The Darker Album and the Songs

News about Leonard Cohen and his work, press, radio & TV programs etc.
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mat james
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby mat james » Mon Feb 06, 2017 3:48 am

Kudos to all that has been said so far...and below is my take on things. It is only one opinion among many, of course; I always look for the divine essence in Leonard's work and that is my happy folly. 8) :)

It’s about “light”.
Leonard has said that he uses a special “vocabulary” which he derives from the “biblical landscape”. And he pointed out that he preferred the term biblical to Hebrew. This implies that he uses both old and new testament vocab.
It’s about “light” in the poetry.
In that biblical landscape, the concept of “light” takes many forms, from a burning bush, to a fallen star, “goodnight, goodnight my fallen star” (Lucifer, shedder of light and the Morning Star), the “Word” of God, tongues of fire and the Spirit of Holiness; and so on.
It’s about light and its intensity.
“You want it darker” references a light that is so finely tuned, so dim and obscure that it no longer hurts to look at it; it is barely visible, and, this is just the light that the “biblical vocab” suggests is required in this “game” of seeking the Source of all. In that darkness, “steer your way, “O my heart…through the darkness… through the ruins… past the Truth…through the pain” of annihilation and Union of light (Leonard’s spirit) with Light Divine.

“…and please don’t make me go there though there be a God or not”

This is the “darkness” he fears most of all.
“You want it darker,
We kill the flame.”………annihilation

Like Jesus on the cross at Calvary, Leonard holds “various positions” on imminent death.
“…Into thy hands I commend my spirit
Why hast Thou forsaken me?
…It is finished”

The first “position” is one of loving faith and immanent Union.
The second “position” is it’s exact opposite, one of dark and immanent extinction and killing off of the flame.
The third “position” is one of acceptance, as if God were talking to himself. “I and the Father are One", vista.

There is a fourth “position” too, of course, but I haven’t noticed it in Leonard’s work. That of re-incarnation.

So, in summary, the “You want it darker” album is a tangled up matter of faith, hope and doubt; beautifully framed in music and the Biblical vocabulary of “light/Light” with a touch of Cowboy bravado. Hallelujah! Leonard was human after all. ;-)

John 1:5 “And The Light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.” So for me, the “flame” of Leonard is safe. (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Later, I would like to go through the poetry of the “You Want It Darker” songs like I/we did for the “Ten New Songs” album with “The Poetry of ten new songs” thread. But I am not ready for that yet….no “Hineni Hineni” for me yet.

I really want to look at the whole concept of "Traveling Light" ...and I don't mean baggage ;-) ...from Genesis to Jesus to Einstein to Leonard with a peppering of the Spanish mystics. What a feast of wine and blood and light.

"I'm traveling light" Leonard Cohen.

Thanks for reading my sauntering thoughts,
MatbbgJ
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Wed Feb 08, 2017 10:22 am

Mat,

Thank you for this meditation on “light”, mostly as the contrast to “darkness”, but I would like to add something about “lightness” in “Traveling Light”, although in this song both meanings of the noun occur, as discussed on p. 11 above. The first meaning occurs often in LC’s songs, but the second one also has some interesting appearances. I’ll give two examples; “The Smoky Life” on the Recent Songs album seems to be all about lightness, with the refrain: “It's light, light enough / To let it go”. It’s a love story that seems to be floating on air, somewhat ghost-like, containing almost a desperate appeal to being rid of the burden that love can cause. (I’ll take this opportunity to point out that this somewhat neglected album – by LC himself, it seems, who only lifted one song from it for the concerts on his five-year tour – contains some of his best poetry as well as some wonderful music).

The other example is “Light As The Breeze” on the album The Future, a much more sensual love story (including the famous cunnilingus), but it also contains the wish for detachment, even escaping from the prison of love, in spite of the lover offering herself so generously and in spite of her coming to him “light as the breeze”. All of which brings to mind the lines “I needed so much to have nothing to touch: / I’ve always been greedy that way” (“Night Comes On”), lines that sound ironic, but apparently were very real, and must have been one of the reasons for secluded himself in the monastery for several years. And finally, back to “Traveling Light”, where he “has given up / on the me and you”, although he admits half-heatedly that the other person who might not share his view could be right. I’ve been free-associating here somewhat but I hope not too obscurely.

