The Darker Album and the Songs

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

Postby Diane » Wed Dec 07, 2016 12:11 am

Surrender, thanks for copying the earlier incarnation of the song.

Violet, good to see you back here. You and subsequent posters managed to articulate the depth that comes through from Better Way, to do it better justice.

Thanks too for causing me to read the marvellous article by Leonard's Rabbi that Karren linked (shall I link it again, for convenience: http://www.jewishjournal.com/religion/a ... um=twitter), and for drawing attention to the Hamlet influence on LC. Sorry for the ghost I made you be springs to mind! (Somebody had already mentioned recently a possible Shakespeare link re. ariel in Treaty.)

As I'm Your Fan has returned to the endlessly fascinating IIDHYL, and we are summoning various yellow discs -- of 3D space-time, a sun, and a desert rose, I just wanted to mention these lines:

If the sea were sand alone
And the flowers made of stone


If the sea were sand alone, it would be the desert. The desert has been "the face of God", literally and/or metaphorically, to biblical characters, to Sufi poets, and to various other writers who have noted the psychological effect of abiding in a vast empty landscape, where the "I" is broken.
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Jean Fournell
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Jean Fournell » Wed Dec 07, 2016 1:13 am

The desert requires a higher degree of attentiveness, if we are to perceive that it is alive.



Alfonso, why not give it a try.
Please understand:
My English is too poor for the Bible text you quote, so I googled a French and a German version to eliminate the problems of vocabulary and grammar. The three versions seem to be quite different one from the other, but that's a frequent issue with translations.
Only, I still have no idea what it's all about. I do not understand the meaning, or what the authors are after, or whatever.
And when I'm confronted with such texts (Bible, Bhagavad Gita and others), I am totally unable to awaken them to life.
Besides the utter frustration which that kind of failure produces for me, I also feel like I'm profaning them with my incapacity. It's like entering Abrahamic saintly places (churches and such), or other people's bedrooms, for no valid reason. Very uncomfortable, all wrong. I shouldn't be there; and if I am by mistake, at least get out of there immediately and forget what I saw.

But then: Which relation(s) do you suggest?



It Seemed The Better Way
(I'm not referring to the official lyrics, but to the actual song.)

The song consists of three stanzas, each with a first refrain. And there are two occurrences of a second refrain, after S2 and after S3.
S1 and S3 are identical, except for the initial "But" in S3L3; only the second stanza proper is not repeated.
So we have a kind of background, formed by repetition, and two outstanding passages: the "But", and S2L1-4:

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
First he touched on love
Then he touched on death


My first association with "It Seemed The Better Way" is "Samson in New Orleans":

There's other ways to answer
That certainly is true
Me, I'm blind with death and anger
And that's no place for you


Two years ago, my idea had been that the album-to-come, then nicknamed "Impopular Solutions" and now called "You Want It Darker", would be about human law. Well, I "missed it by [quite] a fraction": it is about a treaty.

"Other ways to answer" when "The Son rejected [our prayer]": "To turn the other cheek". As suggested by "The king so kind and solemn / He wears a bloody crown".

Jesus is not a king of this world. His wholesale "turn the other cheek" didn't work then, it didn't work at the time of hurricane Katrina, and it doesn't work now. He tried, he failed.

Just imagine him walking into the Vatican:
"Hi guys! Thanks a lot for 2000 years of stewardship, much appreciated.
And now I'm taking over what's mine lock, stock and barrel.
Where are the keys?"

That hippie! Never mind the holes in his feet, but holes in his hands? And then run the world's richest enterprise?
I don't think the Romans would crucify him a second time, nor burn him at the stake. Such methods are not fashionable right now. They would fill him up with Valium and lock him up in a nuthouse. End of story.

But there's nothing wrong in honouring his memory.

The "outstanding passages":
"But" in S3L3: Whereas S1L2 and S1L3 were juxtaposed, not prejudging whether tomorrow it might not be the truth once more, S3L2 and S3L3 are now linked as opposites, saying that the "too late" is final.
In S2L1-4, Jesus is presented as an inconsistent dabbler, who touches on this, touches on that, without rhyme or reason.

