Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

Notes On Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album: Tracks 1-4

1-4

 

Update: The remainder of this album is covered in Notes On Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album: Tracks 5-9

Note: Lyrics quoted in this post are not official but are transcriptions of what I heard listening to the recordings. I’ve made every effort to be accurate but …

1. Slow

I’m slowing down the tune
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last
It’s not because I’m old
It’s not the life I’ve led
I always liked it slow
That’s what my mama said

The opening lines of “Slow,” the first song on Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems set an unmistakable tone, speaking directly to the issues of aging, life, love, and death, all expressed in that now familiar, sensual, comforting voice. As is true of most of the tracks, female vocals are used to sweeten Cohen’s rasp.

2. Almost Like The Blues

Listening to “Almost Like The Blues” provides far more insight than I could provide.

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues (Audio)
Video from LeonardCohenVEVO

3. Samson In New Orleans

In some sense, Samson In New Orleans conceptually hearkens back to Cohen’s “On That Day” from Dear Heather:

But answer me this
I won’t take you to court
Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day
On that day
They wounded New York

From Samson In New Orleans:

Did you really love the city
or did you just pretend
You said you loved her secret
and her freedom hid away
She was better than America
That’s what I heard you say

Political allusions abound and Cohen’s presentation is suitably mournful yet insistent on the need to take a stand:

Was our prayer so damn unworthy
the sun rejected it
So gather up the killer,
get everyone in town.
Stand me by those pillars,
Let me take this Temple down
The King so kind and solemn,
He wears a bloody crown.
So stand me by that column
Let me take this Temple down

Alex Bublitchi’s violin is featured.

4. A Street

Cohen’s performance of “A Street” is essentially spoken word linked to instrumentation (primarily organ and drum) and supported by a female chorus. Compared to the lines of this poem published in the March 2, 2009 issue of the New Yorker, the lyrics on this album track have been substantially rearranged. A few lines have been totally rewritten.

Compared to Cohen’s usual style (e.g., the recitation of “A Thousand Kisses Deep” during the recent tours), the rhythm is accelerated and the placement of the stresses is irregular, focusing attention to certain lines and phrases.

Credit Due Department: The Duchess contributed significantly to the comments on “Slow”

“Leonard Cohen … had young Paris at his feet.” Leonard Cohen Scores In Paris by Tim Creery (1970) Now Online

Leonard Cohen Scores In Paris by Tim Creery.
Montreal Gazette: May 14, 1970

the-montreal-gazette-may-14-1970

Esther Cohen: A Life Of Enthusiasm

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A Video Commemorating The Life Of Esther Cohen

Esther Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s older sister, has passed away. She was unequivocally enthusiastic about life and beloved by everyone who met her.

Much of this video was first composed four years ago as a birthday tribute (one artifact of its original purpose still remains); there have been a few additions and deletions but the message is still the same – Esther was a delight.

Esther Cohen: A Life Of Enthusiasm
The soundtrack, chosen by Esther, is “Take This Waltz” by Leonard Cohen
Video by Allan Showalter

Credit Due Depaertment: Most of the images were supplied by Linda and Dick Straub, who also came up with the concept of the video. Some of the folks appearing in the video are Leonard Cohen, Emmylou Harris, Lian Lunson, Perla Batalla with husband Claud and daughter Eva, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Lily Lankin, Harry and Arlene Rasky, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Leon Wieseltier, Zack Oberzan, Nick Cave, and Santa Claus.

Leonard Cohen’s Apr 22, 1964 Letter To Redmond Wallis: “No State or Authority will ever define my shadow on a woman or hers on me.”

This is another letter from the correspondence between Leonard Cohen to Redmond Wallis, a writer from New Zealand, who was Cohen’s friend as well as his fellow resident on Hydra. At the time this letter was written, Leonard Cohen was living in Montreal, and Wallis was at his home on Hydra. Other posts about the Cohen-Wallis correspondence are listed at the end of this entry and can also be found by clicking on Correspondence.

Notes:

As was true of the Feb 26, 1964 Cohen to Wallis letter, this epistle is typed on Orion Films (Montreal) letterhead.

Steve is Steve Sanfield, a close friend of Cohen since they met on Hydra more than 50 years ago. A brief biography of Sanfield can be found at Warrior Poets.

Charmian is Charmian Clift, Australian novelist and wife of George Johnston. While Leonard Cohen was a close friend of the Johnstons, they did have the occasional row. In this case, Charmian had demanded of Wallis that household goods she had loaned (according to her) or given to (according to Cohen) Cohen be returned to her. Part of this letter is Cohen’s response to that demand.

Chuck and Gordon are an openly gay couple who were at the center of the artists’ group on Hydra.

Click on images to enlarge.

letterr-4a

letterr-4b

Other posts featuring the Cohen-Wallis correspondence:

Credit Due Department: This letter is archived at the National Library of New Zealand – Wellington

Esther Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s Sister, Has Passed Away

Esther Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s older sister, passed away last night. She was unequivocally enthusiastic about life and beloved by many. Esther married Victor Cohen. Following a Cuban honeymoon, they traveled extensively, were regulars at plays, concerts, movies, and parties, and lived happily together until Victor’s death 19 years ago, Esther did research for McGill and for Colliers in New York.

Four years ago, I was privileged to have been invited by Esther’s close friends, Dick and Linda Straub, to participate in commemorating her birthday. At that time and on a a handful of occasions afterward, I had the chance to talk to Esther by phone on; each time I was charmed anew.

While a video celebrating Esther’s birthday may seem incongruent with the announcement of her death, this video montage of film and photos, supplied by Linda and Dick Straub, features Esther at her best, in the midst of those who loved her. Some may be recognizable to viewers: Emmylou Harris, Lian Lunson, Perla Batalla with husband Claud and daughter Eva, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Lily Lankin, Harry and Arlene Rasky, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Leon Wieseltier, Zack Oberzan, and Nick Cave. The music is “Take This Waltz” by Leonard Cohen.

She will be greatly missed.

Esther Cohen Birthday Video – 2010
Video by Allan Showalter

Update: This video has been revised. See Esther Cohen: A Life Of Enthusiasm

Songs Of Leonard Cohen Review: Leonard Cohen’s New Venture (1968) By Juan Rodriguez Now Online

It is clear that Cohen is neither a singer nor a musician, yet that void is not the root cause of the badness of this record [Songs Of Leonard Cohen]

Leonard Cohen’s New Venture
By Juan Rodriguez
The Gazette (Montréal): Apr 27, 1968

click on image to enlarge

The-Montreal-Gazette---Apr-27,-1968