Violet,

Thanks for your detailed response concerning LC’s early poem. I have nothing substantial to add at the moment but I’d love to keep up the discussions here (hopefully Diane, Joe and others will rejoin us at some point, and newcomers are always welcome).
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mat james
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby mat james » Wed Feb 08, 2017 2:05 pm

Thanks Doron.
Page 11 is fantastic!
I surfed through this thread too quickly when I stumbled on it. I just discovered it a few days ago and perhaps arrived a bit late for the party.
This was the gem of it all for me.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.
it takes me to these two lines of Teresa of Avila; and what simple genius those 2 lines are:
God dissolved my mind
My separation...
Now that's ...traveling light ...~~~ :idea:~~~ :idea:~~~ :idea: ~~~

MatbbgJ
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby da2008 » Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:59 pm

I still can't bring myself to listen to this album after what has happened. I really loved it when it came out.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Fri Feb 17, 2017 8:22 pm

Me too.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Judy » Sat Feb 18, 2017 9:58 am

I can't either ...
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Joe Way
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Joe Way » Sun Feb 19, 2017 1:52 am

Anne & I have been on an extended vacation trip and I haven't had a chance to follow this thread. But we are home now (for a time) and I'll try to catch up.

There are some excellent observations-and a great big welcome to Mat, it is so good to read your words again (and I very much agree on your "take" of the album). I still have some thoughts to post, but I don't have the time right now. I just wanted to greet you and say that I will be back.

I do want to mention the difficulty that many are having in listening to this album after Leonard's passing. I understand it, but somehow it gives me comfort. I think how Leonard struggled through the pain to give us this last gift and that we ought to overcome our grief to appreciate it. Oddly enough, Anne & I were having breakfast at a '50's Diner called "Peggy Sue's" when the original of "Save the Last Dance for Me" came on the jukebox. I don't know why but it brought tears to my eyes-I guess thinking about how it was the last song that Leonard performed live and the wonderful memories that we have from his lengthy last tours.
"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Diane
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Sun Feb 19, 2017 10:31 am

It's great how the embers of this marvellous thread keep burning, until someone shows up and throws another log on the fire...no need to rush to respond...just pop in when you've something to say, and then we all sit around in silence, watching the tongues of fire spring back to life and curl around the ideas...

I have a post I've been meaning to throw in - hope to get back here later today. Meanwhile, just reviewing the recent pages - Violet, you revealed yourself as the anonymous and mysterious entrant into Jarkko's competition. It's nicely satisfying, if not as a Files logo, then as an emblem for Leonard Cohen's art. Kudos.
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With an artist, there is the body of work that exists and remains, much of it shrouded in mystery, and in that it's awaiting the light of new understanding… which is the work of the files, and the forum.


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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Sun Feb 19, 2017 8:17 pm

I wanted to expand on my earlier general observation on Steer Your Way, the final album's 'final song' (It's actually the penultimate of course, but String Reprise/Treaty is mostly instrumental, and repeats earlier lyrics).

Regarding the kind of gypsy/jumpy/energetic music that is contrary to the seemingly heavy, pessimistic, even cynical lyrics, I am reminded of the time I saw LC in Cardiff in September 2013 (as per your own recollection above, Joe, sadly the last time I was ever to see him), when the contrast between his ebullient mood and delivery with some of the songs caused quite a tension in my mind. Why would anyone sing, "Going home/Without my sorrow/Going home/Sometime tomorrow/Going home/To where it’s better/Than before," while grinning from ear to ear with delight?

When we were discussing Book of Mercy on the forum, the final verse of BoM reminded me of the final stanza in Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali, a volume of beautiful song offerings. Similarly, this, 'final' song of this final (albeit more work may yet be published) album reminds me of the end of TS Eliot's epic poem on spiritual themes; the final stanzas of Little Gidding, last of The Four Quartets. It seems that all mystics, including Leonard Cohen, come to the same conclusion - that despite the fact life is hell, everything's just fine as it is.

How to communicate this contradictory state of affairs? We cannot contemplate all these failed attempts to escape life's trials and dilemmas that are documented in Steer Your Way, while accepting that it's all just really OK.There is the pain of fleeting time, and there is the timeless time of 'suchness', things just as they are, right here right now, day by day, thought by thought, until we steer our way off the stage. The Two Truths (that we might say are 'the One' of 'form' and 'emptiness') are of course a paradox. But many great minds, from zen masters to Carl Jung remind us that paradox is essential to spiritual truth.