This leads me to ask who the narrator is. Who is pronouncing this judgement? Who says "When first I heard him speak"? That was 2000 years ago, and this narrator is still present. So it must be at least "the little Jew who wrote the Bible" (but would he "Lift this glass of blood"?).

And quite possibly the narrator is God, "leaning / Across the old table" with His old priest, shaking their heads and "whisper[ing] low", like old men do, about all those young dabblers and their contraptions just as though they better understood how the world functions.

And when that's over, retreating into themselves, just lift their glass in silence.
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
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Violet
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Wed Dec 07, 2016 9:31 pm

Diane wrote:
Violet, good to see you back here. You and subsequent posters managed to articulate the depth that comes through from Better Way, to do it better justice.

Thanks too for causing me to read the marvellous article by Leonard's Rabbi that Karren linked (shall I link it again, for convenience: http://www.jewishjournal.com/religion/a ... um=twitter), and for drawing attention to the Hamlet influence on LC. Sorry for the ghost I made you be springs to mind! (Somebody had already mentioned recently a possible Shakespeare link re. ariel in Treaty.)
Thanks, Diane, for your kind words.

Also, I wanted to mention my special interest in Leonard's Hamlet comments. Just around the time I joined the forum I was working on shooting a fundraising trailer for my feature film project based on Shakespeare's Ophelia. The character Hamlet is not a character in my screenplay, although he is much discussed. And yet I wanted to in some manner represent Hamlet, and had planned on doing so by using two of Leonard's recordings (I won't say which) in such a way that Leonard's voice and words would stand in for Hamlet in the film.

FYI, the trailer was completed, but the economy failed, and given that I lost my investors. But perhaps some day the film will come into being (capricious film gods willing). At present I've been writing a novel, which is its own considerable challenge.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby friscogrl » Thu Dec 08, 2016 4:22 am

Seemed the Better Way to me is about Roshi. Following Roshi did seem the better way over many years for Leonard but at the end it did not. He seemed to become disillusioned. As far as the Christian reference Leonard uses that frequently and maybe now is using it some way with to reconcile with God.

Marsha
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Dec 08, 2016 5:13 am

friscogrl wrote:Seemed the Better Way to me is about Roshi. Following Roshi did seem the better way over many years for Leonard but at the end it did not. He seemed to become disillusioned. As far as the Christian reference Leonard uses that frequently and maybe now is using it some way with to reconcile with God.

Marsha


Hi friscogrl.

I just read this today:

"[Leonard] told me that during his stay in India after his years at our Zen monastery, something clicked and he found a peace inside that had never left him. 'This stuff works,' he said. 'Somehow everything I’ve been doing all these years comes down to the work I did with Roshi.'"

This recent quote from Leonard is from: "Ode to Leonard Cohen From a Fellow Zen Monk," Shozan Jack Haubner (NYT). http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/fashi ... .html?_r=0

[as first linked to by icecreamtruck]

So, it seems his time with the guru in India comes to bear on the work he did with Roshi. I have a feeling this has been mentioned elsewhere as well.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Thu Dec 08, 2016 5:38 am

Some amazing activity has been going on here the past few days and it would be impossible to relate to it all without spending hours at the keyboard, which unfortunately I can’t afford to do. But I did read and reflect on it all; there seems to be a fruitful dialogue going on between Diane and Jean, and several other people have turned up with meaningful comments and suggestions. Here are a few quick notes.

Marsha,

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I know some people believe that “Seems The Better Way” is about Roshi, but I haven’t seen any evidence to support this; since the poem uses only Christian imagery without any hint to Roshi, there would have to be some external evidence and I’m not aware of any. I also doubt that LC was disappointed with Roshi after spending so many years in his company.

Jean,

I admire your interpretation and associations, but I don’t see why the narrator in the song has to be God; to me it seems like a very personal song in which the narrator is Leonard himself.

