My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Everything about Leonard's 2006 book of poetry and Anjani's album
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Joe Way
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by Joe Way » Fri Feb 08, 2008 6:45 am

Hi Dick, Dar & Jack,

Thanks again for your interest.

Jack, I don't know about the whole squared, by the power of 2 type of discussion. My daughter Emily's best friend in school was also named Emily and we called them Emily squared-but they could have been a tetrahedron or whatever it was that you called it.

I’ve come home a bit earlly today since we’ve had a major snow storm. It’s given me a little time to continue this.

The poem, “Don’t Have The Proof” is a continuation of many of Leonard’s themes. The flood, itself, is finally dedicated to an entire song on “Dear Heather,“ but there are references previous to that. I tend to think of it through the imagery of some of the earlier songs such as “Suzanne” where the sailor, Jesus, is able to walk on water and the notion of the saint who is able to ride freely like a ski over frozen water. The crucial reference is, of course, to the story of Noah who, along with his family and all the animals are able to survive by floating above with the help of the Ark.

Every valley and every roof adds the notion of Frye’s, Axis Mundi along with the association of the words regarding the work of John the Baptist, “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted.”. And the roof, of course, brings to mind that he “saw her bathing on the roof.”

This is an old poem from 1973 and the associations are more recent. The musical treatment seems very Jazz like-a saxophone line-that could be Charlie “Bird” Parker, and those Jazz moments when Leonard recited his poetry in his youth in Montreal.

The next song, “The Night of Santiago” is a re-working of Lorca’s, “The Faithless Wife.”

Leonard has re-written it in strict rhyme and meter. Here is a usual translation:
The Faithless Wife

So I took her to the river
believing she was a maiden,
but she already had a husband.
It was on St. James night
and almost as if I was obliged to.
The lanterns went out
and the crickets lighted up.
In the farthest street corners
I touched her sleeping breasts
and they opened to me suddenly
like spikes of hyacinth.
The starch of her petticoat
sounded in my ears
like a piece of silk
rent by ten knives.
Without silver light on their foliage
the  trees had grown larger
and a horizon of dogs
barked very far from the river.

s and the hawthorne
underneath her cluster of hair
I made a hollow in the earth
I took off my tie,
she too off her dress.
I, my belt with the revolver,
She, her four bodices.
Nor nard nor mother-o’-pearl
have skin so fine,
nor does glass with silver
shine with such brilliance.
Her thighs slipped away from me
like startled fish,
half full of fire,
half full of cold.
That night I ran
on the best of roads
mounted on a nacre mare
without bridle stirrups.

As a man, I won’t repeat
the things she said to me.
The light of understanding
has made me more discreet.
Smeared with sand and kisses
I took her away from the river.
The swords of the lilies
battled with the air.

I behaved like what I am,
like a proper gypsy.
I gave her a large sewing basket,
of straw-colored satin,
but I did not fall in love
for although she had a husband
she told me she was a maiden
when I took her to the river.

I would also like to suggest you look at this version by Langston Hughes, the poet-you can get the link here:

The song is in triple time-much like Leonard’s version of “Take This Waltz.” There is a strict rhyme and meter pattern that aren’t apparent in the other translations.

Before I talk about the song musically, I have to mention a couple of observations. Some of the rhymes are just outstanding-for example,
And yes she lied about it all
Her children and her husband
You were meant to judge the world
Forgive me but I wasn’t.

And yes she lied about her life
Her children and her husband
You were born to get it right
Forgive me but I wasn’t.
Reading these doesn’t do them the justice that hearing them brings.

There is also the line, “Her thighs they slipped away from me/
LIke schools of startled fish.”

I’m not positive, but I think that this is one of the lines that Leonard learned from his early encounter with Lorca’s poems.

If so, then the following line: “Though I’ve forgotten half my life
I still remember this.” becomes even more powerful in the revelation of the raw honesty that Leonard reveals here. I don’t see any correlation to these particular lines in the other translations.

The musical introduction to the song is a very standard 3/4 or 6/8 accompaniment with strings and a round arpeggio figure.

