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Holy Dark, Holy Dove, Holy Crap – Leonard Cohen, Pico Iyer, Dan Chiasson, Shrek, & The NY Review of Books

Pico Iyer’s Leonard Cohen Lyrics Correction

Pico Iyer, who authored one of the most insightful Leonard Cohen interviews ever published,1  took keyboard in hand to write to The New York Review of Books about The ‘Stoned Gallantry’ of Leonard Cohen, Dan Chiasson’s book review of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons that appeared in the February 21, 2013 issue:

To the Editors:

There are many things I might quarrel with—and some I would applaud—in Dan Chiasson’s essay on Leonard Cohen [“The ‘Stoned Gallantry’ of Leonard Cohen,” NYR, February 21]. But just to stick to the opening section for now, the “most famous lyrics” of “his most famous song,” as the article calls them, speak not of the “holy dark” but the “holy dove.”

Cohen is more than capable of singing about the “holy dark,” no doubt, but the dove is a recurrent and central image in his work, not least because he once called his supporting band “The Army.” Perhaps a poet who’s been publishing for forty-seven years deserves a slightly closer reading?

Dan Chiasson’s Reply To Pico Iyer’s Correction

I’d misheard those lyrics for years, it seems. I’m grateful to Pico Iyer for so many things he’s written; now I owe him thanks for this important correction.

Both Pico Iyer’s letter and Dan Chiasson’s response were published by The New York Review of Books at Leonard Cohen’s Holy Dove.

DrHGuy’s Assessment Of The Holy Kerfuffle

The Iyer-Chiasson call and response brings up several points:2

1. Dan Chiasson did make a significant error, mistakenly replacing “holy dove” in Leonard Cohen’s lyrics with “holy dark.” Now, lyrics are misheard frequently enough to support several web sites of the sort. And, in the course of publishing a few thousand posts about Leonard Cohen, I’ve certainly misquoted his lyrics on occasion. If, however, I were writing an essay for The New York Review of Books, the premier US journal of literary pontification, I would like to think I would double check – or at least Google-check my references and quotations.

2. Am I the only one who assumed The New York Review of Books had fact checkers on its staff to prevent this kind of faux pas?

3. Does Pico Iyer, a sophisticated and empathic writer, think it necessary to point out to the readership of The New York Review of Books that it is important to carefully and accurately peruse the words of a poet or a songwriter or is that line about “Perhaps a poet who’s been publishing for forty-seven years deserves a slightly closer reading” just a sardonic embellishment to emphasize that he discovered an error?

4, OK, does anyone believe that The New York Review of Books would have printed that same letter of correction if it had been sent by, say a psychiatrist who runs a couple of Cohencentric web sites instead of by a well known writer? If so, please contact me immediately, because I can offer you a great deal on timeshares for Leonard Cohen’s Montreal home while he’s away on tour.

5. Given that the mistaken lyric was part of Chiasson’s argument made in the following context,

In another vein, “Hallelujah,” his most famous song, played at the end of Shrek as the two computer-generated ogres embraced. This was an odd choice, considering the fact that the most famous lyrics from that song are “remember when I moved in you/the holy dark was moving too”: I don’t need to picture Shrek and his girl in that kind of detail.

it seems pertinent to at least acknowledge that the Rufus Wainwright version of Hallelujah, which appeared on the Shrek: Music from the Original Motion Picture album but not in the movie itself, does include the line, “The holy dark was moving too.”

John Cale’s rendition of Hallelujah, which appears in the Shrek movie but not on the album, uses Cohen’s original lyrics, “The holy dove was moving too.” Still, it seems possible that Wainwright’s “holy dark” could be the source of Mr Chiasson’s belief in the holy dark and is, in any case, worthy of mention although neither Iyer or Chiasson do so.

6. Finally, let’s take another look at the context in which that error appeared. Mr Chiasson wrote,

In another vein, “Hallelujah,” his most famous song, played at the end of Shrek as the two computer-generated ogres embraced. This was an odd choice, considering the fact that the most famous lyrics from that song are “remember when I moved in you/the holy dark was moving too”: I don’t need to picture Shrek and his girl in that kind of detail.

About his premise, “‘Hallelujah,’ his most famous song, played at the end of Shrek as the two computer-generated ogres embraced” – I don’t think so. In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I don’t own a copy of Shrek, and since no one is paying me to write this, I’m not willing to purchase a Shrek DVD for verification, but the YouTube clips that follow are congruent with my recall of the movie.