And by the way, although for the “glass of blood” the obvious first association is the Eucharist, still there is a little problem with the use of “glass” rather than the expected “cup”; also, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) the idiom “blood of grapes” appears as a parallel to wine (Genesis 49:11), so this too may have been on LC’s mind (and as often with him, he mixes the holy [grace] with the profane [an ordinary glass of wine]).

surrender,

Thank you very much for quoting the earlier version of the song; the variations point even more strongly in the direction of Christ. I think that in the final version he tried to make it a little more abstract and a little less specific, perhaps.

Alfonso,

Thank you for quoting those verses from Ecclesiastes; they contain some devastatingly beautiful metaphors of the deterioration of the human body with age, senility and death. I can see why you had this association, but “If I Didn’t Have Your Love” also speaks about, well, love, which the biblical passage does not mention.

Violet,

Thank you for your intriguing contributions, including the allusion to Hamlet.

Finally, Joe hasn’t posted here for a while so I hope he’ll rejoin us soon.

Doron
Last edited by DBCohen on Thu Dec 08, 2016 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby friscogrl » Thu Dec 08, 2016 6:02 am

In a 2006 interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air when Leonard was asked why he left the monastery he answered with: " I had the feeling it wasn't doing any good" He also stated "I began to feel that this is a lot work for very little return" And with the lyrics "Seemed the better way when I first him speak" and "it sounded like truth but it's not the truth today" this just seemd to tie into what was said in the interview. Also there is a strong sense that in the song Leonard is speaking about someone he actually knew.

Marsha
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Dec 08, 2016 6:14 am

Hi Marsha.

It looks like that's why he left, but it seems that the work in India gave him a new perspective on the years he spent in the monastery. At least as quoted in the article I linked to.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby friscogrl » Thu Dec 08, 2016 6:21 am

I agree with you Violet, his time with Roshi seemingly had a profound effect on him. But obviously he was looking for something else or something more.

Marsha
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Thu Dec 08, 2016 6:23 am

(I don't feel to be any sort of expert on this, by the way.)

.. but it seems that the something more just reflected back on the thing he left (!)
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Viva Deva » Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:32 pm

Greetings Cohen Fans,
A year is a long time to spend in India. I can't imagine a 'curious spiritual seeker' being there that long without having a Hindu/Vedic astrology reading. Leonard's natal chart would have given him profound insights into his karma. Vedic "jyotish- eye of the Veda", is highly predictive; in the right hands!. I have a sneaking suspicion Leonard even discovered when he was to die. While some people balk at 'too much information', I have found it very freeing. Just as Leonard said a 'calm' came over him, I felt much the same way as I studied my own chart. This knowledge does not disavow other spiritual philosophies or end the spiritual search or struggles, but I am glad Leonard finally had some respite from his deep sadness. Jyotish is so far out of the realms of 'accepted' thought in the West, you mention it at your peril!. These beliefs, sciences, arts, are woven into Arabic, Hindu, Kabbalistic and Oriental history and tradition. If you seek, long enough! and you are blessed! you will be led to a teacher to basically learn, what will be, will be.
Just a thought.
Ann.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Fri Dec 09, 2016 4:24 am

DBCohen wrote:
And by the way, although for the “glass of blood” the obvious first association is the Eucharist, still there is a little problem with the use of “glass” rather than the expected “cup”; also, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) the idiom “blood of grapes” appears as a parallel to wine (Genesis 49:11), so this too may have been on LC’s mind (and as often with him, he mixes the holy [grace] with the profane [an ordinary glass of wine]).
I better hold my tongue
I better take my place
Lift this glass of blood
Try to say the grace

Interesting too how the [profane] use of the word 'glass' inserts a kind of violence, what I meant by 'crime' before when I said "it contains both the crime and the possibility of redemption." Instead of 'crime', I considered using the word 'sin', but stuck with crime, and now I realize it was because of how it parallels the profane use of 'glass'. LC knew how/when to the use the sacred to deepen the meaning of something, just as he knew how/when to avoid it or subvert it (as he did here) when it threatened to soften the blow.

