The Darker Album and the Songs

Leonard Ciohen's last studio album (2016)
vickiwoodyard
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Wed Jan 11, 2017 3:33 am

I love to read everyone's input on his songs because I love him so much. As I said, I listen in two ways, as someone on the path of awakening, I recognize certain key principles common to all true paths. He was undoubtedly a dedicated student of the truth wherever he ran across it in the world. But more importantly, where he recognized it in himself. That's why we get a rough and ragged interpretation of life and truth from him. And I love that aspect of his work. One of my favorite songs is "That Don't Make It Junk." That seems to say a lot about all of us.

I also listen to his music and let it work on me anyway it wants to! I think that is a great approach to take. Straight to the heart. Embracing what moves me and almost everything he writes does. Well, with one exception, and I say this with a grain of salt. I am from Memphis and when he sings "Tennessee Waltz," I find myself mumbling, "Leonard, you shouldn't be singing that song!" Oh, I know he lived in Tennessee for a while, but he still sounds too much like a Canadian for me in that one.

So you guys, I thank all of you for taking the time and interest to write about his magnificent "stuff." He remains alive in us all.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Jan 12, 2017 9:05 am

Joe Way wrote:"The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say "Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!”

Violet, I really appreciate all of your views. I'm not trying to start any argument. We are so blessed to have these complicated songs to discuss now. What a gift, that Leonard has left us.

Joe
Hi Joe.

I missed your post for some reason, I only saw Vikki's later one.

Actually, I'm not arguing either -- what I said was in the vein of "spirited debate."

But thank you for your note.

I tried listening to the album in the car the other day and only made it to the beginning of Treaty. I just can't listen to it just now, my heart breaks. But I imagine that "this too shall pass."

Violet
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby rjsh8756 » Wed Jan 18, 2017 2:35 pm

what does the song travelling light mean ?
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Bennyboy » Mon Jan 23, 2017 8:38 pm

rjsh8756 wrote:what does the song travelling light mean ?
You want it darker, but he's traveling light.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby yopietro » Tue Jan 24, 2017 2:48 am

Bennyboy wrote:
rjsh8756 wrote:what does the song travelling light mean ?
You want it darker, but he's traveling light.
It means that instead of normally packing four suits and two fedoras, he's packing two suits and one fedora.
vickiwoodyard
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby vickiwoodyard » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:41 am

Made me laugh....
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Feb 02, 2017 12:14 am

I'll direct this question to Doron, but to anyone else who is versed in this, please join in.

I'm just wondering -- especially given the Christ imagery in this album -- when did the figure of Jesus first appear in Leonard's work? Had he only ever conjured him in his haunting Suzanne that would have left a profound enough effect. But what about in his earlier writings?

If this has already been discussed on this forum or on the files then maybe some links could be provided.

I know the subject of the Jesus of Suzanne is mentioned by Leon Wieseltier in his article for Tablet Magazine titled, "The Lace and the Grace, Remembering Leonard Cohen" [originally linked to on the "Leonard has Passed Away" thread, although I'll link to it again: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-an ... wieseltier] In it Wieseltier states:
Leonard was never more Jewish than in his lifelong engagement with the figure of Jesus: has there ever been a more Jewish, or more damning, or more compassionate, characterization of Jesus than “almost human,” which is what Leonard called him in “Suzanne”?
So, it seems it was a "lifelong engagement" with the figure of Jesus. But does anyone know the first actual reference to Jesus in his writings?

Anyway, for now, back to..

And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

[Suzanne, Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967]


Actually, looking at this now, I see in it a kind of sublime self portrait. "Almost human" speaks to a profound isolation--dislocation, even--from which this writer writes.

he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

.. albeit with the knowledge that he will not be understood.


Lastly, I was the one who anonymously submitted this logo design (below) for the files in August of 2015. I remember that when the request for submissions was posted this image flashed across my mind. Perhaps I'd already seen it somewhere online, since I was able to find it (the image is derived from an illustration used on sites devoted to biblical studies that I believe to be in the public domain). I then altered it in various ways (to match the vision I had) including the rendering of its blue-grey color range.

