I’m Your Man | Part 1
I have challenged myself to write about the great man… the wonderful man... the one who sang ‘I’m Your Man,’ (have you guessed yet?)
Leonard Cohen – The Songwriter’s Songwriter | Part 1
John Turner | Communications Director at AnotherTicket
John here! In this first section of the blog, I have challenged myself to write about the great man… the wonderful man... the one who sang ‘I’m Your Man,’ (have you guessed yet?) and NOT use any Google-ness or cheating: everything you read is from my own knowledge and love of the poet, the novelist, songwriter, (and so much more!) the one-of-a-kind: Leonard Cohen. In Section Two, Matthew will take over and talk about what brought him to a not necessarily (!!) homo-erotic fascination of the man, the great man… the same man… the ‘I’m Your Man.’
I’d like to place a memory next to the very first Leonard Cohen song I heard, but that would be giving the grey matter too much credit: I can’t quite remember. I do recall being in a folk club in Liverpool and one of the open-mic artists struggling with a particular line in his competent B-minor cover of Chelsea Hotel. You know the one, right? Afterwards, the twenty-something apologised for one of the lines in that brilliant tune about Janis Joplin. No, bad mistake: you don’t cover a great song by choice and then apologise for the content. That’s like a cop apologising to a burglar that, ‘I’m only doing my duty.’ Besides, it’s a mistake to be so superficial with words: some of the best ones offend, yes, but, most importantly, provoke a reaction, often a worthwhile one. We won’t achieve world peace by beating around the bush. Agreed?
Besides so many other elements, it’s the nylon strings that hook me into the words: that soft arpeggio-attack (a pretty neat paradox for a man who penned many of his own) that lends kindness to the darkness that envelops so much of Cohen’s work. Still, ‘darkness’ gets a bad rap; (so Lit students, go easy on this one in your next essay) – one could argue it’s prejudiced to suggest that this shade (let’s note that darkness is often a shade of lesser light, not its total absence) is akin to misery or fear of the unknown. As the great man says, ‘There’s a crack in everything // That’s how the light gets in.’ Without the crack, how does hope enter? This, my AT pals, is why Leonard is my kind of guy: he embraces what others see as imperfection and he explores the potential. Throughout his life, he suffered from depression, yes. But he never gave up. Indeed, he lived a fuller and longer life than many of his counterparts. Call this ‘darkness’? Besides this, his words fill suitcases of lilting paradoxes: honey and vinegar: sweet and sour: acrid and beautiful. How many other songwriters are so prolific and so damn talented?
I remember once speaking to a group of students about how Cohen struggled with reducing his eighty verses he’d composed for the paragon that is Hallelujah. (More on that by Matthew Butlin in Part 2) I was talking about the writing process and the importance of ‘killing your darlings.’ In other words, even when you have something you know is great, be it a scene in a screenplay, verse in a poem or line in a novel, sometimes even if you love it, the darling has to go. For every real muso I’ve known, for every girl and gal with a geetar, it’s the great man’s words that go a long way. Words. So what about the voice?
Okay, I think I can comment on this one. I’m a songwriter and I rate the hell out of the words I commit to the chords. But my voice… yeah, that’s never been too great. Some people can’t see beyond this. Sometimes I’ve asked others to sing for me. Likewise, Leonard’s gruelling tones have never readily come pre-packaged with the sweetness of other singers. Need I say that we all know, those who know, (dare I say ‘Everybody Knows’?!) that it’s not about the voice. We also know that he was novelist and poet first, singer later. We also know, like a companion whom we come to love, rather than ‘fall for’ on the first date, that the warmth comes in time. So, when you’re next listening to ‘You Want It Darker,’ Cohen’s final album, you’re not thinking of anything other than: ‘Wow, here’s a man who not long ago completed a long tour in his later years, fell in love again with his audiences, and is still writing beautifully, magnificently.. and more astoundingly than the rest.’ Indeed, if you haven’t heard this last album, do so: thanks to his son’s input, (check his albums out, by the way) some of the overly-reliant keyboard stuff (dare I criticise?!) has gone, replaced by the delicate reminders of the more subtle acoustic approach of early albums.
Well, this is my section nearly over. I could have spoken about the times I saw the wonderful man live, how he joked about ‘last being here in Manchester when I was a young man…. at sixty’, or the crackle of the LPs I used to listen to when it wasn’t even in the imagination of a Hipster’s shopping list. I could talk about the impact of Bird On A Wire, which opens with the most profoundly affecting lyrics of any song I could possibly write about. But I won’t. You’re probably reminiscing yourself. You might be thinking about which album you’re going to play next. You might be wishing that Leonard was still here and completing that new album he and his son were planning after You Want It Darker. You’ll probably be wishing he was… well, just sharing this planet with you. Like how your memories exist, even if you never meet your muse, your guru, your inspirations: you know they’re here too, right? It keeps us satisfied. So I’ll finish on a segment of a poem from a book my mum (also a fan!) bought me years ago, and in the rugged, ragged times when they come, I’ll rest assured and assuaged by the truths we all find in so many of the Great Man’s songs.
I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips
it is because I hear a man climb stairs
and clear his throat outside our door.
Entitled ‘Poem’ from Poems, Leonard Cohen, 1956-1968
Posted in : General News
01 Dec 2016