Songs Of Leonard Cohen #2 On Uncut’s 50 Best Singer-Songwriter Albums

singersongwriters

2. Leonard Cohen
Songs Of Leonard Cohen
(Columbia, 1967)

A key album for any singer-songwriter intent on turning real life experiences into song, Cohen’s debut is scattered with names, places and events explicitly drawn from his first 33 years. “Suzanne” recalls his ritualistic – and platonic – meetings in Montreal with Suzanne Verdal, while the titular woman of “So Long, Marianne” is Marianne Jensen, his lover and muse for much of the ’60s. “Sisters Of Mercy”, which dramatises a night spent with two women in an Edmonton hotel room, is the first of countless Cohen songs seeking spiritual salvation from a sensual encounter. His songs turned inward to much darker effect on Songs Of Love And Hate, but his debut album set the standard.

Uncut’s 50 Best Singer-Songwriter Albums by Tom Pinnock (Uncut: June 12, 2015)

“[Leonard Cohen] is not hiding from sentiment; he’s getting out of its way”

hallelsccrnsht

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In reality, he was a guy who always meant everything he was singing but also knew where he fit into the pop world — and that wasn’t alongside Barbra Streisand in any lung-busting competition. So Cohen relied on other musical tools to put emotion across, which in 1984 meant a primitive Casio synthesizer that gave ‘Hallelujah’ all the atmosphere of a storefront church. And guess what? You compare his version now to the dozens of others that have sprung up since and Cohen’s feels the most desperate and alive by far.quotedown2

 

From What did Leonard Cohen really mean when he sang ‘Hallelujah’? by Mikael Wood (LA Times: Nov 11, 2016). This is an especially well written, convincing article examining Leonard Cohen’s musical and lyrical construction of Hallelujah. Highly recommended.

“[Leonard Cohen’s The Energy of Slaves & Death of a Lady’s Man] remain secret books; deeply personal … unlike almost anything else in our literature from the period.”

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Both The Energy of Slaves and Death of a Lady’s Man are almost wholly bare of Jewish reference. We are nowhere near the lush and loveable biblical imagery of Cohen’s best known song, Hallelujah. In a few poems in Death of a Lady’s Man one gets the impression that Cohen has been reading his Bible. In one he suggests that the patriarch’s prescription for building an altar there is useful material for him as he thinks of building a book of poems. Jewishness, when it enters the poems, is a kind of occult code, as mysterious as the 16th century image on the book’s dust cover. Cohen’s poetry volumes for the ’70s remain secret books; deeply personal, cruel in their emotional landscape; unlike almost anything else in our literature from the period. They’re not an easy read. But they are fine to hold in your hand, like an old dinged-up but eminently playable guitar.quotedown2

 

From The books that got away: Leonard Cohen in the ’70s by Norman Ravvin (Canadian Jewish News: January 20, 2017). The complete article is available at the link.

University of Toronto Centre For Ethics Presents “Leonard Cohen: Ethics and the Artist” Feb. 9, 2017

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Join us for an interdisciplinary panel discussion of the ethical dimensions of Leonard Cohen’s life and work…and catch a choir performing selections from Cohen’s songbook.

When: Feb. 9, 2017, 12:15-2PM
Where: Vivian and David Campbell Conference Facility, Munk School of Global Affairs, 1 Devonshire Place, University of Toronto

Information from and registration available at University Of Toronto Centre for Ethics

“A poet, a novelist, a one-time monk, a veteran clothes horse and a multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen certainly plays a bow multi-strung.”

Opening line of Leonard Cohen live in London: our highlights [Review of June 21, 2016 concert at London 02 Arena] by Joe Daniels. GQ: 25 June 2013. Update: No longer online; copy accessible at LeonardCohenForum. Note: Originally posted June 25, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

The Half-Sister Of Mercy, Leonard Cohen, & DrHGuy

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Introduction: This post is part of The 2009 Beacon Theatre Show Detour in the saga of How DrHGuy First Connected With Leonard Cohen.

 

On The Sidewalk In Front Of The Beacon Theatre Before The Leonard Cohen Concert, I met …

among others waiting for the theater doors to open on that cold February night,

  • A thirty-something entrepreneur so intent on seeing Leonard Cohen perform that he had flown from South Africa to New York that afternoon with the return flight scheduled to depart only hours after the end of the show
  • A mother and daughter, both of whom eagerly confessed to harboring lurid aspirations vis-a-vis Mr. Cohen
  • A native New Yorker who asked me if Leonard Cohen was indeed performing at the Beacon that night and, following my confirmation of the announcement on the marquee, promptly engaged a scalper in an animated and easily overheard conversation which concluded less than a minute later with her purchase of a balcony ticket for several hundred dollars over the original price
  • The Girl With The Leonard Cohen Tattoo

and, as the perceptive reader might deduce from  the title of this post, I met The Half-Sister Of Mercy (HSOM).

An Aside On Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters Of Mercy”

Leonard Cohen has told the back story of his song, “Sisters Of Mercy” man times1 This rendition is an excerpt from a December 4, 1974 interview quoted at Diamonds In The Lines: Leonard Cohen In His Own Live Words:

… like a lot of my material it’s [the song, “Sisters of Mercy” is] just completely documentary. It doesn’t concern high metaphysical questions but an accurate reportage as authentic and precise as I can make it, a description of exactly what happened on the interior landscape. And I was in Edmonton during a tour by myself of Canada, I guess this was around 67. I was walking along one of the main streets of Edmonton, it was bitter cold ; and I knew no-one and I passed these two girls on a doorway. They invited me to stand in the doorway with them. Of course I did. And some time later, we found ourselves in my little Hotel room in Edmonton and the three of us were gonna go to sleep together. Of course I had all kinds of erotic fantasies of what the evening might bring. … And we went to bed together and I think we all jammed into this one small couch in this little Hotel and it became clear that it wasn’t the purpose of the evening at all. And at one point, in the night, I found myself unable to sleep, I got up, and by the moonlight – It was very very bright, the moon was being reflected off the snow, and my windows were very bright – I wrote that poem by the ice-reflected moonlight while these women were sleeping and it was one of the few songs that I ever wrote from top to bottom without a line of revision . The words flowed and the melody flowed and by the time they woke up the next morning, it was dawn. I had this completed song to sing to them.

To those readers who know me and are now beginning to panic, be assured that, mercifully, in the story of the HSOM and me, I do not write nor do I sing a song.

DrHGuy Gets Lucky

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  1. Sisters Of Mercy Lyrics

    Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
    They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
    And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
    Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been traveling so long.

    Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
    It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
    Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
    When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

    Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them.
    They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
    If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
    they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.

    When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
    Don’t turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon.
    And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night:
    We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right,
    We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right
    . []