On That Day

Leonard Cohen's recent albums - share your views with others!
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linmag
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Postby linmag » Thu Dec 09, 2004 9:58 pm

It makes perfect sense, Dylan, and that's one of the great beauties of Leonard's songwriting. He leaves space for the listener to put something of him/herself into it.
Linda

1972: Leeds, 2008: Manchester, Lyon, London O2, 2009: Wet Weybridge, 2012: Hop Farm/Wembley Arena
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lightning
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thus spake Moses

Postby lightning » Fri Dec 10, 2004 5:47 pm

A comment on this song was posted by Dear Heather Amazon reviewer G. Moses that kind of sums it up for me:

"The lowpoint must surely be 'On That Day,' or whatever it's called, in which, apparently wanting to write a 911 song but not really having anything to say about it, he wrote one anyway. Whoo. "

That's right.
Whoo.
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Postby tomsakic » Mon Dec 13, 2004 11:28 am

Altghough I don't have nothing in particular against this song, in my worst moment and listening to the whole Dear Heather, I would say this is the song which is the less satisfactory.
I would agree then :?
Now, Anjani said that after she wrote the melody LC was unsatisfied with his lyrics and wrote the complete new lyrics On That Day. G-d knows what the original song was about :cry: It is the nice tune and performance (although I do have some moments during my day when I can't see the point if those Jew's harp sounds, but I like his voice and the sparse piano arrangement.)
The lyrics aren't under Leonard's level I would say, but you know, I need something more. He accustomed us for higher level.
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margaret
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Postby margaret » Mon Dec 13, 2004 2:05 pm

I haven't commented earlier on this song partly because I thought as a non-American I can't fully identify with it. After listening to the album many times however I have to agree that it is the weakest song and not up to Leonard's usual high standard. I see it as a non-commital statement of different opinions about the event and not really wanting to take sides. The line about going crazy I interpreted as a desire for vengeance by over-reacting instead of reporting in to help in whatever way was possible. Overall I think the lyrics are a bit wishy washy. Sorry Leonard :?
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tomsakic
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Postby tomsakic » Mon Dec 13, 2004 2:14 pm

I totally agree with you, margaret. :?
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lightning
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Postby lightning » Mon Dec 13, 2004 4:55 pm

As someone who was in New York 0n 9/11 I heard "did you go crazy" as referring to people who were so terrorized they were unable to act. While some lined up to give blood, sent food to the firemen. or volunteered their help in other ways, others were too paralyzed with fear and grief .stayed home obsessively watching the TV, crying, unable to sleep, etc. Maybe " I won't take you to court" ( another line I have trouble with) is some kind of implicit criticism of the people who didn't "report" or give service of some kind.
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Postby lizzytysh » Mon Dec 13, 2004 5:10 pm

That information illuminates those lines in a 'different' light, Lightning. Is it not a legitimate question to ask? Do you think the, "I won't take you to court" is an implicit way of saying, "It's okay if that's how you reacted"? Or, do you think, "Did you go crazy [with all the negative connotations of that word]" is an indictment of those who reacted by becoming frozen with fear? Leonard certainly allows for himself "freeze [ing] with fear," but then adds, "but I'm there for you." I can imagine his commenting positively on those who gave service; however, I just can't imagine him saying anything that might be construed as being judgemental toward any of the many victims who remain alive in NYC.
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lightning
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Postby lightning » Mon Dec 13, 2004 8:19 pm

What's the point of this song, if any, if there is no comment made, either overt or implicit? Maybe, as G. Moses said, he had nothing to say but he wrote a song anyway. Why is he asking whether or not each of us "went crazy" or, the other option, "report"? Who would ever even think of taking someone to court for the way he or she reacted to a major tragedy? Is that supposed to be a joke?
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Postby lizzytysh » Mon Dec 13, 2004 9:48 pm

Hi Lightning ~

I still feel that the implicit point of the song is for us to examine our place in the world and our personal attitudes. The "take you to court" is, as you know, a common phrase, not intended to be taken literally. As for a joke, I know it's not intended to be that. The "went crazy" vs. "report" has not, as far as I'm aware, been nailed down [by us] as to their meanings, so the choice can't be clearly made, either.