In any event, given the Christ imagery in this last album, I thought I'd post it again here. As I wrote to Jarkko at the time concerning the light in the picture (or even the physical body by way of its absence):
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.

submission logo files.jpg
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Thu Feb 02, 2017 8:01 am

Violet,

Thanks for the impressive image.

To your question, I believe that the first mention of Jesus in LC’s work is in the major poem, which also contains the title of the book in which it appeared, “For Wilf And His House”, in Let Us Compare Mythologies (it’s the second poem in the book, p. 16). It begins:
When young the Christians told me
how we pinned Jesus
like a lovely butterfly against the wood…
The poem is quoted fully on the Forum with some discussion here:

viewtopic.php?t=643

And here’s LC reading it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag1_2e5qZBg

Jesus is mentioned by name relatively few times in LC’s poems and songs, but as on this album, his presence is felt through indirect allusions and more or less subtle hints.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Fri Feb 03, 2017 7:43 am

Thank you Doron for the links and comments, and for the image appreciation.

I'm taking in that poem, but just to thank you in the meantime.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Sat Feb 04, 2017 10:36 pm

FOR WILF AND HIS HOUSE

When young the Christians told me
how we pinned Jesus
like a lovely butterfly against the wood,
and I wept beside paintings of Calvary
at velvet wounds
and delicate twisted feet.

But he could not hang softly long,
your fighters so proud with bugles,
bending flowers with their silver stain,
and when I faced the Ark for counting,
trembling under the burning oil,
the meadow of running flesh turned sour
and I kissed away my gentle teachers,
warned my younger brothers.

Among the young and turning-great
of the large nations, innocent
of the spiked wish and the bright crusade,
there I could sing my heathen tears
between the summersaults and chestnut battles,
love the distant saint
who fed his arm to flies,
mourn the crushed ant
and despise the reason of the heel.

Raging and weeping are left on the early road.
Now each in his holy hill
the glittering and hurting days are almost done.
Then let us compare mythologies.
I have learned my elaborate lie
of soaring crosses and poisoned thorns
and how my fathers nailed him
like a bat against a barn
to greet the autumn and late hungry ravens
as a hollow yellow sign.

Leonard Cohen, from Let us Compare Mythologies


So, is it the crucified Christ who greets "the autumn and late hungry ravens / as a hollow yellow sign”?

Actually, what just came to mind is this 1889 Gauguin painting The Yellow Christ:
Gauguin_Yellow_Christ.jpg
Considering this painting further, I found this page on Gauguin from: PsyArt, An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts.

Here's what's written about The Yellow Christ (by Ronnie Mather):
The people around the cross seem rather unperturbed if rather subdued and respectful at the fate of the saviour, and [the] yellow Christ seems in some sort of drooping torpor rather [than] the victim of a brutal execution. Christ carries no discernible wounds, no crown of thorns. The choice of colour is rather vexing as well as the human eye is most sensitive to light in the yellow-green region of the spectrum and an extended viewing can be both fatiguing and irritating. The yellow Christ has died a narcissistic death. He demands attention but the death of the second person of the trinity symbolizes the crushing of the ego, its omnipotence, and the moment of origin of its need for veneration. [It's] the death of the self or at least part of it.
The "drooping torpor" Mather describes in some way anticipates the poem's "hollow yellow sign," drained of its emotional impact ("the raging and the weeping"), and in this drained of its true signification (the one housing belief) given its hollow (devalued) existence as among all other myths or signs.

Doron, I appreciate the post by John Etherington on the thread you linked to in which he quotes from Steven Scobie's 1978 book, Leonard Cohen, particularly this assessment of Scobie's:

"The conclusion [of LC's For Wilf and His House] proclaims a break away from any single or narrow religious view; Cohen believes in mythologies, but not in any one system, except that which he can assemble himself by comparison and assembly of fragments."


As to a "comparison and assembly of fragments," as I thought about finishing this tonight (I’ve been piecing this together on my desktop) this personal anecdote came to mind:

When I was a child I was exceptionally sensitive to the world around me; so much so that there were times on family outings when we happened upon an industrial section of highway (with its black smoke billowing) that I found I had to brace myself given how frightened and sick and alone I felt, constricted by hidden yet overwhelming feelings of pending doom and despair. Of course, I never told a soul about it. I suppose I implicitly understood that whatever I was going through would have been thought to be an exaggeration, that no one could feel such things merely at the sight of some industrial pollution along the highway.

