Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album – The Sept 12, 2014 Update

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1. With a minimum of promotion (compared to the Old Ideas sales campaign), Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album is – well, it’s popular.

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It’s at least popular enough to rank #1 in sales on today’s Amazon Album-Oriented Rock list. That’s in the US. On the Canadian Amazon site, Popular Problems is #1 in Music. Update: See Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album – Updated Amazon Sales Ranking

2. The early reviews are positive. The best of the lot so far is Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems is a portrait of the artist in his joyful late period by Bernard Zuel (The Age: Sept 12, 2014). Of course, I also suggest my own notes:

3. Credits: The Leonard Cohen-Patrick Leonard collaboration accounts for most of the songs of the album. Anjani Thomas is credited, along with Cohen, on A Street and Born In Chains is credited to Cohen alone. The only member of the Tour band who plays on the album is Alex Bublitchi. The backup singers are Dana Glover (who also sang on the Old Ideas album) and Charlean Carmon.

4. There is the prospect of another album. Rolling Stone reports:

Cohen and Leonard say they have “half of another record finished,”

5. There may or may not be a Tour promoting Popular Problems. As I reported on our conversation in early August:

At one point, Leonard responded to a comment I made about the wonders of his doing concerts lasting more than three hours with “We’ll have to do that again.”

Being the intrepid blogger I am, I prompted “So, there’s going to be another tour?”

Without hesitation, Leonard Cohen leaned forward, flashed his grandest smile, and immediately replied in a firm, clear voice, “Maybe.”

Not satisfied with that equivocation, I pushed forward with “Is that a definite maybe?”

Leonard smiled again, answering “A tour is a definite maybe.”

I countered with “Well, you have to do something. Your retirements haven’t been very successful.”

Now that Rolling Stone and Billboard report that Leonard Cohen commented that the road is “beckoning,” the prospect of a tour has risen to – a definite maybe.

6. You can listen to the full album next week. ICIMusique.ca has announced they will broadcast the nine songs from Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problem album from 16 to 23 September, a week before its official release, on ICIMusique.ca and cbcmusic.ca.Update: See How To Listen To Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album The Week Before Its Release

Notes On Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album: Tracks 5-9

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This is the followup to Notes On Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems Album: Tracks 1-4

Note: Any lyrics quoted below are not official but are transcriptions of what I heard listening to the recordings. I’ve made every effort to be accurate but …

5. Did I Ever Love You

In “Did I Ever Love You,” Leonard Cohen lists all those questions about love he has asked repeatedly in his novels, poems, and songs throughout his career:

Did I ever love you
Did I ever need you
Did I ever fight you
Did I ever want you
Did I ever leave you
Was I ever able
Or are we still leaning across the old table

The song opens slowly with Cohen’s voice in a lower register, then speeds up with percussive beats that have the listener swaying as the female singers take up the refrain, finally joined by the violin.

6. My Oh My

“My Oh My”  is an examination of a past relationship (“I held you for a little while, My Oh My Oh My”) and its implications about the participants and the nature of love itself.

Although substantially reworked with greatly extended lyrics, “My Oh My” remains clearly recognizable as the same song recorded at the 2010 Ghent soundcheck.

Leonard Cohen – My Oh My
Ghent Soundcheck: August 21, 2010
Video by Maarten Massa

7. Nevermind

“Nevermind” echos “Darkness” in tempo, mood, and the notion of treachery within relationships. If anything, the lyrics of the newer song are more vehement.

From “Darkness:”

I should’ve seen it coming
It was red behind your eyes
You’re young and it was summer
I just had to take a dive
Winning you was easy
But darkness was the price.

I caught the darkness
It was drinking from your cup
I caught the darkness
Drinking from your cup
I said, “Is this contagious?”
You said, “Just drink it up.”

From “Nevermind:”

The war was lost
The treaty signed
I was not caught across the line
I was not caught though many tried
I live among you well-disguised
I had to leave my life behind
I dug some graves you’ll never find
The story’s told with facts and lies
I had a name, but nevermind
Nevermind, nevermind

Our law of peace which understands
A husband leads, a wife commands
And all of this, expressions of
the sweet indifference
some call love

… I could not kill the way you kill
I could not hate, I try to fail
You turned me in, at least you tried,
you side with them
who you despise
This was your heart, this swarm of flies,
This was once your mouth, this bowl of lies

8. Born In Chains

The lyrics are modestly changed from those performed in Sligo in 2010 (see Born In Chains By Leonard Cohen – Updated Lyrics And All Videos), but the studio version is, of course, essentially a solo performance by Leonard Cohen with female vocals used only as a chorus.

9. You Got Me Singing

“You Got Me Singing’ is the album’s gently triumphant conclusion. It is, in fact, a reaffirmation of the premise on which “Anthem” and “Hallelujah”are based with an unabashed and undisguised allusion to the latter in the chorus. As Cohen explained to an interviewer in 1995,

I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view…The other song closely related to that is ‘Anthem.’ It’s the notion that there is no perfection–that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say hallelujah under those circumstances.1

You got me singing
even though the news is bad
You got me singing
the only song I ever had
You got me singing
ever since the river died
You got me singing
all the places we could hide
You got me singing
Even though the world is gone
You got me singing
And I’d like to carry on
You got me singing
Even though it all looks grim
You got me singing the hallelujah hymn

Credit Due Department: The Duchess contributed significantly to the comments on “My Oh My” and “Did I Ever Love You.”

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  1. From “Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen” by Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995) Found at Speaking Cohen. []

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

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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

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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.

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Other posts featuring the Cohen-Wallis correspondence:

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