This seems to be the song of questions and questioning to me, asking that we all check and examine ourselves and our attitudes. It's difficult for anyone who has any kind of ambivalence about world events and the part the U.S. plays in them to make unequivocal statements about right/wrong/otherwise on such an event. Examining the motives of those at the heart of September 11 [many still remain uncertain on that point] could be approached from a number of perspectives. My position is that the innocent people in the Towers did not deserve to pay the highest and final price. Neither did the people of NYC, such as you, who have been inhaling toxic fumes ever since. However, neither have the innocent civilians of Afghanistan and Iraq deserved to pay the highest and final price. I can still understand Leonard's wanting to address the event in a song. However, if I were to try to write anything such as a song about it, it would end up a research project into history. At best, it's a very difficult 'assignment' ~ I can understand why he at least wanted to acknowledge its occurrence in song. It would be a blatant oversight not to.....he produced "The Future." He couldn't be expected to say, "I was right; I predicted this; I saw this coming; I told you so." Who really knows the what and why of September 11. I sure don't, and my suspicions don't bode well for the U.S.

Very respectfully to you and all victims of New York and elsewhere,
Elizabeth
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Joe Way
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Postby Joe Way » Mon Dec 13, 2004 11:39 pm

Hello friends,

I have been working on a little project with Tom Sakic, tom.d.stiller and Jurica and I just finished doing a bit more research on both "On That Day" and "Villanelle." Rather than make you wait until it is all finished and in light of the discussion and confusion about some of the lines from "On That Day," I've decided to post it here. I hope Tom, Tom and Jurica don't object as this will all eventually appear here as well.

Again, I want to start with my observation that the two songs, "On That Day" and "Villanelle For Our Times" are intentionally connected in many ways and it is difficult to speak of one without comparing it to the other. Located as they are at the heart of the album, (in vinyl days-one would have completed the "A" side and the other would have begun the "B" side), they stand together inviting comparison. One senses that, at least, since "Various Positions" there has been a conscious effort on Leonard's part to have some type of overall structure to his albums, and I think the centrality of the placement of these songs was a studied choice.

While "On That Day" is one of the briefest songs that Leonard ever recorded, with a simple accompaniment of organ-like synth and earthy Jew's harp, the hymnlike arrangement is distinctive and captivating. When I heard it in New York, it was the most memorable song for me that evening upon first hearing it.

Filled with impersonal pronouns-"some people," "they,"-the protagonists are never identified, but it is clear that there are two sides-us and them. The causes of the conflict are put forth for speculation-"sins against g-d," "crimes in the world," "women unveiled, our slaves and our gold." The narrator refuses to take a stand on this with the derisive "I wouldn't know." Even the way that Leonard sings this line with an audible disgust, it is clear that looking back for causes does not interest the narrator. It is not until the narrator asks us, the listener, about our reaction and defines it with only two choices-"did you go crazy or did you report?" that we get a sense of what does interest the narrator. It is interesting that he inserts the line, "I won't take you to court" as it harks back to some of the legal imagery that he has used so effectively in songs like "A Singer Must Die," "The Traitor" and "The Law." It also suggests the Biblical judgment day and provides an introduction to the connection of Frank Scott, poet and law professor.

Leonard may have been a student of Scott's when he briefly attended Law School at McGill. It is more likely that he was familiar with Scott from the Montreal poetry circles in which they both traveled. Scott, who lost a brother in World War I, argued prior to World War II for the right of Canada to remain neutral in what he then viewed as a "European conflict." In a rather sarcastic poem, he writes:

The British troops at the Dardanelles
Were blown to bits by British shells
Sold to the Turks by Vickers.
And many a brave Canadian youth
Will shed his blood on foreign shores,
And die for Democracy, Freedom, Truth,
With his body full of Canadian ores,
Canadian nickel, lead and scrap,
Sold to the German, sold to the Jap,
With Capital watching the tickers.

By 1942, Scott had changed his mind and recognized the conflict and, indeed, helped to draft his political party's (CCF) suppport for the democratic war effort. This quote from Sandra Djwa in her excellent article on Scott helps illuminate the changing psychological landscape that Scott traversed:


"It was also during the early war years when Scott was studying at Harvard on a Guggenheim fellowship that his interest in a more inward poetry was revived. The Canadian scholar and critic, E.K. Brown, invited to be a guest editor of Poetry (Chicago), asked Scott to submit some poetry. The two poems which Scott sent, “Cornice” and “Armageddon” reveal a developing awareness of the complexity of human psychology: “This foe we fight is half our own self. / He aims our gunsight as we shoot him down.” The social concerns of the ’thirties, the debacle of the Spanish Civil War and the new psychology of the ’forties had deepened Scott’s poetry."

By the early 1970's, Scott had further developed his constitutional philosophy enough to embrace the War Powers Act during the FLQ crisis in Quebec saying that (the Act) “gave back to me my civil liberties which were being steadily eroded by the F.L.Q. terrorists:”

In an interview he 1971, Scott quoted his former Dean at McGill, Percy Corbett for this definition of law: “Law is that set of institutions which most subject men’s passions to their reason”. He also said that law is "crytallized politics" and shares with poetry a concern for the spirit of man. In that same interview, Scott says:

"You see I believe (to use a phrase I borrowed from the historian Berkhardt) “the state can be a work of art”. In other words man’s creativity can come out in his politics and be expressed in his constitution. In fact that’s what happens all the time. You can create a constitution which will make one kind of a country like Fascist Spain, or a constitution which will make another kind of a country like Communist Russia, or you can make one as the Americans did when they started, with a very great contribution towards the notion of a form of participatory democracy."