As I got older I gradually experienced a type of transformation inside me, which seemed to culminate in my college years. What exemplified this change (and in keeping to the theme of this story) is that I came to feel that the alienation of the industrial landscape now possessed a kind of beauty, and in that it was as if I was aesthetically anesthetized to the type of trauma I had once silently endured.

The commonality here is the “raging and the weeping” — or, for me, the inner weeping — giving way to the “hollow yellow sign,” or in my case a romanticized version of the alienating industrial landscape: both a veiled dissociation from the original, brutal ordeal.

If I pursue this line of thought in coming to know more of LC’s earlier writings I wonder if this impression will hold: that this artist (who often wrote of a kind of numbness or frozenness) had through his writing felt compelled to perfect and in that way render sacred the still "glittering" husks of long lost feeling.

edit: corrected name of Scobie's book, as per Doron's comment below.
Last edited by Violet on Sun Feb 05, 2017 7:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Sun Feb 05, 2017 4:09 am

Violet,

Thank you very much for all your effort. The association to Gauguin’s painting is very compelling. Another association for the “yellow sign” at the end of the poem is to the one Jews were forced to ware by the Nazis (and in some places in Europe already in Medieval times); allusions to the Holocaust appeared early in LC’s work and kept appearing occasionally although not insistently (lately in “Almost Like The Blues” and perhaps in “You Want It Darker”).

LC was very young when he wrote this poem and in some places one may feel his enthusiasm for (perhaps even intoxication with) high flying but sometimes little obscure metaphors and images. Still, it is an impressive poem. It is interesting how the beautiful image of Jesus as “a lovely butterfly” in the first stanza is changed to the ugly one of a bat nailed against a barn in the final lines; the narrator seems to reject his early fascination with the image of Christ in favor of the pain and suffering of human beings. This takes me back to “It Seemed The Better Way” which we have been discussing above, in which, I believe, LC goes right back to his early fascination with Jesus and the disappointment that followed. This could be quite an unexpected link between his earliest and latest work.

Thanks for sharing your personal experience; you say that LC “often wrote of a kind of numbness and frozenness”; I associate this mainly with his earlier period, especially with Songs of Love and Hate, which is quite brutal in this sense (although, strangely, was a great aid against inner feelings of coldness and numbness at the time); images associated with coldness kept appearing later on (as someone mentioned to me in a private email), but perhaps less intensely than before.

By the way, the title of Stephen Scobie’s 1978 book quoted by John E. on the other thread is simply Leonard Cohen, and “Studies in Canadian Literature” is the name of the series (in which it was volume no. 12); it was the first book about LC which I bought back then, and for many years it had been the only serious book about his writing. Some 15 years later (1993) Scobie read the following paper at a conference dedicated to LC’s work, in which he related to his own book and to LC’s later work. It’s now nearly 25 years since that paper was written, but it is still a good read:

http://www.uwo.ca/english/canadianpoetr ... scobie.htm

Doron
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:11 am

[note: I somehow posted the same post twice, and went with the one below]
Last edited by Violet on Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:22 am

DBCohen wrote:Violet,

Thank you very much for all your effort. The association to Gauguin’s painting is very compelling. Another association for the “yellow sign” at the end of the poem is to the one Jews were forced to ware by the Nazis (and in some places in Europe already in Medieval times); allusions to the Holocaust appeared early in LC’s work and kept appearing occasionally although not insistently (lately in “Almost Like The Blues” and perhaps in “You Want It Darker”).
Funny, but my first impression of "a hollow yellow sign" was just as you said. Only, then.. well, here's what I removed from my first draft:

"My initial impression was that the "hollow yellow sign" was the yellow star of David the Jews were made to wear in Nazi Germany. If I go with that impression then it is "my fathers" who crucify Christ “[only] to greet the autumn and late hungry ravens / as a hollow yellow sign." Of course, the word ‘only’ is not there -- or, at best, is possibly implied -- which leaves the last two lines rather ambiguous then."

I then listened to LC's reading of the poem and his intonation seemed to confirm Christ as the intended subject -- so much so that I didn't think my confusion even warranted mentioning (!)

