Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
paddieu
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Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby paddieu » Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:36 pm

Hi

Sorry if this discussion exists elsewhere - I've searched for it and can't find one.

A friend of mine related to me a very startling interpretation of this song that he'd read on a website - and it's one that you can't get out of your head once you look
closely at it. (So I wont spoil things for you by doing that here, right now, yet..)

So I wonder, does anyone have or know of interpretations of this song ?

Thanks.
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Stranger
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby Stranger » Sat Aug 09, 2008 7:26 am

I am curious. Can you give us the link to the website?
" ........... if one can describe as serious the confused comedy of our lives". Graham Greene, "The Comedians".
carol-ann
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby carol-ann » Sat Aug 09, 2008 7:36 am

This is a quote from a Leonard Cohen interview.
"Dance Me To The End Of Love" ... it's curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that's why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin," meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song -- it's not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity."

This song's brilliance is in the multi layering of meanings. I think to try and pin one interpretation on it is pointless.
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby Stranger » Sat Aug 09, 2008 7:42 am

If that is the interpretation that paddieu was referring to I understand why he/she finds it so startling. I never thought of it.
" ........... if one can describe as serious the confused comedy of our lives". Graham Greene, "The Comedians".
paddieu
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby paddieu » Mon Aug 11, 2008 12:51 am

Yep that's the one. Many many thanks for posting that !
You'll never get it out of your head now ! :lol:

I agree it's not the 'whole picture' as Leonard stresses, but Gawd, what each line then opens up...

And it sets me off with other songs as a result... cf the line moving through the
station in 'Manhattan' - cue more brain squirrels :shock:
John Etherington
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby John Etherington » Mon Aug 11, 2008 2:59 am

The Leonard quote that Carol-Ann mentions is also quoted at the beginning of the wikipedia listing of the song. I've never tried to understand the song too literally, but like many Leonard songs (and especially those on "Various Positions") it seems to be as much about God as it is about human love. I'm struck by the biblical/Jewish imagery in it...Babylon, the olive branch and dove, the tent of shelter, and the curtain is presumably the one that separates the devout Jew from the "Holy of Holies" where God is said to reside. The next track on the album is "Coming Back To You" which is also as much about God as it is about a lover.

All good things, John E
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby UrPal » Thu Aug 14, 2008 2:04 am

I've read about that holocaust inspired interpretation of Dance Me on here before. It is quite shocking after you have been listening to the song for years on its most obvious level as one of passionate romantic expression, choosing it as accompanying music at your wedding etc. I hadn't read the direct quotation from LC about it before. It reminds me of the Vanessa Redgrave TV film "Playing For Time" if anyone has seen that. I'd recommend it to anyone that hasn't.
paddieu wrote:And it sets me off with other songs as a result... cf the line moving through the
station in 'Manhattan' - cue more brain squirrels :shock:
And call me thick if you like but I hadn't understood "First We Take Manhattan" so clearly as a satire of jewish conspiracy theory and anti-semitism in terms of the protagonists hypothesised grandiose ambition as a modern Marx/Trotsky-like revolutionary figure/holocaust avenging angel (as well as being self-analysing and self-satirical) until hearing it performed live on the recent tour when these lines suddenly jumped out from the rest:
I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin...

I'd really like to live beside you, baby
I love your body and your spirit and your clothes
But you see that line there moving through the station?*
I told you, I told you, told you, I was one of those

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win
You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I was particularly struck by the emboldened lines - the first of which expresses a deep-seated aspect of the racism which probably still resides in many a liberal-minded person and the second a gauntlet-throwing reference to the recent past when the liberal veneer was momentarily lost in transit. Kick in the teeth lines that make you sit up and take notice those. In a good way, I hasten to add.

Funny how the song can now be re-read after 9/11 from a muslim perspective. I've just read the bestselling novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" which neatly tells that other tale...

*Incidentally, is this line "there moving through the station" or "they're moving through the station"? Jarkko's lyric pages state "there", but I'd have thought the alternative would be more apt. Perhaps lenny decided to retain a deliberate ambiguity that is more apparent in the spoken delivery?
charlotta
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby charlotta » Thu Aug 21, 2008 1:35 pm

carol-ann wrote:This is a quote from a Leonard Cohen interview.
"Dance Me To The End Of Love" ... it's curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that's why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin," meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song -- it's not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity."