The songs starts out with the bass and soprano singing the first verse with the same accompaniment:
The Night of Santiago
And I was passing through
So I took her to the river
As any man would do

She said she was a virgin
That wasn’t what I heard
But I’m not the inquisition
I took her at her word

And yes she lied about it all
Her children and her husband
You were meant to judge the world
Forgive me but I wasn’t

The lights went out behind us
The fireflies undressed
The broken sidewalk ended
I touched her sleeping breasts
Here I would like to point out that the usual translations of the second line of verse 4, “The fireflies undressed” is generally rendered as the “crickets lit up.” Leonard seems to create a negative image (in the photographic sense) of this line.

Musically, the first two stanzas have the round, arpeggio pattern that is so characteristic of this music. As we move into the the 3rd and 4th stanzas, the accompaniment changes to a more regular, rhythmic pattern of 8th notes keeping the constant time, with the triple beat still discernable underneath the music.

The next two stanza’s (5 & 6) are song by the soprano:
They opened to me urgently
Like lilies from the dead
Behind a fine embroidery
Her nipples rose like bread

Her petticoat was starched and loud
And crushed beneather her thighs
It thundered like a living cloud
Beset by razor blades
The next two verses are choral with round, arpeggio patterns again. Very beautiful, I think.
No silver light to plate their leaves
The trees grew wild and high
A file of dogs patrolled the beach
To keep the night alive

We passed the thorns and berry bush
The reeds and prickly pear
I made a hollow of the earth
To nest her dampened hair
Then, the bass/baritone begins his solo:
Then I took off my necktie
And she took off her dress
My belt and pistol set aside
We tore away the rest

Her skin was oil and ointments
And brighter than a shell
Your gold and glass appointments
Will never shine so well
The accompaniment here is quiet and secondary to the soloists.
Her thighs they slipped away from me
Like schools of startled fish
Though I’ve forgotten half my life
I still remember this
I don’t know if the significance of these lines is apparent to the singers, but the intensity seems to ratchet up here. On the next choral verse, the same resolve seems to affect the performance:
That night I ran the best of roads
Upon a mighty charger
But very soon I’m overthrown
And she’s become the rider
There is an instrumental break here, with swooping arpeggios and a kind of round intensity that emphasizes the total continuity of the work. The music slows and a descending pattern takes over and keeps going into the depths of the lowest bass notes. Then suddenly, it begins to accelerate again over the beginning of the next stanza: The tenor and the soprano sing together.
Now as a man I won’t repeat
The things she said aloud
Except for this my lips are sealed
Forever and for now

And soon there’s sand in every kiss
And soon the dawn is ready
And soon the night surrenders
To a daffodil machete
The bass/baritone begins another passage here: The music becomes insistent again-almost a 4/4 pattern but it is simply a disguise for the triple time that lurks underneath.
I gave her something pretty
And I waited ‘til she laughed
I wasn’t born a gypsy
To make a woman sad

I didn’t fall in love. Of course
It’s never up to you
But she was walking back and forth
And I was passing through

When I took her to the river
In her virginal apparel
When I took her to the river
On the night of Santiago
The soprano and tenor sing together on the next stanza:
And yes she lied about her life
Her children and her husband
You were born to get it right
Forgive me but I wasn’t
The whole chorus comes together on the final stanza with a gradually slowing tempo and bring a careful finish to this great song.
The night of Santiago
And I was passing through
And I took her to the river
As any man would do
This is as traditional a song as any work on the album. I don’t know if Leonard has written his own musical accompaniment or plans to, but this would be a great version to include on a future album or concert. I think that it would be in his vocal range and would be wonderful to hear in his style.

The next song, “Mother, Mother” is again one of my favorites. The premise of the poem plays so strongly into the theme of longing and the great humor along with an underlying pathos makes this a major work.

First of all, the theme of death is dealt with in a totally unexpected manner.