Often in LC’s work you encounter this ability to shock or shatter expectation, even if its operation is sometimes a subtle one.

I remember being shocked by this line from You Know Who I Am:

Sometimes I need you naked,
Sometimes I need you wild,
I need you to carry my children in
And I need you to kill a child.

It's not merely about content. It’s the ability to pull the rug right out from under you, which has to do with impeccable timing. In this latter example, it's how its naked brutality is so easily folded in there, as if one was merely being asked to fetch some water. One is—only, the well is poisoned.

I'm afraid I've not yet read the commentary here on Treaty, but here is another such line (speaking of poison):

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

What's imparted by this line is visceral and uncontainable. Its inconceivably dark yet alarmingly recognizable. It’s an imprisoning instant of the despairing soul. And again that theme emerges of its being too late. Too late for anything to be done about it.

It's just devastating. And done so simply… (seemingly).

Later note: I wanted to add, when I first heard the song (not having read the lyrics) the unexpected introduction of the snake seemed a kind of shock in itself. And so it was already within this sense of shock and disorientation, in which one finds oneself wholly gripped by this (seemingly simple) parable of the snake, that we are met with this devastating conclusion. And so it's this whole passage, really, that shatters expectation, with the last line "injecting" the loaded stakes involved.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby I'm your fan » Fri Dec 09, 2016 10:23 pm

Jean Fournell wrote:The desert requires a higher degree of attentiveness, if we are to perceive that it is alive.



Alfonso, why not give it a try.
Please understand:
My English is too poor for the Bible text you quote, so I googled a French and a German version to eliminate the problems of vocabulary and grammar. The three versions seem to be quite different one from the other, but that's a frequent issue with translations.
Only, I still have no idea what it's all about. I do not understand the meaning, or what the authors are after, or whatever.
And when I'm confronted with such texts (Bible, Bhagavad Gita and others), I am totally unable to awaken them to life.
Besides the utter frustration which that kind of failure produces for me, I also feel like I'm profaning them with my incapacity. It's like entering Abrahamic saintly places (churches and such), or other people's bedrooms, for no valid reason. Very uncomfortable, all wrong. I shouldn't be there; and if I am by mistake, at least get out of there immediately and forget what I saw.

But then: Which relation(s) do you suggest?


I'm trying to make clear my suggestion without repeating myself, but I'm afraid I can't. I wil try to do it in a simpler way.

In If I didn't have your love, all the stanzas begin with the conditional form ("If..."):

"If the sun would lose its light/And [if] we lived an endless light/(...)

If the stars were all unpinned/And [if there would be] a cold and bitter wind [that] swallowed up the world without a trace/(...)"


Compare this with the Ecclesiastes fragment: "While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened (...)"

Now change grammatically that sentence without altering its meaning: "If the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars would be not darkened (...)" (I must put the not so that the meaning does not get changed.)

Now compare "If no leaves were on the tree" with "And the almond tree shall flourish", but altering its meaning: "What if the almond tree shall not flourish"?

I don't understand the meaning of the Ecclesiastes quote, nor I pretend to make an exegesis. I don't know what are the "silver cord" or the "golden bowl", for example.

I do not pretend to change the meaning of the song. I'm only trying to explain why I think there is an influence of the Ecclesiastes quote. But I don't think I have changed substantially the meaning: A sentence with "While" can be uttered with "if".

DBCohen has quoted me commenting something about those verses from the Ecclesiastes; he said that IIDHYL also speaks about love, something that the biblical passage does not do:
DBCohen wrote:
Alfonso,

Thank you for quoting those verses from Ecclesiastes; they contain some devastatingly beautiful metaphors of the deterioration of the human body with age, senility and death. I can see why you had this association, but “If I Didn’t Have Your Love” also speaks about, well, love, which the biblical passage does not mention.
I hope my explanation is clearer now.