This song's brilliance is in the multi layering of meanings. I think to try and pin one interpretation on it is pointless.
I also have to agree with you on this carol-ann, it is the brilliance of the song that matters and not what inspired him to write it. It is one of my favourites and I feel it is one of the songs that show the great mans passions for his lyrics. Every song has to begin with one thought no matter what that thought was or is.
seamermar
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby seamermar » Thu Oct 15, 2009 11:07 pm

Poetry has got as many meanings as people hearing, that's my thinking. But it's fine to know what and how it all began.
I'm glad to read every interpretation the same as Leonard's comments, now I know a bit more about.
Lilifyre
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby Lilifyre » Sat Oct 17, 2009 9:56 am

Not that long ago this topic was discussed here. I remember some were shocked and even horrified by the idea that this song was inspired by something so hideous as the Holocaust. Below is a copy of a couple comments I made:
Re: Dance me to the end of love

Postby Lilifyre on Wed Jul 29, 2009 6:47 pm

So many here have expressed horror in knowing the inspiration behind this beautiful song. I see it as a song of hope...hope in the face of hopelessness. True, many Jews were forced to play beautiful music to cover the horrors around them. That was a horrible time. But the people who were sacrificed to the whims of hate and bigotry are given respect and shown in their heroism. The Nazis attempted to strip them of all dignity, humanity, and worth. For them to be honored by a song like this is a triumph of justice and sanity in an unjust and insane world. Please don't be put off or try to divorce this song of it's origin because it is too painful to imagine. Honor those who inspired beauty in the midst of such profound ugliness.
Re: Dance me to the end of love

Postby Lilifyre on Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:09 am
A few short hours ago I watched a program on the History Channel. I believe it was called "The Hidden Holocaust" or something similar. I really didn't pay much attention to the title. It spoke of the murder of the Jews of Latvia and Lithuania...the pre-deathcamp killings. A select squad of Nazis was sent out to the small villages of Russia. Their job was to round up all the Jews in an area and kill them. Large trenches were dug, often by the victims themselves. They were then stripped of all their clothes and dignity and shot one at a time to fall into the trenches where they were burried, some of them still alive. I also wondered, what does a monster look like? Do they have deformed features making them ugly? Do they have fangs? How about demonic grins and blood dripping from their mouths? Do they look like the Frankenstein monster of the old movies? Maybe they look like Bella Lugosi's Count Dracula, or Freddy Kruger, or Jason? The answer I came up with is, NO, they look like regular people. They look like the man down the street, the preacher behind his pulpit, the policeman on the corner, the doctor, the checker at the grocery store, like you and me. It's been remarked by survivors of the Holocaust that the infamous Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death, was quite a handsome man.

I thought of this song, Dance Me To The End of Love. A song of incredible beauty, inspired by the ugliness of a time of infamy. To all 6 million innocents sacrificed to hatred and bigotry, may you dance to the end of love!
Just thought I'd remind folks of what I had written before. My feelings have not changed since posting the above.

Lili
Lili
"Well, that's my story
I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
HelenOE
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Re: Dance Me to the End of Love - interpretations ?

Postby HelenOE » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:43 am

And call me thick if you like but I hadn't understood "First We Take Manhattan" so clearly as a satire of jewish conspiracy theory and anti-semitism in terms of the protagonists hypothesised grandiose ambition as a modern Marx/Trotsky-like revolutionary figure/holocaust avenging angel (as well as being self-analysing and self-satirical) until hearing it performed live on the recent tour when these lines suddenly jumped out from the rest:
I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin...
Sorry to be bumping up this old topic... I was Googling for other peoples' interpretations of "Democracy" and stumbled, to my horror, on several anti-Semitic sites that were taking the lyrics of "First We Take Manhattan" as laying out straightforward plans for world domination. Those were some rocks I kind of wish I hadn't looked under. But I guess one does have to be aware that stuff, and those people, are out there.

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