Poetry can upset the usual whirring of discursive thought with a kind of glance out of the corner of your eye type trick that unseats the 'fretting' that the poetry ostensibly comprises. And poetry-set-to-music can also both 'get away with', and present, the paradox, by having en-livening music to accompany - and hereby subvert - the lyrics' grim reflections. In other words, the music interrupts our train of thought in order to unhook our longing, and insists here it is!, and here! and here! and here! Leonard got us singing (and dancing) even though....we have to be shot before we get to go there - the cost is 'not less than everything'.

All of which might be just another way of saying,
mat james wrote:
“You want it darker” references a light that is so finely tuned, so dim and obscure that it no longer hurts to look at it; it is barely visible, and, this is just the light that the “biblical vocab” suggests is required in this “game” of seeking the Source of all. In that darkness, “steer your way, “O my heart…through the darkness… through the ruins… past the Truth…through the pain” of annihilation and Union of light (Leonard’s spirit) with Light Divine.
Mat, really good to see you back around (Judy too!).

So, below is the final part of TS Eliot's Little Gidding, that I have mentally paired with Steer Your Way.

TSE has only words (no music) within which to undermine life's heartache. A couple of notes on that: "All manner of things shall be well" is a direct quote from the Christian mystic Juliana of Norwich who described Jesus as having told her in visions that everything was fine despite appearances to the contrary. Regarding the compelling "tongues of flames" image, Spark Notes suggests the fire is "both the flame of divine harshness and the spiritual ether capable of purifying the human soul and bringing understanding." And JS Brooker says, "Eliot’s complex image — tongues of flame folded in on themselves and transfigured into the petals of a rose — is his counterpart of Juliana’s Alle shalle be wele."


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


--

I didn't mean to dismiss the real final song, String Reprise/Treaty but I am yet to get any clear ideas about it. It seems that the utmost regret is that there apparently can't be a treaty between human and divine love..?
Last edited by Diane on Mon Feb 20, 2017 12:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Mon Feb 20, 2017 8:55 am

Diane,

Thanks for your thoughts and for the quote from Eliot. Your quoting of it in the context of “Steer Your Way” is very inspired and it brings on many thoughts. However, it also took me in a different direction. Reading the last line of the poem it occurred to me that in my analysis of “The Window” I missed this association to Eliot among the many others I found (to Yeats, Rumi etc.). When LC wrote the following lines he may also have had Eliot at the back of his mind:
Then lay your rose on the fire;
the fire give up to the sun;
the sun give over to splendour
in the arms of the High Holy One;
I’ve also been thinking that we didn’t refer yet in this thread to the final track on the album, “String Reprise / Treaty”. When he says “I wish there was a treaty” he indeed seems to be saying that there isn’t one, but could it also mean that he didn’t lose hope completely? The beauty of the music stands somewhat in contrast with the finality of the words.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Mon Feb 20, 2017 11:57 am

Indeed that looks like an Eliot reference in The Window.
DBCohen, about String Reprise/Treaty wrote:
The beauty of the music stands somewhat in contrast with the finality of the words.
It does! Brilliant. Thanks Doron!

A treaty is about static human law, a separate enterprise to divine law (although many would refute that it's separate of course), and in order to sign a treaty, you would have to sign in lieu of a ('wishing/wanting') ego-identity.

So, yes, there is a treaty, and LC discovered it, but the thing is, it cannot be signed!

:D

One other thought that I don't have time to develop in the context of Darker right now - in the Bible Jesus says something like 'the Kingdom will not come with signs to be seen . . . the Kingdom of God is within you.' That quote/para-quote fascinated me when I first heard it, because Jesus seems to be talking there as a mystic rather than as a monotheist.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby mat james » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:32 am

Thanks Joe for the emphatic welcome.
“…and it sure must be the highest bliss of human kind
when to thy haunts, two kindred spirits flee!” (Keats)

That “Solitude” that Keats writes about above is what I do when I hit the lonesome key-board (say a prayer for the cowboy) and venture into cyberspace and land on this forum; and to be greeted in that generous way you greet people is such a bonus…so thanks again Joe for being you.
The other day I re-read some of your earlier posts, and indeed we do seem to have a similar “take” on this album. You wrote Joe, back on page 3:
{So the notion the G-d wants it darker might be something that Leonard considered apart from the “darkness” his fans seek.
and,
“The chorus, of course, is “Hineni, Hineni” Here I Am, Lord. I’m Ready. This could include the “game” that includes the random sufferings and joys or the pre-destined course set by a deity or a course set by our choices and actions.…”
Or for me,hurdles while running the gauntlet of self-discovery; and yes, "our choices and actions" are the key. I am very comfortable with this undercurrent of thought and I will talk more about that another day. So be ready for a few rough and tumble tangents sky-rocketing from my “position” .