The first line, “My mother isn’t really dead.” is startling in its brutal simplicity. In a Judeo-Christian universe, it is certainly not unexpected that there be a resolution to the whole notion of the parting aspect of death, but generally it involves these nebulous ideas of heaven, hell, resurrection etc. Emily Dickenson has these great lines in one of her poems:
Parting is all we know of heaven
And all we need of hell
There is no doubt that anyone who has lost loved ones has experienced this deep sense of sorrow in simply not being able to be around this person for now. We generally reserve this for close relatives or loved ones. But, as a practical fact, we often miss others who are not as closely related. Pets are one of the true grief makers in our lives. My father died when I was eleven and Leonard’s when he was nine, and one of the aspects of his poetry that I’ve admired most is the restraint that he’s used in talking about this seminal event. In fact, I think the best line that he’s come up with in regard to it, is the line from “Everybody Knows”-the most cynical line of all-”like your father or your dog just died.” Now, of course, there really is no comparison to the impact of your father dying or your dog dying-except emotionally-that parting is wrenching in either case.

And here, in this poem we have this quasi-reincarnation idea of dogs becoming ants. But truly it is the emotional baggage that is being addressed:
But do not try to pet the ant
It will be destroyed by your awkward affection.
Our awkward affection is often our only affection and the heartfelt cries of:
Mother, mother,
I don’t have to miss you anymore.
Rover, Rover, Rex, Spot
Here is the bone of my heart.
Where the bone of the heart is offered to that intense longing in the always childish manner that we learn to face these things.

Musically, the song begins with the round arpeggios and hinges on the line:
I’m so happy for you
You thought your mother was dead
There is a recognizable joy in the song and the timing of the next line is added so rapidly afterward as to emphasize how much joy is found.
And now she isn’t
The bell is struck continually in the song-it is almost like a culmination of bell ringing has begun.

There is a musical break right before we hear the concluding passage:
The tree is trying to touch me.
It used to be an afternoon.
The final lines sung together by the soprano and mezzo-soprano are heartfelt:
Mother, mother,
I don’t have to miss you anymore.
Now the music is ascending with a certain question-like quality:
Rover, Rover, Rex, Spot
Here is the bone of my heart.
The slowing tempo and the ascending notes make for a dramatic conclusion-but one that still presents the comic aspects in their most affecting and disarming manner.

I hope to go on to the dramatic climax of "You Came To Me This Morning" soon.

"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by lazariuk » Sat Feb 09, 2008 12:09 am

Joe Way wrote: There is a musical break right before we hear the concluding passage:
The tree is trying to touch me.
It used to be an afternoon.
Hi Joe
You didn't say anything about the above and I have a little, might be nothing thought about it.

When I sit by a fire and I hear a loud pop and some sparks come flying out from the fire I know enough about trees to know that it is a very sunny day that is being released.
Everything being said to you is true; Imagine of what it is true.
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by Joe Way » Sun Feb 10, 2008 1:33 am

Hi Jack,

"If he was fire
Oh, then she must be wood."

"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by lazariuk » Sun Feb 10, 2008 3:38 am

Hi Joe

Thanks for saying that. It led my thinking further and the memory of Leonard saying
I was this little kid and whatever they told me in these matters resonated, and I wanted to be that figure who sang, "This is the Tree of Life." I tried to become that, and that world seemed open to me, and I was able to become that in my own modest way. I became that little figure to myself. So that was poetry to me, and I think it's available to everybody.
There is a tree in my own life that is my guide from time to time and it feels right to have it affirmed by others.

My favorite play is by Christopher Fry and it is called "The Lady's Not for Burning"
Everything being said to you is true; Imagine of what it is true.
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by Joe Way » Fri Feb 15, 2008 6:39 am

We’ve reached the climax of this work with the song, “You Came To This Morning” which is, of course, “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” Before I talk about the musical treatment, I would like to, again, talk about the poem itself and several themes that have interested Leonard through the years.

