Coming To A Stage Nowhere Near Me
According to the subheading at Virtual Festivals,
on the final day of Glastonbury Festival1 2008
If Loving Both Leonard Cohen And Neil Diamond Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right
This seems an auspicious moment to out myself as one of the few who admit to not only enjoying the songs of both artists but also perceiving more than a passing similarity between the two.
I’m not the only one. Consider these comments:
Imagine Leonard Cohen and Burt Bacharach — two of the finest songwriters in a decade chockful with genius songwriters — writing a song together: the result might be something as excellent like [Neil Diamond's] autobiographical “Brooklyn Roads” (1968).2
The new Rick Rubin-produced 12 Songs [by Neil Diamond] … [applies] the same stark, sleek magic that propped up Johnny Cash for his final few years. Rubin uses the same brush on Neil, bringing his unique, slightly dark baritone (it’s like Leonard Cohen without, well, Leonard Cohen) to the fore and the surrounding instrumentation at a minimum.3
[Neil Diamond's 12 Songs is] a lean on Leonard Cohen in the haunting presence reflected from the songwriting to the photos of the man and his guitar in the liner notes? Sure.4
Damn, this is hard to say but … the new-to-me Neil Diamond album 12 Songs (2005) is pretty damned good. Wow. Either I’m old or he put out a decent album. Maybe both, yeah. It might also be due to the fact that, as Amazon observes
… “What’s It Gonna Be” sounds like something snatched in a pre-dawn lark from a Leonard Cohen disc.
…he sounds rather like Cohen, one of my all-time favorites.
I blame Jason for this – he loaned me his iPod shuffle on the train back from Vernezza to Milan, and it had the album on it. Shuffles lack a display, and Jason is a Hip Young Dude, so I just assumed that Neil Diamond was too uncool for him. Getting off the train, I said something like “Dude, you have some band on there that sounds exactly like Neil Diamond!”5
Are Suzanne and Sweet Caroline Sisters Under The Skin?
The seminal paper in this field, however, is certainly Kevin Chong’s Songs Sung Blue – Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond: separated at birth?, published in February 3, 2006. Since the full work is available at the CBC.com site, I’ll only include a few excerpts here and urge readers to review the entire text at their leisure.
Each has written songs that routinely appear on movie soundtracks. Each has been widely and eclectically covered. (According to one splendid Cohen fan site, Diamond recorded one of the estimated 124 versions of Cohen’s Suzanne. So far, Cohen has yet to return the favour.) Each has legions of devoted fans that are mostly — though not exclusively — female. Cohen may be the legendary ladies’ man, but Diamond’s fans are an equally formidable, ardent group. (While giving birth, the wife of a good friend of mine insisted on listening to her five-disc set of live Diamond recordings in the delivery room.) Plus, each has inspired a film: Diamond was a major plot point (and made an appearance) in the 2001 comedy Saving Silverman, while Cohen was the muse for the Canadian feature Looking for Leonard (2002).
The reason these two are so rarely compared is that in terms of tone and persona, they seem to inhabit different planets. Cohen is wry, erudite, cultured. His arrangements are spare, his songs are sung with a smoky, lugubrious growl and his lyrics are sprinkled with aphorisms. “There’s a crack in everything,” he sings in Anthem. “That’s how the light gets in.” More important, Cohen is an ironist, often undercutting the doomed romances he chronicles: “But you stand there so nice,” he says in One of Us Cannot Be Wrong, “In your blizzard of ice / O please let me come into the storm.” By tempering his come-ons with a pithy self-awareness, he manages to flatter both himself and the object of his seduction — the listener.
Obviously, neither Diamond nor Cohen name-drop God to advertise religion. Rather, they use Biblical imagery and rhetoric to elevate romantic love to a form of religious communion. The unions described in their songs are momentous and transformative. What’s more, they are delivered with a level of drama that their respective audiences have come to crave.
It Gets Worse
Not only do I hear similar elements in Cohen’s and Diamond’s music, I think there is a physical resemblance6 (see photo montage at top of post). This is, of course, in contradistinction to my – eh, let’s call it my questioning of the similarities in appearance others have noted between Cohen and various other folks.7
Yep, this is the smart move to make – when will I again have the opportunity to write one post, intended to be complimentary, that has the potential to antagonize two singers I like?
- Glastonbury Festival takes place at Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset 27-29 June, 2008 [↩]
- Pissing off the Taste Police with Neil Diamond [↩]
- Neil Diamond “Hell Yeah” and “Captain of a Shipwreck” [↩]
- Neil Diamond [↩]
- Damn, this is hard to say but… [↩]
- One notes that there are a number of professional impersonators emulating Mr. Diamond but none that I can find imitating Leonard Cohen. If I am correct about the congruence between the two performers, perhaps these impersonators could augment their income by adding the Cohen songbook to their act and calling the production something like “I’m Your Solitary Man.” [↩]
- See Another Leonard Cohen Look-alike Nominee and Now For The Leonard Cohen (Separated At) Birth Day. For the record, I do now kinda, sorta see the resemblance between Dustin Hoffman and Leonard Cohen when they were in their early 20s. [↩]