Alfonso Ansó Rojo
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby DBCohen » Sat Dec 10, 2016 10:20 am

Marsha,

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I’m still not convinced. The article linked by Violet is very convincing in showing LC’s loyalty to Roshi till the end. He often said that what had drawn him to Zen was mainly Roshi’s personality, and I don’t think he wavered on that.

Violet,

Thank you for your thoughtful words about the tension between the holy and the profane and especially the occasional unexpected violence that seems to be pulling the rug from under the listener’s feet. This still requires a lot of consideration.

Alfonso,

Thank you for clarifying your intention. Part of the problem is that the original Hebrew of Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is very difficult, some expressions are somewhat obscure, and the English translation doesn’t make it any clearer. Verse 1 introduces the theme of old age. V. 2 could be about the loss of sight, not being able to see the light while clouds seem to cover the eyes; it could also be about the general state of darkness and gloom falling over the old. V. 3 could be about shaking hands, bent legs, the loss of teeth and again the loss of sight. V. 4 could be about the loss of voice, sleep and hearing. And so on… too depressing. But everything is described in metaphors or parables which the text does not solve, so it is also a kind of riddle, and therefore very difficult to translate, more so than other kinds of texts. Anyhow, thanks again for this association.
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Re: The Darker Album and the Songs

Postby Violet » Sat Dec 10, 2016 8:21 pm

DBCohen wrote:Marsha,

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I’m still not convinced. The article linked by Violet is very convincing in showing LC’s loyalty to Roshi till the end. He often said that what had drawn him to Zen was mainly Roshi’s personality, and I don’t think he wavered on that.
Doron, Marsha,

Based on the Terry Gross interview it seems he did waver, but more about the teaching, it seems, than the teacher. My only point was that, due to what he's quoted as saying in the Haubner piece, the prior teaching was in some manner rejuvenated in light of what happened in India.

.. as to how any of this bears on the song, as there are obvious references to Christ it's hard to see that it's about Buddhism. And yet the metaphor of Christ might be applied to other situations. Perhaps looking at dates is more enlightening.

.. 2003 is the date surrender has for the original version. Later note: I realize I don't have the date he first went to India. I thought it was after 2003, but it seems it was in the later 90's, and so that would seem to go to Marsha's feelings on this, at least in part.

(Actually, these were never the points I wanted to get tangled up in, since, as I mentioned earlier, I'm no expert in this area. Also, I don't have a vested interest either way except to say that the song itself doesn't seem to convey a connection to Buddhism, even if one's later considerations might lead one to that as a possibility.)

.. I wanted to add that the decision to use this earlier poem for this album might also suggest its content was of recent concern. There is a difference between what may have inspired something originally, and how that writing might later be applied to a new situation, with the writing itself updated to reflect that.

.. in any event, the Christ metaphor of turning the other cheek is obviously at issue. Perhaps something personal came up in 2003 that forced the issue, and turning the other cheek no longer seemed a plausible option. Or perhaps the poem was a response to something playing out in the world. Either way, the choice made was to house the matter in a more religious setting.

.. it could also be the case that the event that inspired the poem had him reflecting on his moving away from earlier influences housed in Christianity, in which case that truly is the subject at hand.
Violet,

Thank you for your thoughtful words about the tension between the holy and the profane and especially the occasional unexpected violence that seems to be pulling the rug from under the listener’s feet. This still requires a lot of consideration.
Doron, as per your last line, perhaps what I've written on this doesn't tap into your experience of the work. However, for me, I'm just trying to, as accurately as possible, fix what's going on inside myself when experiencing these songs. But then critical analysis is after the fact. It has one going back in there with whatever tools one has to bring out that experience as concisely and hopefully compellingly as one can. Hopefully, others who've had a similar feeling when listening to these songs can feel acknowledged in this (if the analysis is indeed hitting the nail on the head). Or perhaps it offers a new way of perceiving the work.

edits: see my later note above.
Last edited by Violet on Sun Dec 11, 2016 9:21 am, edited 3 times in total.
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