Over the next two weeks, Cohencentric posting, if it takes place at all, will be sparse and sporadic.
[Country music] is the music I always reach for when I’m in the car. I like it because it’s a simple yet highly sophisticated music. It uses few chords, its simple structure lending it an attachment to austerity. Because of its simple structure, it has to be highly sophisticated if it is going to touch the heart without people saying yuk. Nobody gets away with anything in country lyrics. If you listen to them against pop lyrics, there’s no contest. Those guys know how to write a verse. It’s often complex stuff, about love and divorce and law and sometimes quite obscure feelings that make most pop music very, very kindergarten.
From Tortoise-Shell Hero by Biba Kopf. New Musical Express, March 2, 1985. Photo by Anne M Bra.. Originally posted June 5, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
Leonard Cohen – The Partisan
Reykjavik: June 24, 1988
This recording of The Partisan has appeared on and disappeared from YouTube several times. It’s available again – which is a good thing because Leonard Cohen, his musicians, and the song’s arrangement combine to offer the best presentation of “The Partisan” I’ve found. (Other worthy candidates can be found at Searching For The Best Online Video Of The Partisan By Leonard Cohen.)
The elements of the performance I find most impressive follow:
- While John Bilezikjian on the oud is featured, his passages, including even the first 45 seconds, during which Bilezikjian is literally spotlighted, are clearly integrated into the song rather than the song serving as a podium (or worse, an excuse) for an exhibition of a soloist talents.
- Similarly, the music produced by the oud fits and flavors the mood and lyrics of “The Partisan.” An all too real problem with instruments not often heard by audiences is the risk they may be perceived as novelties rather than contributors to the overall sound of the music.
- Cohen’s voice, which has significantly shifted over the years, has, at the time of this performance, deepened in comparison to the beginning of his career but hasn’t become as harsh (at least in this instance) as it does later – making it spot on for the romanticized story of bravery and loss told in the words of the song.
- The backup singers, Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, provide strong and needed support for Cohen without becoming overwhelming or competing for the audience’s attention. They also seem especially well attuned to Cohen’s timing and completely in sync with each other.
- Likewise, the band is faultless, never missing a note or extending one too long or cutting one off too soon.
- A simple but effective device, that unceasing drumbeat, sustains the pace and drive of the song.
This content was first posted May 28, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
Were you consulted about the songs in McCabe?
I was living in Franklin, in Tennessee, and I’d come into Nashville just to see a movie–we’d been living out in the sticks for a long time. And I saw this movie called Brewster McCloud. Have you seen it? It’s a very, very beautiful and I would say brilliant film. I sat through it twice. Maybe I just hadn’t seen a movie in a long time, but it was really fine. I was in the studio that night, in Nashville, and I got this call from a chap called Robert Altman. And he says, ‘Listen, you know, I love those songs, I’ve built a film around them, can I use them?’ I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘Well, I did M*A*S*H, that’s my film.’ I said, ‘I know it was enormously successful, but I haven’t seen it. Is there anything else that you’ve done that I might know?’ ‘Well, I did a picture that’s been completely buried, that you wouldn’t know about, it was called Brewster McCloud.’ I said, ‘Listen, I just came out of the theatre, I saw it twice, you can have anything of mine you want!’ I did do some additional music–only one thing that was used, I did a guitar background for a little soliloquy by Warren Beatty; it’s just barely perceptible but that is one of the nicest things I ever did, I love that piece. Then I saw the picture, the finished picture without the music, the soundtrack hadn’t been completed. And I said, ‘Listen, man, I’ve got to tell you–if we ever work together again I want you to know you can get an honest opinion from me–I don’t like it.’ He was quite hurt, as I would be too, but… Then I went to the theater in Montreal, and I saw the picture with the music and everything, and it was great! I called Altman in London, it took me two days to track him down, and told him, ‘Forget everything I said, it’s really beautiful.’
From Leonard Cohen: The Romantic In A Ragpicker’s Trade by Paul Williams (Crawdaddy, March 1975).
More posts about Leonard Cohen’s music in McCabe & Mrs Miller are found at McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Photo Credit: Ian Cook www.iancookphotography.com. Another Ian Cook photo of Leonard Cohen can be found at Now We Know: The Story Behind This Leonard Cohen Photo.