And Diane:
…love the T.S. Eliot allusions that you and Doron took.
you said,
…Poetry can upset the usual whirring of discursive thought with a kind of glance out of the corner of your eye type trick that unseats the 'fretting' that the poetry ostensibly comprises.
Nicely said. That is so true of poetry in general.
And T.S. has hit the nail on the head here like the Buddhas Lotus petals.
"…All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."
Those 4 lines are more reassuring than some of Leonard's mood swings on the “Darker” album.
But there is plenty to be positive about too. More on that later.

Like Joe, my thoughts are also with those of you who find it sad and difficult to play this album.
"They whisper still, the injured stones,
the blunted mountains weep"
For me, these are the sweetest two lines on the whole album. Such poetry!
...and if it's O.K. for stones and mountains to suffer and weep, then it is O.K. for us too.

For now, thanks to all of you for catalyzing my thoughts.


MatbbgJ
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Diane
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:17 pm

mat james wrote:You wrote Joe, back on page 3:
{So the notion the G-d wants it darker might be something that Leonard considered apart from the “darkness” his fans seek.
and,
“The chorus, of course, is “Hineni, Hineni” Here I Am, Lord. I’m Ready. This could include the “game” that includes the random sufferings and joys or the pre-destined course set by a deity or a course set by our choices and actions.…”
Or for me,hurdles while running the gauntlet of self-discovery; and yes, "our choices and actions" are the key. I am very comfortable with this undercurrent of thought...
Great point, Joe and Mat! The "path" is inclusive of all our strife and screw-ups, not exclusive of them. In fact in large part they even comprise it. And that I think is what Leonard was getting at when he said,


Here is your cart,
And your cardboard and piss;
And here is your love
For all of this.

Here is your wine,
And your drunken fall;
And here is your love.
Your love for it all.


mat james wrote:Like Joe, my thoughts are also with those of you who find it sad and difficult to play this album.
"They whisper still, the injured stones,
the blunted mountains weep"
For me, these are the sweetest two lines on the whole album. Such poetry!
...and if it's O.K. for stones and mountains to suffer and weep, then it is O.K. for us too.
As Jean pointed out recently, the only advice Leonard's Roshi gave him, was to 'sing more sad'.

Pain is pain multiplied by resistance to pain. As humans we can too easily become heavy repositories of accumulated unexpressed sadnesses.

Thanks very much for touching this thread to earth, Mat.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:58 pm

Diane wrote:Violet, you revealed yourself as the anonymous and mysterious entrant into Jarkko's competition. It's nicely satisfying, if not as a Files logo, then as an emblem for Leonard Cohen's art. Kudos.
Violet wrote:
With an artist, there is the body of work that exists and remains, much of it shrouded in mystery, and in that it's awaiting the light of new understanding… which is the work of the files, and the forum.


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Hi Diane. Nice to see you here.

I need to catch up with this thread (I don't always get email prompts, so I fall behind sometimes). Anyway, I just thought I'd thank you for your "emblem" appreciation.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Diane » Thu Feb 23, 2017 1:15 pm

Hello Violet - you are welcome! Your emblem is something of a 'signless sign' (after the zen saying, The fool by the signless signpost stands pointing the way).

It's impossible to 'catch up', isn't it. Some weeks I have time to spend online, and others I simply don't, but I do read when I cannot write, so sincere thanks to everyone for taking the time to formulate these posts.

For now I just wanted to listen to String Reprise/Treaty and copy the lyrics here.

The song is around 3 minutes 15 seconds of beautiful, melancholy but uplifting strings (a slower tempo than most of the strings in Steer Your Way, but possibly continuing one strain, will have to listen carefully again), over which for the final 30/40 seconds Leonard recites the final verse of the second song on the album, Treaty:

I wish there was a treaty we could sign
It's over now the water and the wine
We were broken then but now we're borderline
And I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine.


He pauses during the last line so it sounds like:

Between your love...and mine.

A definition:
reprise:
noun, a repeated passage in music.
verb, repeat (a piece of music or a performance).

If anyone has their analysing brain on...over to you.

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