In Beautiful Losers, Leonard writes:
Can an old scholar find love at last and stop having to pull himself off so he can get to sleep? I don’t even hate books any more. I’ve forgotton most of what I’ve read and, frankly, it never seemed very important to me or to the world. My friend, F. used to say in his hopped-up fashion: We’ve got to learn to stop bravely at the surface. We’ve got to love appearances. F. died in a padded cell, his brain rotted from too much dirty sex. His face turned black, this I saw with my own eyes, and they say there wasn’t much left of his prick.
Recently, in Leonard’s song on Anjani’s album, Blue Alert, we get this verse:
There's a rose in my hair
My shoulders are bare
I've been wearing this costume
Turn up the music
Pour out the wine
Stop at the surface
The surface is fine
We don't need to go any deeper
On one hand, there could not be too many passages as divergent in style, but still have a core of shared these two demonstrate. On the other hand, these two themes continue a thread of meaning in Leonard’s work and present two aspects of this great song.

You can compare this dichotomy with his images of saints riding on the surface of the snow on ski’s and the implied images of those who’ve survived the flood, along with Jesus, who walked upon the water.

Compare, also, the lines from Democracy:
We’ll be going down so deep
The river’s going to weep
And the song that he wrote that Jennifer Warnes recorded, Way Down Deep.

This is all background for this song that was finished in public on Jarkko’s website and has undergone numerous changes and transformations. Tom Sakic, forwarded me a version that was to be published and it changed considerably before the printed version was released. Above all else, it was dedicated to Sandy-who was Sandy Merriman, a great fan like all of us, who loved Leonard’s work immensely.

Leonard has never repudiated his work, but the growth of this theme seems to imply that the “saint” who rises above is not only a remote human possibility, but as age reveals itself-is challenged more and more.

The introduction to the song is in strong 4/4 time with a bass line that uses a regular quarter note pattern that establishes a sense of variation within a very closed set.

The bass/baritone begins by singing:
You came to me this morning
And you handled me like meat
You’d have to be a man to know
How good that feels how sweet
My mirror twin my next of kin
I’d know you in my sleep
And who but you would take me in
A thousand kisses deep
The rhythm pattern is very significant. The strong 4/4 becomes even more dominant and the melody seems to float above it. It is interesting how the lyrics here hark back to the sex that Leonard wrote about in Beautiful Losers. “Handled me like meat” is a great image that emphasizes the physical nature of the relationship. This becomes more and more important as the poem continues on with its metaphysical notions.
I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep
After this verse, we have an interlude that resembles the introductory music. The pattern seems to wind around in a small musical range. After these two verses, the first which establishes the physical nature of the relationship and the second that re-emphasizes this and adds the almost courtly love-like tones of an unworthy narrator. We move then into the next verse that imply that the basis of the relationship has changed...”I know you had to lie to me...”
I know you had to lie to me
I know you had to cheat
To pose all hot and high behind
The veils of sheer deceit
Our perfect porn aristocrat
So elegant and cheap
I’m old but I’m still into that
A thousand kisses deep
During this verse the underlying tempo changes from 8th notes to 16th notes-an agressive change. The bell is repetitive, yet still arbitrary. The music becomes less melodious and more dissonant.

The mezzo-soprano sings the next verse and the melody becomes clearer again with less happening behind it.
And I’m still working with the wine
Still dancing cheek to cheek
The band is playing Auld Lang Syne
The heart will not retreat
I ran with Diz and Dante
I never had their sweep
But once or twice they let me play
A thousand kisses deep
The line about the band playing Auld Lang Syne harkens back to his poem about putting a hat on his concussion and dancing. Diz, I imagine as someone like Dizzy Gillespie, and this expands the range from jazz to the classical music of the spheres that one would associate with Dante.

The next verse is sung by the bass/baritone with a sweeping arpeggio behind it. This verse has been re-written dramatically from some of the original verses which spoke about Christ.
The autumn slipped across your skin
Got something in my eye
A light that doesn’t need to live
And doesn’t need to die
A riddle in the book of love
Obscure and obsolete
‘Till witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep
The bass/baritone continues and the music again resumes the 8th note regular pattern and the melody starts out strongly but begins to change again toward the end of the verse.
I’m good at love I’m good at hate
It’s in between I freeze
Been working out but it’s too late
It’s been too late for years
But you look good you really do
The pride of Boogie Street
Somebody must have died for you
A thousand kisses deep
The next verse is a fact...Leonard has changed the text into italics. Glass indicates this by changing the rhythm-it was quite affecting even the first time that I heard it.
I loved you when you opened
Like a liy to the heat
I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet

But you don’t need to hear me now
And every word I speak
It counts against me anyhow
A thousand kisses deep
Part two of this song begins with another musical interlude that has the arpeggios running low into the deep depths of the scale. The bass/baritone and the tenor together sing the next verse in a beautiful fashion that evokes a very pretty dissonant variation of the central melody.
The ponies run the girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while and then it’s done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it’s real
A thousand kisses deep
Tara Hugo sings a solo again on the next verse that is accompanied by a dominant descending line that helps create another strong theme that allows the melody to change into another dissonant strain.

On the next verse, this is continued with an even stronger descending theme that is accompanied by a counterpoint crescendo from the singers that creates a tension-I think this is very beautifully done:
Confined to sex we pressed against
The limits of the sea
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me
I made it to the forward deck
I blessed our remnant fleet
And then consented to be wrecked
A thousand kisses deep
After this verse there is a slowing of the tempo and Tara Hugo again sings solo with a very sparse accompaniment.
I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed
I’m back on Boogie Street
I guess they won’t exchange the gifts
That you were meant to keep
And sometimes when the night is slow
The wretched and the meek
We gather up our hearts and go
A thousand kisses deep
These lines “and sometime when the night is slow...the wretched and the meek...we gather up our hearts and go...were given to Jarkko to post on the Newsgroup after Sandy’s suicide.

I didn’t know Sandy but I know that many of my friends were devastated by the circumstances. She had cancer and was in a lot of pain so in many ways it was understandable and acceptable, but it shocks everyone into a self-evaluation.

The final lines of the song are extremely powerful and reflexive.
And fragrant is the thought of you
The file on you complete
Except what we forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep

I have a friend who had a son who committed suicide. In a rather awkward moment, I attempted to ask him how old he was when he did it. I phrased it wrong by using the present tense in the question. His answer was, “Well, he’s as old as he’s going to get.” I can’t help but think of this in the phrase-”The file on you complete.”

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote:
We play with obscure forces, which we cannot lay hold of, by the names we give them, as children play with fire, and it seems for a moment as if all the energy had lain unused in things until we came to apply it to our transistory life and its needs. But repeatedly... these forces shake off their names and rise...against their little lords, no, not even against--they simply rise, and civilizations fall from the shoulders of the earth...
To go “deep” is to risk struggling with these forces; we pretend that we can rise above and maybe there are some remote saints who ride these forces like runaway ski’s, but there aren’t many.

After this climax, we are relieved by some quiet denouements.

The deep strings are again played in a rich, dramatic fashion.

The next spoken word piece,

I Am Now Able

is recited:
I am now able
to sleep twenty hours a day
The remaining four
are spent
telephoning a list
of important people
in order
to say goodnight

who was born
to make men laugh
bow’s his head
Sleep is certainly a form of alternate reality and this is an appropriate return from the mountain top. In addition to the quiet good-natured tone of this piece, the music is soothing-rather uncomplicated here-certainly capable of relieving the stress that has arisen during the last piece. Along with Leonard’s voice, this leads into the next piece:

Roshi’s Very Tired

This is again a very rich piece that combines a quiet goodnatured humor with more profound thoughts. It certainly plays East against West. A particular koan says, “Act without doing, work without effort.” To Leonard, this remarkable man, Roshi is not just a teacher, but an embodiment of the notion that “self” has little to do with one’s true nature.

The musical introduction starts out with a pretty and relaxed melody that has an off beat counterpoint that doesn’t really intrude on the music so much as act as an afterthought that includes another bell that seems to be on time delay.