I have this feeling now -- given that you've just confirmed not my doubt but my original impression -- that that may have been the intended association when the poem was being written. And yet poems are often driven by conflicting impulses including unconscious ones, and so the two interpretations may well be vying for a hearing.
LC was very young when he wrote this poem and in some places one may feel his enthusiasm for (perhaps even intoxication with) high flying but sometimes little obscure metaphors and images. Still, it is an impressive poem.
Yes, I've read that Let Us Compare Mythologies is a youthful work by an obviously precocious intellect. That characterization held as I read this poem, perhaps for the same reasons you cited.
It is interesting how the beautiful image of Jesus as “a lovely butterfly” in the first stanza is changed to the ugly one of a bat nailed against a barn in the final lines; the narrator seems to reject his early fascination with the image of Christ in favor of the pain and suffering of human beings.
Is it merely fascination though? I suppose this question goes to the quality of this weeping:

and I wept beside paintings of Calvary
at velvet wounds
and delicate twisted feet.


This later line would seem to confirm its gravity, putting it on par with 'raging':

Raging and weeping are left on the early road.
This takes me back to “It Seemed The Better Way” which we have been discussing above, in which, I believe, LC goes right back to his early fascination with Jesus and the disappointment that followed. This could be quite an unexpected link between his earliest and latest work.
In any event, I agree there would seem to be a real parallel here.
Thanks for sharing your personal experience; you say that LC “often wrote of a kind of numbness and frozenness”; I associate this mainly with his earlier period, especially with Songs of Love and Hate, which is quite brutal in this sense (although, strangely, was a great aid against inner feelings of coldness and numbness at the time); images associated with coldness kept appearing later on (as someone mentioned to me in a private email), but perhaps less intensely than before.
I just thought of this line from "Hallelujah," which also evokes this frozenness:

I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch

But then that's not very recent. I'd have to look into more current albums with this in mind.

Interesting that you say that LC's giving expression to this "frozenness" acted as a kind of aid for it. Sometimes truthfully naming the problem is like that. (Certainly psychotherapists assert that as the case.)

As I indicated earlier, by frozenness I'm also referring to dissociation, which throws a much wider net than just specific lines pertaining to coldness. And just as LC's brutal coldness in Songs of Love and Hate had provided you with some relief for it, the path to wholeness can paradoxically contain a near lethal cure. Or at least that is the fear. I'm again reminded of this passage from "Treaty":

I heard the snake was baffled by his sin
He shed his scales to find the snake within
But born again is born without a skin
The poison enters into everything

By the way, the title of Stephen Scobie’s 1978 book quoted by John E. on the other thread is simply Leonard Cohen, and “Studies in Canadian Literature” is the name of the series (in which it was volume no. 12); it was the first book about LC which I bought back then, and for many years it had been the only serious book about his writing. Some 15 years later (1993) Scobie read the following paper at a conference dedicated to LC’s work, in which he related to his own book and to LC’s later work. It’s now nearly 25 years since that paper was written, but it is still a good read:

http://www.uwo.ca/english/canadianpoetr ... scobie.htm

Doron
I need to go to bed now, but thanks for the link, which I'll get to later on.

Thank you, Doron, for sharing your knowledge and insights (!)

edit: improved an awkward sentence.
Last edited by Violet on Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby mat james » Sun Feb 05, 2017 3:28 pm

Wow! Where have I been?
Joe and Doron and Diane,Judy and so many other players at the "table". Great thread. I have surfed through it and enjoyed the fun; so thanks.

I was gifted the "album" for Christmas. Love it. (Hugs and xxxes to Leonard.)
I have been roaming around it and sauntering through it, since then.
It has taken me to fascinating vistas and I must say rather different to those I have been reading here.

...I'm off on my usual tangent, of course. Too many thoughts to pollute you all with right now as the soup is still rolling over and not quite cooked. But I am having much fun and perhaps some clarity will settle soon.
Kind regards to all,

MatbellybuttongazergJ
"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 » Sun Feb 05, 2017 3:34 pm

mat james wrote:
Wow! Where have I been?
I was wondering the same thing... Welcome back, Mat.

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