Hallelujah plays in this embrace-free scene from Shrek:

That final scene featuring the ogre-on-ogre embrace has different music:

Sort of changes things, eh?

No kidding, I really thought The New York Review of Books had fact checkers.

  1. Leonard Cohen: Several Lifetimes Already: Shambhala Sun, September, 1998 []
  2. Note: While it has little to do with the issue at hand, interested readers are welcome to review my own post on Dan Chiasson’s essay []

Leonard Cohen Finally Featured In “Hitler Finds Out” Meme

Leonard Cohen? Hitler Meme?

For the eight people under 50 who don’t know about the “Hitler Finds Out” Meme and those folks in my cohort who missed the 2008 New York Time Magazine article on the subject, DrHGuy includes the  explanation of the cyber-sociological phenomenon from the aptly named Know Your Meme site:

Downfall meme, also known as “Hitler Finds Out…” or “Hitler Reacts To…” is a series of parody-subtitled videos based on a pinnacle scene from Der Untergang (2004), a German WWII drama revisiting the last ten days of Adolf Hitler’s life and eventual suicide in his Berlin underground bunker. Due to the film’s international success and Bruno Ganz’ haunting portrayal of the Nazi dictator, numerous segments from the movie soon fell fodder to hilarious parodies on YouTube, spawning hundreds of anachronistically subtitled videos of Hitler getting upset over topical events and trivial gossips.

Der Untergang is a 2004 German war epic film based on the book “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. In the climax scene, Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) hears from his generals that the final counter-offensive against the Soviets never took place and Germany’s defeat is imminent. Hitler then orders everyone to leave except the four highest-rank generals, who oblige and listen nervously to his breakdown. [The scene from the original film with non-parody subtitles can be found at Downfall: Famous Bunker Scene (Actual Translation)]

The earliest known subtitle spoof of Downfall was uploaded by YouTube user DReaperF4 on August 10th, 2006. Titled “Sim Heil: Der untersim”and subbed in Spanish, the video shows Hitler fuming over the lack of new features in the demo trial of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X, which was later released in October 2006

Today, There are over a thousand derivative videos (*estimates) with subtitles in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and many many other languages, typically discussing topical events and online gossips of trivial nature.

Hitler learns his Leonard Cohen tickets are fakes

Reimagined New Skin for the Old Ceremony Opens At MoMA April 14, 2011

Leonard Cohen’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony Interpreted By Artist Filmmakers

The Museum Of Modern Art has announced three showings of New Skin for the Old Ceremony, the film composition curated by Lorca Cohen and Darin Klein and based on the Leonard Cohen album of the same name:

New Skin for the Old Ceremony is a compilation of short moving-image pieces set to the music and lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s 1974 album of the same title. Organized by Cohen’s daughter, Lorca, and Darin Klein, Programs Coordinator, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, the film comprises pieces—by Brent Green, Alex Da Corte, Weston Currie, Theo Angell, Christian Holstad, Sylvan and Lily Lanken, Lucky Dragons,1 Kelly Sears, Brett Milspaw, Peter Coffin, and Tina Tyrell—that mirror the album’s original track listing.

Posted by Jonathan Shia at Interview December 14, 2010, Sincerely L Cohen offers a description of the process of  the project:

No one can build a song like Leonard Cohen. For more than 40 years, the poet, troubadour, and renowned heartbreaker has shed light on life’s darker moments through intensely personal, highly romantic compositions. On December 16th, Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum will present an evening of video interpretations of Cohen’s 1974 masterwork New Skin for the Old Ceremony, curated by Cohen’s 36-year-old daughter Lorca along with Hammer programs coordinator, Darin Klein. Eleven contemporary artists, including Peter Coffin, Tina Tyrell, and Christian Holstad, have contributed a filmic take on one of Cohen’s mournful dirges.

For the plaintive “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” multimedia artist Alex da Corte focuses on characteristic found objects—a stack of bread, a falling broom—to build striking images of tension and sorrow. The curators call it a “new skin for an old work,” a fitting reminder that Cohen, despite his 76 years, is forever young.

MoMA showtimes with links to ticket information follow:

Other Showings Of New Skin for the Old Ceremony

New Skin for the Old Ceremony was featured at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles on December 16, 2010, a performance enthusiastically lauded by Arlene Dick in her post at New Skin For The Old Ceremony at the Hammer Museum, December 16, 2010, which includes a recording of four of the film-makers participating in the post-show Q&A. The Hammer Museum blurb includes brief biographies of all the artists involved in the project along with this explanation:

Leonard Cohen’s 1974 album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, is reimagined and interpreted by a stellar group of select artist filmmakers. Eleven newly commissioned works illustrate the album in its entirety through the medium of the moving picture. This program highlights the craft of each artist as they complement and coalesce with the work of the legendary singer/songwriter.

