A full range, from mildly depressing, to moderately depressing, to starkly and darkly depressing. That is the picture some have of the work of Canadian poet and novelist turned singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen (b. 1934). Yet this is the man who, during recent world tours, can return for a second, or sometimes third, standing-ovation encore with a sparkle in the eye and the song, "I Tried to Leave You," . . .
Others will see only the unfiltered religious uplift they somehow manage to perceive in Cohen's richly-orchestrated "Hallelujah." Yet just-last-year's, "Amen," is - thank the Almighty - hardly, "Hallelujah, part II," what with its steering of even the most sacred imagery toward the carnal refrain, "Tell me again . . . Tell me that you want me then. Amen."
Do the successions of contradictory images and apparent non-sequiturs, the recurrent themes of need and brokenness and of difficult and limited redemption, of burden, distant unencumbered light and constant romantic entanglement, always add up to anything? I dunno. But we aims to find out, once and for all.
In addition to illustrating the progression in Cohen's musical style, both, "Suzanne" [link below to the 1966 Judy Collins cover, a year before Leonard's debut album opened with an even more spare version] and the aforementioned, "Hallelujah" [2nd link below to the 1984 original] are touchstones of turn-of-the-century cultural literacy:
To achieve a fair variety in our meeting, the current plan is to focus on Cohen's, "Anthem," "Field Commander Cohen," "Fingerprints," and "Going Home," although by show-time that could change. Among other possibilities are, "Democracy," "Everybody Knows," "The Future," and "Tower of Song," as well as a handful of shorter works. Text, and, probably, audio versions of these are almost certainly available online.
Attendees are encouraged - nay, challenged - to bring along a Leonard Cohen poem or lyric that deeply impresses, amuses or confounds them. If not a poem entire, at least a fragment, phrase or line. Let's close for now with this 1972 mixture of pop whimsy and profound subject matter:
One of the lizards
was blowing bubbles
as it did pushups on the tree trunk
I did pushups this morning
on the carpet
and I blew bubbles of Bazooka
last night in the car
I believe the mystics are right
when they say we are all One
[Leonard Cohen performs March 22 at The Fox - tickets have sold well]