Thursday, November 24, 2016

Once Again, On The Enigma Of The Late Songwriter Leonard Cohen- "He's Your Man"(?)

Once Again, On The Enigma Of The Late Songwriter Leonard Cohen- "He's Your Man"(?)

DVD Review

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, Leonard Cohen, various artists, directed by Lian Lunson, Liongate Productions, 2005

I have used today’s, August 18, 2009, review of “The Best Of Leonard Cohen” CD as the start of my review of the DVD “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man” because I believe that the questions that I had about his place in musical history get resolved, partially, in the film:

“The Best Of Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen, CBS Records, 1975

Leonard Cohen always seemed to me to be the odd man out in the swirl of the folk revival of the early 1960’s. Yes, sure he did his time at the Chelsea Hotel (something of a rite of passage for some singer/songwriters). He certainly, either through his music or lifestyle, did not merely represent some hippie faddism. He was just a little too old and little too proper writer, in the European sense, for that. Yet, although some of his material could well be played in the beat cafés of the late 1950’s, there too his work seems too civilized for that raucous crowd. A viewing several years ago of a film documentary on his life, work and times "I'm Your Man" only added to my confusion about where to pigeonhole Mr. Cohen.

So now you see my dilemma. In any case the best place to start to get an appreciation for the work of this very talented and driven lyricist (I cannot say much for his vocal accomplishments as it will be the lyrics that will stand the test of time, not the voice) is this compilation of his best work, circa 1975. Haven’t we all had, or wanted to have, male or female, that “Suzanne” of the first song. This is probably his best known song, and I think rightly so as a secondary anthem of the 1960’s. Included here are the heart-wrenching lyrics of “Bird On A Wire”, as well as “Sisters Of Mercy” and “So Long, Marianne”. Cohen tips his hat to the Chelsea Hotel experience in “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. As I run through this list there is one thought that does occur to me. If you are in a depressed or melancholy mood it is best to save this CD for some other time. But do listen to it.”

Those remarks receive some answers in this well-done 2005 part biographic sketch and part tribute concert (down in Sydney, Australia). The parts about his driven personal life from the days when he held forth in the poetry circles of his native Montreal, his evolution as a lyricist during his key stay at the Chelsea Hotel (basically absorbing the vibrant folk lyric/ poetic milieu of New York City, the center of the cultural universe back in those days), and his long time commitment to the rigors of Buddhism round his story and give a better sense of the demons that drove his work.

The concert segments interspersed between the Cohen commentaries are the real reason to view this DVD though. I mentioned in the review of the CD (and Cohen, with a measured sense of his own creative skills, confirms in this film) that Leonard Cohen would be remembered for his lyrics not for his voice. By that I did not mean that his work could not be well-covered by others. And this Sydney concert is the proof. Of course any time you have the McGarrigle Sisters, Anna and Kate and the Wainwright kids (Kate’s kids), Rufus and Martha (Martha outshines Rufus here, if you can believe that), you know that there is a solid base to the show. Add in Linda Thompson, Beth Orton and others covering Cohen classics like “Suzanne”, “Sisters Of Mercy”, and Chelsea Hotel”, to name a few, and this is quite a tribute show. Additionally, there is as segment with the ubiquitous Bono and the U2 crowd doing their part by “aiding” Cohen’s singing on a newer song “Tower Of Sound” and the title entry “I’m Your Man”. This is good stuff for Cohen aficionados and newcomers alike.

"Suzanne" -Leonard Cohen

Suzanne takes you down to her place newer the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that shes half crazy
But thats why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from china
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That youve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For youve touched her perfect body with your mind.

And jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe youll trust him
For hes touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now suzanne takes you hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From salvation army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For shes touched your perfect body with her mind.

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