Following its New York premiere, New Skin for the Old Ceremony will play the San Francisco International Film Festival at 9 PM on Tuesday, April 26. 2011.

Leonard Cohen has enthralled us with his writing and music for over 50 years. This three-part evening features films and music produced in response to the profound beauty and unexpected humor of Cohen’s work. Cohen’s 1974 album New Skin for the Old Ceremony is the source for 11 new short films, each by a different director, each set to a different track from the album. The project was developed and first presented at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles by curators Lorca Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s daughter) and Darin Klein. The films will be projected uninterrupted with the album as a soundtrack. The eclectic selection includes shorts by a number of fine artists, musicians and animators, including Theo Angell, Kelly Sears, Brent Green and Lucky Dragons. To accompany this new compilation, we present a classic documentary focusing on Cohen’s literary work and public persona in the late ’60s, Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Mr. Leonard Cohen (Donald Brittain, Don Owen, Canada 1967, 45 min). This wonderful film reveals Cohen at work and with friends, and the multifaceted nature of his popularity. At turns reserved and brash, self-deprecating and self-assured, the young Cohen is a complicated and intriguing subject. Finally, we present live renditions of several Cohen songs, in performances anchored by local songsmith and Sub Pop artist Kelley Stoltz and beloved duo Pale Hoarse.

—Sean Uyehara

Film Stills Gallery

Click on images to enlarge

Credit Due Department: The film stills in the gallery were found at the Hammer Museum site.

  1. “Lucky Dragons” means any recorded or performed or installed or packaged or shared or suggested or imagined pieces made by Luke Fischbeck, Sarah Rara, and/or any sometimes collaborators who claim the name. []

Movie Math – Two Minutes Of “So Long Marianne” By Leonard Cohen Equals Teenage Love Lost

“So Long Marianne” Joins “Hallelujah” As Movie Signifier

There has been much written – no small part of it on Heck Of A Guy – on the use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah: in movies and TV shows, and  telethons as a signifier of meaningfulness1 rather than as music that fits into and contributes to the sense of the scene.2 That tactic, however, exudes polished sophistication and complex subtlety compared to the heavy-handed, over-simplified pairing of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne” in the soundtrack of the 2009 movie, Pirate Radio (original title: The Boat That Rocked).

The Painfully Obvious Becomes Just Painful

Directed and written by Richard Curtis,3 Pirate Radio is accurately described in this paragraph from A sentimental journey that sails into Davy Jones’s locker by Liam Lacey (Globe Mail, Nov. 12, 2009):

This fictionalized account one of the radio ships which beamed rock music into British homes in the mid-sixties has a wealth of historical material to draw on and a strong ensemble cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. But Curtis’s script is essentially an American frat-boy comedy with a series of vignettes showing games and ribaldry, virginity to be lost and pompous squares to offend. Re-edited and retitled (formerly The Boat that Rocked ) from its English release, the story, following the model of Almost Famous, centres around the arrival of a teenager, Carl (Tom Sturrridge, pale and delicate in the Robert Pattinson mode), who has been sent to spend time on the Radio Rock boat, managed by his godfather Quentin (Nighy).

Consider this post a warning that other Cohen songs, in this case, “So Long Marianne,” may join “Hallelujah” as a preformed scripting tool rather than a performance.

Forcing The Fit Between Video And Soundtrack

Here’s how creating a soundtrack and  and integrating the sound and the visual elements is accomplished in big-time movie making:

During the process of writing the film, he [Curtis] came up with a playlist of about 300 songs, with 15 of them written into the script.

“Obviously, the names of the girls – I only named one Elenore, so I could play `Elenore’ (by the Turtles) and one Marianne, so I could play `So Long, Marianne’ (by Leonard Cohen) when she leaves.”4

Yep, in a scene from Pirate Radio, a girl named “Marianne” leaves the film’s central character, the teenage Carl,  while Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne” plays.

See, the girl leaving is named “Marianne” and the song is about saying so long to a girl named “Marianne.”  Get it?

I mean, the song and the girl are both named Marianne – what are the chances?

Well, if you get to name the movie’s characters, chances are good.