I think that this begins to shed some light on his line from "Villanelle"-"Men shall know Commonwealth again."

These two works "On That Day" and "Villanelle For Our Time" placed together by Leonard offer two distinct and at times opposing viewpoints. The imagery is in sharp contrast with one another:

"On That Day" "Villanelle"

"I wouldn't know" "From bitter searching of the the heart"
"Wounded New York" "Whose symbols are the millions slain"
"I'm just holding the fort" "We rise to play a greater part"
"sins against g-d, crimes in the world" "Reshaping narror law and art"
"our slaves and our gold" "neither race nor creed remain"
"Some people say" "This is the faith from which we start"

It would seem that "On That Day" would be the visceral reaction while "Villanelle" would be the more cerebral and considered despite its invocation of the searching of the heart. Regardless of our reaction to them, these two works inform our response to most of the album. "Did you go crazy or did you report" seems to echo the pyschological struggle that Scott refers to in his poem, "This foe we fight is half our own self." Coming to terms, both physically and pyschologically to a changed world is indeed a testament to the enduring spirit of a man turning 70. One harks back to his line, "I haven't been this happy since the end of World War II." To face this bitter conflict again is no one's desire and I'm quite confident that Leonard shares this sentiment.



All good things,

Joe
Last edited by Joe Way on Mon Dec 13, 2004 11:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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lightning
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Postby lightning » Mon Dec 13, 2004 11:42 pm

What you say is unfortunately true. But is it possible to report and go crazy as well? I remember that the stock market was depressed after 9/11 and some people reported to their brokers and went crazy buying up bargains, while some souvenir shops and sidewalk vendors selling pictures of the towers, tee shirts, flags and red white and blue paraphernalia reported to work and went crazy selling thousands of dollars worth of stuff. Tis an ill wind.......
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lizzytysh
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Postby lizzytysh » Tue Dec 14, 2004 12:07 am

Thanks again, Joe, for your substantive response to this. Some time ago, you delineated the 'similarities and contrasts' between the two songs. I'm glad to see you bring them forward for inclusion here, as well as additional, valuable, historical information.

You're right, Lightning, on how things went crazy here in greed-based fashion.
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tom.d.stiller
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Postby tom.d.stiller » Tue Dec 14, 2004 8:15 am

lightning wrote:But is it possible to report and go crazy as well?
It is possible, and Leonard gives room for that.

The correct usage of "or" is non-excluxive (Latin "vel", meaning "the first or the second or both"). "Either...or" would correspond to the "exclusive" Latin "aut ... aut ..." (logical term: XOR).

Agreed that we in our careless everyday usage tend to think in XOR terms, but when dealing with Leonard's words we can be sure that if he wants to say "either ... or" he will know how to do so.

Just a general remark: This XOR way of thinking is one of the most dangerous attitudes there is. In a conflict, instead of conceding that "you are right from your side, and I am right from mine", XOR thinkers usually end up with "you represent the Evil, while I am with the G~d" - replace the "~" with one or two "o"s...

Yes, lightning, it is "an ill wind"...

Tom
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Postby Tchocolatl » Wed Dec 15, 2004 7:05 am

Joe the search you have done with the help of your friends is impressive!
:D You are looking at the song trough the lens of the reason like the first philosophers of liberal doctrine did.

I would have a few comments to do about all this way of observing the song, maybe later.

The least would not be to keep in mind that people who makes the law and got the power to do it have also a tendency to think that what is good for their "cast" is good for the entire humanity (is The Good). This prouved with very intelligent and reasonable constructed "facts", of course. When the illusion is taking too much place in regard of the reality, pressions (I do not say wars, I do not say violence) from the people who are more realistic in the best case (or from people who just have other interests that are not taking into account) are necessary to balance the society, to recreate harmony in the world.

There, I am more near to Tom.d.Stiller's point of view.

I appreciated most to know more about this Scott.

On that day, I mean today plus a day, last year they did finally catch Saddam Hussein. It seems 10 years ago to me. I still feel like being in a war time and it is heavy.
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

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Anne-Marie
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Postby Anne-Marie » Thu Jan 06, 2005 9:20 pm

When Cohen says, "Did you go crazy, or did you report" I took it as him asking, "Were you part of the solution, or were you too much of a wreck to do anything?'

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