Friday, November 11, 2016

Some great, under-appreciated Leonard Cohen moments

Being the kind of guy I am I don't really care about the "hit" Leonard Cohen songs. I haven't ever had much need for Suzanne, or Marianne. I do love "Everybody Knows," but, well, everybody knows everybody knows, so you don't need me to tell you about it.

Here are some favourite Leonard Cohen songs that you might not know - some of his rawer, stranger, funnier moments.

If you don't know Live Songs, the whole album is fantastic, but has two outstandingly stark, impassioned songs not recorded elsewhere: "Queen Victoria" and this bizarre, rockin' prayer where the usually meticulously-scripted poet actually seems to IMPROVISE a bit, and reaches some sort of authentic transcendence.

From that Phil Spector aberration, Death of a Ladies' Man, there's the crazy funky "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On," allegedly with Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg on background vocals (I have my doubts about htat). The same album boasts his very entertaining "Memories," which, I discover, was the object of a godawful rock video. He may have had a big ego, but he sure wasn't proud!

Fans of Cohen's more impassioned moments might like hearing this live version of "The Butcher," which I can actually badly strum myself, on guitar. (Not the only live version out there, either). If I had to pick a favourite song by him...

Here's another remarkable live recording, of "Dress Rehearsal Rag," involving suicide and shaving. That's the live version of a song from a favourite album of his, by me - Songs of Love and Hate, which is probably his most acid-infused LP. (You all know "Diamonds in the Mine," right? Also a bit atypical, and again - it's the mad visionary coming through).

There's only one studio album of his I love above it - New Skin for the Old Ceremony. It's home to "Field Commander Cohen," of course - subtly self-mocking, but also expressing his disappointment with the revolution. But everything on it is great. I often find myself singing "Lover Lover Lover" to myself.

Another good, under-rated Cohen album - not as good as Live Songs or New Skin or even Songs from a Room, but deserving more attention than I think it gets, is Recent Songs - which has some of his more darkly humorous moments. I favour "The Traitor," in particular, though "The Ballad of the Absent Mare" is worth a listen, also rather funny for Mr. Cohen.

I haven't followed Cohen's later albums closely but Jonathan Richman taught me to love this song. Though I prefer Richman's take on it, to be honest. (Or, with apologies to Jeff Buckley, check out John Cale's version of "Hallelujah" sometime. I have a pretty great jazz version of that on a CD I brought from Japan, by Katayama Hiroaki. It doesn't appear to be online).

Finally, one for Donald Trump. I was always upset Cohen sanitized his own song, changing "crack and anal sex" to "speed and careless sex" for live renditions. I like it a lot better in the original. This was the last Cohen album I actually spent time with, and I like a lot of it, but I also saw him live around this time (or maybe it was the I'm Your Man tour - it was at the Orpheum in Vancouver). I had mixed feelings, to be honest, which had repercussions for my fandom (almost obsessive, up to that point, far less so after). His stage patter seemed quite rehearsed - with someone giving him flowers and him delivering an obviously canned line about having once given a sermon to creatures like these on LSD; even the flowers, obviously, were a stage prop. The hoarse visionary that I loved the most, of his many incarnations, was in short supply that night.

Still, I kind of regret missing his last couple shows here. And I'll always be grateful for the many amazing songs he left us, and am looking forward to picking up his final album, You Want It Darker, which also sounds like it might just be a masterpiece.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cohen.

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