Master Song

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
GinaDCG
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Master Song

Postby GinaDCG » Sat Dec 26, 2009 1:26 am

So . . is this "about" people who choose easy answers -- choose to follow a "master" instead of pursuing independent thought and ethics? Or is it a more specific domain -- such as Christianity supplanting Judaism as the world's dominant monotheistic religion?

Am I crazy here? Or not? Thoughts?
Steven
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Re: Master Song

Postby Steven » Sat Dec 26, 2009 3:42 am

Hi GinaDCG,

I've taken this song to be about power dyanamics of a relationship and three of the people involved with it.
Never thought this to be about anything beyond that. Always liked that the song doesn't pontificate about ethics and the like, but
that it seems (to me) to speak about power-play dynamics that aren't unusual, albeit they are often unconscious, in relationships, that
affect attraction and behavior.
holydove
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Re: Master Song

Postby holydove » Sat Dec 26, 2009 7:03 pm

I have always loved this song - one of my favorites.

I believe it is a very elaborate, insightful examination of the very complicated & intense interpersonal dynamics of a very dysfunctional love triangle. I think there may even be some very interesting "BDSM" (bondage-discipline, dominant-submissive, sado-masochism) going on. It is a very personal exposition, and I don't think it has anything to do with religion or politics. It is a very precise dissection of the psychic processes & emotions involved in this triangle.

It is very fascinating to me that the triangle is rather prevalent in Leonard's music & poetry. Not only the love triangle (which is pretty prevalent), but the triangle in other contexts too, e.g. "... with one hand on the hexagram and one hand on the girl, I balance on a wishing well that all men call the world. . ." (Stories of the Street); the hexagram is two triangles overlayed on each other, one upside-down & one right-side up; the Jewish star is a hexagram. The triangle is a very spiritual/mystical symbol, used in various occult/esoteric systems, and as a geometric form has a very unique, dynamic energy.

The unified heart symbol, I believe, may be Leonard's very unique and creative variation of the hexagram of the Jewish star.
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LisaLCFan
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Re: Master Song

Postby LisaLCFan » Sat Dec 26, 2009 9:37 pm

I was just listening to the Live at the BBC bootleg of this song, and Leonard introduces it by saying that it is about three people (he also says that it's about "the trinity", but then laughs and says he'll leave that to the scholars!). :lol:

So, the love triangle theme is certainly there, and holydove's suggestion that it may involve some interesting "BDSM" elements corresponds to similar themes from Beautiful Losers (and, of course, the love triangle fits with that, too), and since they were written in the same general time-frame (well, same decade), there may be some overlap.

But the question remains as to the nature of the relationships in this song, as to whether it is a simple love triangle, or a more complex triangle (that is, is one of the partners actually having a romantic or sexual relationship with a third person, or is it a different kind of relationship, perhaps that of student and master, that is overtaking the romantic relationship and causing jealousy?)

Who knows? Great song, though, one of those hypnotic songs where you don't know exactly what's going on, but you know that it is an interesting journey nonetheless, and you're happy to be taken for the ride (I suppose one can say that about many, if not most, of Leonard's songs!).
Last edited by LisaLCFan on Mon Dec 28, 2009 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Lilifyre
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Re: Master Song

Postby Lilifyre » Sun Dec 27, 2009 4:26 am

I truly don't know what this song is about. Probably all of the above like so many of Leonard's songs. Something in it speaks to my soul. It's the words and the music and more than both....truly the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. I literally get shivers of joy, dread, disturbance and comfort all at the same time from this hauntingly beautiful song. Leonard IS the Master!

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."
Steven
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Re: Master Song

Postby Steven » Sun Dec 27, 2009 8:48 am

Hi LisaLCFan,

I've not heard the bootleg and Leonard's "trinity" comment. Maybe the trinity reference has something to
do with Chrisitan belief that the trinity is all one in the same to try to square with a monotheistic
outlook. The three involved in the human relationship could also be one in the sense of their all sharing
envelopment in a relational system. As some theologians are wont to say, it's "a mystery" to me. :)
I'd not bet my soul that Leonard consciously was employing any biblical references or analogies when
he created the lyrics to this song, though. Not saying that you implied that he was. Just thinking out
loud, in light of the interesting "trinity" concert comment your post contained.
GinaDCG
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Re: Master Song

Postby GinaDCG » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:04 am

I donna know Steve . . . the "bread and wine" references AND Jesus was called "Master" by his disciples. . . sounds pretty intentional to me. But then, it might be compositional habit -- find me a Cohen song which does NOT have religious references.
John Etherington
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Re: Master Song

Postby John Etherington » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:10 am

I've never fully understood "Master Song", but agree with much of what has been said here already. I've always taken the song to be about a love triangle and the power dynamics involved; and one where the other man is presumably having a sexual relationship with Leonard's woman. Since the poem was published in 1966, we may presume the triangle to be of a similar nature to the one that is described in "Beautiful Losers".