As Curtis himself points out in Nautical Rock: Pirate Radio Takes Pop to the High Seas,

That’s my favorite scene in the movie because I didn’t write it—it’s like a gift to me, … I might even say that Leonard Cohen is the funniest man I’ve ever seen in concert, which is odd, because his music is so miserable. He’s just full of really good jokes. [emphasis mine]


Irritatingly, the 1 minute, 59 second clip from the movie has embedding disabled. The series of scene shots shown above, found at Pirate Radio, is an accurate representation of the physical and emotional movement of the scene.

The clip itself can be viewed at The boat that rocked – So Long Marianne

Credit Due Department: The image atop this post is a screen capture from the DVD version of the movie found at Leonard Cohen Facts.

  1. I would prefer to say that it is used to convey significance rather than meaningfulness but “a signifier of significance” just doesn’t scan []
  2. Credit for this notion must be attributed to Michael Barthel, whose paper at the 2007 Pop Conference at Experience Music Project first articulated this concept. See Heck Of A Guy post, From Song To Signifier: Leonard Cohen And His Hallelujah, written just after the completion of the conference. []
  3. Richard Curtis is also the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral , Notting Hill and Love, Actually, three romantic comedies much favored by the public, critics, and, yes, DrHGuy. []
  4. On air with ‘Pirate Radio By Rob Lowman, Pasadena Star-News 11/08/2009 []

Honeysuckle Rose – The Willie Nelson Charm School

Honeysuckle Rose – The Background

”Honeysuckle Rose” is a 1980 movie that has little going for it other than Willie Nelson, Slim Pickens, and a fine soundtrack, including “On the Road Again,” which was written for this flick.

It turns out that for many of us those two characters and the music are enough. In any case, the final scenes are a treat for anyone who can tolerate humor and happiness.

Only a superficial understanding of the plot (a good thing, given that the story line does not offer much beyond superficial) is necessary to provide the setting. This summary is extracted from The New York Times:

Buck Bonham (Nelson) is a country singer/songwriter with a loyal following in his native Texas and the neighboring Western states. However, Buck hasn’t yet had the hit record that would make him a star nationwide; in the meantime, Buck and his band keep up a busy tour schedule, much to the annoyance of his wife, Viv (Dyan Cannon), and son, Jamie (Joey Floyd), who would like to see Buck at home every once in a while. As Buck wonders if he should press on with his musical career or call it quits, his close friend and longtime guitarist Garland Ramsey (Slim Pickens) announces he’s retiring, and suggests a good replacement — his daughter, Lily (Amy Irving). Lily had a crush on Buck as a child, and now as a full-grown and very beautiful woman, her infatuation has only increased with time. Consequently, Buck must choose between Viv and Lily as well as his home and his career.

Honeysuckle Rose – The Good Stuff

Absent from the Times account, however,  is the highlight of the movie – the concluding sequence which begins with Buck and Garland in Mexico wrestling over a pistol (Garland, you see, is trying to kill his best friend for fooling around with his (Garland’s) daughter. It’s funny. Trust me.), drinking copious amounts of tequila, and driving  the band’s bus (a school bus decorated as the Texas Lone Star flag)  back to the States in time for Garland’s annual ’s music festival. It ends, of course, with the salvation of Buck,  the charming ne’er-do-well, thanks to the love of a good woman.

Honeysuckle Rose – Buck & Garland In Mexico

Video from dynocounter

We join the music festival, already in progress. The key moment, by my lights, takes place when Viv, who has conveniently begun singing “Two Sides To Every Story,”  turns around to see that Buck, her adulterous husband, has returned. Buck flashes just the right semi-smile – and all is forgiven.  (I’ve been working on duplicating that same semi-smile since 1980.)

Willie Nelson and Dyan Cannon, Two Sides To Every Story

Video from dynocounter

And, just in case anyone is in doubt about the outcome, the denouement is unmistakeably laid out (along with the final credits) in an outstanding rendition of the hymn, “Unclouded Day,”  which  closes the show.

Willie Nelson and Dyan Cannon, Unclouded Day

Video from dynocounter

Other Heck Of A Guy Posts Featuring Willie Nelson

Great Tonight Show Musical Finales – 2010 & 1992

Free Bird
Conan O’Brien Final Tonight Show – Jan 22, 2010

Conan O’Brien, Will Ferrell, Ben Harper, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Beck, and the Tonight Show Band – Freebird

One for My Baby
Johnny Carson Final Tonight Show Guest1 – May 21, 1992

Bette Midler – One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)

  1. The final appearance of  The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was May 22, 1992 and featured only Carson talking to the audience. Bette Midler’s performance of “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” was during the penultimate show. She and Robin Williams were the only guests []