it, to express what I know, and to show people what I do...Critics view things with a certain coldness, they focus on the sound, whether it's good or bad, whether one plays the guitar well, on whether there is a large audience, and sometimes they can't see real success, because they don't look into the soul of the audience nor into the soul of the singer. I've seen the people applauding from their hearts, and that is what is truly important for me...I am content, happy...There are those who sing commercially who sing laughing, who prance around and make a show, because this is their job. I sing serious songs, and I'm serious onstage because I couldn't do it any other way. I think that a bullfighter doesn't enter the ring laughing, rather, he enters thinking that he is betting his life against the bull...I don't think of myself as a singer, writer, or any other thing, the job of being a man is much more than any of that."

'New Skin for the Old Ceremony'  charted at number eighty-six in Australia, twenty-four in the UK, eighteen in the Netherlands, seventeen in Germany, and two in Austria.  The original artwork featured angelic beings in sexual embrace from 'Rosarium Philosophorum' and proved too racy for Colombia Records. 

There Is a War

There is a war between the rich and poor, 

a war between the man and the woman. 
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war 
and the ones who say there isn't.
Why don't you come on back to the war, that's right, get in it, 
why don't you come on back to the war, it's just beginning.
Well I live here with a woman and a child, 
the situation makes me kind of nervous. 
Yes, I rise up from her arms, she says "I guess you call this love"; 
I call it service.
Why don't you come on back to the war, don't be a tourist, 
why don't you come on back to the war, before it hurts us, 
why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get nervous.
You cannot stand what I've become, 
you much prefer the gentleman I was before. 
I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control, 
I didn't even know there was a war.
Why don't you come on back to the war, don't be embarrassed, 
why don't you come on back to the war, you can still get married.
There is a war between the rich and poor, 
a war between the man and the woman. 
There is a war between the left and right, 
a war between the black and white, 
a war between the odd and the even.
Why don't you come on back to the war, pick up your tiny burden, 
why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get even, 
why don't you come on back to the war, can't you hear me speaking?

Who by Fire

And who by fire, who by water, 
who in the sunshine, who in the night time, 
who by high ordeal, who by common trial, 
who in your merry merry month of may, 
who by very slow decay, 
and who shall I say is calling?
And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate, 
who in these realms of love, who by something blunt, 
and who by avalanche, who by powder, 
who for his greed, who for his hunger, 
and who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident, 

who in solitude, who in this mirror, 
who by his lady's command, who by his own hand, 
who in mortal chains, who in power, 
and who shall I say is calling?

Chelsea Hotel #2
"There was the sole indiscretion, in my professional life, that I deeply regret, because I associated a woman's name with a song, and in the song I mentioned, I used the line "giving me head on an unmade bed while the limousines wait in the street", and I've always disliked the locker- room approach to these matters, I've never spoken in any concrete terms of a woman with whom I've had any intimate relationships. And I named Janis Joplin in that song, I don't know when it started, but I connected her name with the song, and I've been feeling very bad about that ever since, it's an indiscretion for which I'm very sorry, and if there is some way of apologising to the ghost, I want to apologise now, for having committed that indiscretion."

I remember you 
well in the Chelsea Hotel, 
you were talking so brave and so sweet, 
giving me head on the unmade bed, 
while the limousines wait in the street. 
Those were the reasons and that was New York, 
we were running for the money and the flesh. 
And that was called love for the workers in song 
probably still is for those of them left.
Ah but you got away, didn't you babe, 
you just turned your back on the crowd, 
you got away, I never once heard you say, 
I need you, I don't need you, 
I need you, I don't need you 
and all of that jiving around.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel 

you were famous, your heart was a legend. 
You told me again you preferred handsome men 
but for me you would make an exception. 
And clenching your fist for the ones like us 
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, 
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind, 
we are ugly but we have the music."

And then you got away, didn't you babe...

I don't mean to suggest that I loved you the best, 

I can't keep track of each fallen robin. 
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, 
that's all, I don't even think of you that often. 

'New Skin for the Old Ceremony' 
full album:

Side one
"Is This What You Wanted" – 4:13
"Chelsea Hotel #2" – 3:06
"Lover Lover Lover" – 3:19
"Field Commander Cohen" – 3:59
"Why Don't You Try" – 3:50
Side two
"There Is a War" – 2:59
"A Singer Must Die" – 3:17
"I Tried to Leave You" – 2:40
"Who by Fire" – 2:33
"Take This Longing" – 4:06
"Leaving Green Sleeves" – 2:38

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