Something that should be noted are the subtle differences between the poem as it appears in "Parasites of Heaven" and the version on "Songs of Leonard Cohen". Most of the differences are minor - such as the substitution of "mouth" with "lips", and a couple of phrases where the words may have been marginally adapted to fit the tune. However one major difference in wording is the following : "You met him at a nightclub where they take your clothes at the door". The substitution of the word "nightclub" for "temple" in the song, is maybe the reason why some try to interpret the song in a more metaphysical context.

When Leonard says on the bootleg that the song is about a Trinity that he will leave for the theologians to interpret, I presume that he is poetically distancing himself from the situation. In a similar way, he has said that he can't remember the exact circumstances of the triangle in "Famous Blue Raincoat".

If we try to understand the original in a literal context, then the woman has met her "master" at some sort of swinger's club. How does this fit in with the twist at the end: "I loved your master perfectly. I taught him all that he knew"..."I sent you to him with my guarantee I could teach him something new. I taught him how you would long for me. No matter what he said no matter what you do". One may wonder whether Leonard actually arranged the meeting or whether it was a situation that he engineered unconsciously. However, if the woman's longing for Leonard finally draws her back to him, it seems to be too late. He's got "used to an empty room", "her love is the dust in an old man's cuff", her "thighs are a ruin" and she "came back too soon".

Although I would tend to believe that Leonard was not consciously employing any biblical references or analogies when he created the lyrics to the song, I'm not totally certain. It’s interesting where the poem is placed in “Parasites of Heaven”... it’s one of the last two poems, the last one being “Avalanche”.

All good things, John E
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LisaLCFan
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Re: Master Song

Postby LisaLCFan » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:53 am

Hi Steven (and anyone else interested),

You can easily get the BBC bootleg online that I (and John Etherington) mentioned, at:

http://bigozine2.com/roio/?p=229

This is easily downloadable, if you do that sort of thing. It has exceptionally good sound quality, especially the first 12 tracks (I think). The last few tracks aren't as good (quality-wise).

Leonard was joking around quite a bit at this session, so his "trinity" comment may have been tossed out for mischevious fun (and I only mentioned it because it was fresh in my mind!). I actually seldom try to figure out what Leonard means in his lyrics, since it seems rather futile (especially since he himself generally refuses to elaborate), and I've always thought of poetry (which is how I classify anything that Leonard writes), as something that one "feels" or "experiences" more than "analyses."

Cheers!
Lisa
Steven
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Re: Master Song

Postby Steven » Mon Dec 28, 2009 7:35 am

Hi GinaDCG,

Yes, those things do appear prominently in religious writings, in Christianity and in its antecedent, Judaism.
Still hearing the song, though, on a less than allegorical level. I like the words "compositional habit" that
you used. :) Would be inclined to believe that religious language may have flowed into this and other songs
because of Leonard's having immersed himself in that kind of literature.
Steven
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Re: Master Song

Postby Steven » Mon Dec 28, 2009 7:54 am

Hi John E,

Thanks for the interesting background about the lyrcs and your very well expressed thoughts on this.
Steven
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Re: Master Song

Postby Steven » Mon Dec 28, 2009 8:07 am

Hi LisaLCFan,

I look forward to hearing the bootleg song. Thanks for the link. Since reading your earlier post, I
myself have also been wondering about the possibility of "mischievious fun" behind the "trinity"
comment. :) I agree with you about the feeling taking priority over the analysis (mostly so).
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LisaLCFan
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Re: Master Song

Postby LisaLCFan » Mon Dec 28, 2009 11:17 am

Of course, analysis of poetry and lyrics certainly has its place (I only meant that it was somewhat futile in understanding exactly what the author of the poems or lyrics meant, since unless the author is willing to explain, others may never truly know). But the process of analysis can lead to deeper understandings of things related to the lyrics/poems in question, which can be enlightening for the listener/reader, and thus in that sense it is not futile at all.

(I know this all may be obvious, but I just wanted to clarify what I meant, so as not to be misunderstood, and so as not to inadvertently offend anyone who likes to analyse lyrics! I have gotten in trouble before for speaking loosely, so I'm covering my a$$, so to speak!) :lol: ;-)

Cheers!
GinaDCG
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Re: Master Song

Postby GinaDCG » Mon Dec 28, 2009 3:56 pm

Another question on "Master Song:" What's up with the "Who had a worm, and who had a rock/And who had you through the mails"? I get that the worm and the rock is a probable reference to deceiving the fish you are trying to land -- but "who had you through the mails?" What's up with that?
John Etherington
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Re: Master Song

Postby John Etherington » Mon Dec 28, 2009 5:07 pm

Hi Gina,

Leonard's words "had you through the mails" for me conjurs a similar idea to "you can find your love in diagrams in plain brown envelopes". Regarding worms and rocks, could Leonard possibly be talking about a certain part of the male anatomy?!

John E x

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