The verse starts out in a rich choral fashion.
Roshi’s very tired
he’s lying on his bed
He’s been living with the living
and dying with the dead
Toward the end of the verse, the bass notes become more pronounced.
But now he wants another drink
(will wonders never cease?)
He’s making war on war
and he’s making war on peace
After this verse, there is a musical interlude that is reminiscent of earlier ones that includes an arpeggio that is unbalanced with treble notes and intermittent bass.
He’s sitting in the throne room
on his great original face
and he’s making war on Nothing
that has Something in its place

His stomach’s very happy
The prunes are working well
There’s no one going to Heaven
and there’s no one left in Hell.
It is interesting that the chorus sings the line, “on his original face” leaving out the “great” and emphasizing a different meter. Again, musically we cannot descern the capitalization of “Nothing” and “Something” but there seems to be an emphasis on each word. In fact, it seems to me that musically the words in this song that have the most emphasis are: War, Peace, Nothing, Something, Prunes, Heaven & Hell-which kind of gives one a sense of the importance of “thingness.” I mention again, Dickinson’s line, “parting is all we know of heaven/and all we need of hell” as a reminder that this is meant is a contrast with these western notions.

Speaking of prunes, we move to the epilogue-”Merely a Prayer” with that memorable line-”and disappearing naturally up my own asshole.”

Actually the start of the poem resembles an infinite regress-sort a system of setting up two mirrors that reflect back at each other. Shakespeare used this technique in his “Play within a play” device where the audiences sees another audience watching a play and imagines that there is another audience watching them watch.
I was looking through my dreams
when I saw myself looking through my dreams
looking through my dreams
and so on and so forth
until I was consumed
in the mysterious activity
of expansion and contraction
breathing in and out at the same time
and disappearing naturally
up my own asshole
The music here is light with violin that changes tempo and a beautiful vocal part by the mezzo-soprano, Tara Hugo. Extra points are awarded to her for singing that last line without laughing.

There is, again a musical interlude that includes parts that have three different rhythms working together and finally leading to a beautiful cello solo that serves as an introduction to the tenor, Will Erat, beginning the second part.
I did this for 30 years
but I kept coming back
to let you know how bad it felt
Now I’m here at the end of the song
the end of the prayer
The ashes have fallen away at last
exactly as they’re supposed to do
The chains have slowly
followed the anchors
to the bottom of the sea
This passage is then repeated, very beautifully by the bass/baritone, Daniel Keeling.

As he sings, “The chains have slowly followed the anchors to the bottom of the sea” the listener is drawn in, by this description that completes the “deep” imagery.
It’s merely a song
merely a prayer
Thank you, Teachers
Thank you, Everyone
This is repeated again in what I think is spine tingling harmony. The end is not drawn out but finishs on a bass chord with a final bell flourish.

I hope that this is somehow helpful because I believe that the work is very accessible and not in any fashion, “out there.” The musical decisions seem to flow very well with the text and, though one can always contend that it isn’t appealling to certain musical tastes-it is a very impressive work both musically and philosophically.

Thanks for bearing with me through this in my hopped-up fashion.

"Say a prayer for the cowboy..."
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by lazariuk » Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:07 am

Thank you Joe
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by linda_lakeside » Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:16 am

Yes, thank you, Joe. I've resisted this CD, for reasons no more valid than it was not 'the Leonard I knew'. I made mention somewhere, that an artist is an artist and who can blame him for wanting to stretch those artistic wings. It's posts like this that make me want to look deeper into the man - much deeper than 'Suzanne' etc. although that earlier music is what brought us here.

Thanks for your insight.

~ The smell of perfume in the air, bits of beauty everywhere ~ Leonard Cohen.
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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by Joe Way » Sun Feb 17, 2008 7:49 pm

Hi Linda & Jack,

I'm glad that you found this somewhat helpful. It would be a shame if a work that has so much to offer gets dismissed completely out of hand based simply on how different it is from our original experience of Leonard's work. Linda, you make a great point about the need for artist's to expand their horizons-I think the same point can be made for listeners.

All the best to you both,

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Re: My take on the BoL (Glass) cd

Post by linda_lakeside » Sat Sep 17, 2011 5:55 am

I just happened to receive a topic notification for this thread, after much, much time away from the forum. In the re-reading of the thread, I have to say: "Joe, that was one hell of a good post you gave us," (I count the more than one entry as one sole post). 'tis a pleasure to reread in depth analysis of Leonard's work after so long.

A bientot,
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