This entry is part of a series of posts dedicated to Leonard Cohen Album Logos.
We continue our focus on the hummingbird figure that is most closely associated with the hummingbird, heart, & handcuffs logo of the 1992 The Future album although it first appeared, as a solo act, on the 1979 Recent Songs album cover. The hummingbird, heart, & handcuffs logo is also prominently featured on the 1993 Tour programs, posters, and merchandise.1
Even a casual survey of Trochilidae-centered internet discussions convincingly demonstrates that when folks think about hummingbirds, the overwhelming majority of those thoughts fall into one of two categories: (1) Hummingbirds are a biological miracle (e.g., a hummingbird visits a thousand flowers daily, can fly backwards, dive at sixty miles an hour, fly 500 miles nonstop, …) or (2) Hummingbirds are lovely (one species is called “Beautiful Hummingbird”), joyful, and well, about as delightful as a human can tolerate.
When considered as a symbol, the hummingbird almost universally evokes positive connotations, a sense of happiness and loveliness. This excerpt from Universe Of Symbolism is representative:
Appearing out of no where the Hummingbird springs joy in the heart, and there is magic in the air in this moment of fleeting serendipity. Iridescent colors shimmering in the breeze, she pauses mid air to to drink in the sweet nectar that the flower so generously provides her. Hummingbird is a symbol of all things good.
The same source goes on at length about the hummingbird as an “enchantress,” “the perfect token to use in your spells of charm and love,” and its service as a “symbol of endurance, flexibility, and adaptability.” According to Spirit Animal, “The hummingbird generally symbolizes joy and playfulness, as well as adaptability.” A similar site notes that “The prime message of the hummingbird animal totem is: ‘The sweetest nectar is within!'” There is still more, but you get the idea.
The Leonard Cohen species of hummingbird appears to offer other qualities as well. The earliest reference to hummingbirds I’ve found in Cohen’s literary oeuvre are these sexually-charged allusions in his 1966 novel, Beautiful Losers:
I want thirteen-year-olds in my life. Bible King David had one to warm his dying bed. Why shouldn’t we associate with beautiful people? Tight, tight, tight, oh, I want to be trapped in a thirteen-year-old life. I know, I know about war and business. I am aware of shit. Thirteen-year-old electricity is very sweet to suck, and I am (or let me be) tender as a hummingbird. Don’t I have some hummingbird in my soul? Isn’t there something timeless and unutterably light in my lust hovering over a young wet crack in a blur of blond air? Oh come, hardy darlings, there is nothing of King Midas in my touch, I freeze nothing into money. I merely graze your hopeless nipples as they grow away from me into business problems. I change nothing as I float and sip under the first bra.
Bittersweet is the cunt sap of a thirteen year old. O Tongue of the Nation! Why don’t you speak for yourself? Can’t you see what is behind all this teen-age advertising? Is it only money? What does “wooing the teen-age market” really mean? Eh? Look at all the thirteen-year-old legs on the floor spread in front of the tv screen. Is it only to sell them cereals and cosmetics? Madison Avenue is thronged with hummingbirds who want to drink from those little barely haired crevices. Woo them, woo them, suited writers of commercial poems. Dying America wants a thirteen-year-old Abishag to warm its bed. Men who shave want little girls to ravish but sell them high heels instead.
Charity begins alone, F. used to say. Many long nights have taught me that the Chemistry Teacher is not merely a sneak. He loves youth truly. Advertising courts lovely things. Nobody wants to make life hell. In the hardest hard sell exists a thirsty love-torn hummingbird. F. wouldn’t want me to hate forever the men who pursued Edith.
Now, I will stipulate that not every sunbeam in a poem is necessarily a metaphor for Jesus and that the hummingbird of Beautiful Losers is not necessarily the textual equivalent of the hummingbird graphic flitting on the cover of The Future album. On the other hand, perhaps a certain energetically, precisely executed lust is necessary if, as Cohen puts it, the hummingbird is to “rescue the heart from the handcuffs”2
Credit Due Department: The fictitious book cover atop this post is adapted from the paperback edition of Beautiful Losers published by Text Publishing Company (Melbourne, Australia) Aug 12, 2008. Contributed by Dominique BOILE