The Guests

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Lilifyre
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The Guests

Postby Lilifyre » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:19 pm

This seems to be my new favorite song. I had overlooked it previously. It is such a mixture of melancholy and celebration. I came across a live version on YouTube where Leonard describes it as a new soul coming into the world....a birth. It certainly fits that description. Birth is a mixture of sorrow and joy for all involved. The newborn child is rather unceremoniously "evicted" from a warm, cozy environment where all its needs are met into an environment of noise, bright lights, cold, and what must seem like a wilderness....a land of unknowns. But the child is also welcomed into this new world by loving relatives and friends.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxj5fvHpCpc

This is how I see humankind's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. We existed in that garden, every need fulfilled, wanting for nothing. Yet this is a step we must take or die. It is a time of sorry and joy.

Another version with a slightly different explanation can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyoWy-Uecak

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."
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TineDoes
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Re: The Guests

Postby TineDoes » Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:45 pm

Lilifyre wrote: This is how I see humankind's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. We existed in that garden, every need fulfilled, wanting for nothing. Yet this is a step we must take or die. It is a time of sorry and joy.
Lili, that's lovely. I had never seen it that way.
Then we must take that step, it is a step into the uncertainty of life, always looking for something to hold unto. And we are essencially alone in this life. That is the image in the song hits me the most.
'And all go stumbling through that house
in lonely secrecy..."
And seemingly beyond our control, if we are lucky we loose ourselves, but then we are: 'cast beyond the garden wall'. This image first portrayed to me that we are (type)cast as a personage in the play of life. But it could mean we are cast from favour, away from the things in life that we have hoped for (in love, socially, career).

Thank you for posting the video's
Tine,
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
Lilifyre
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Re: The Guests

Postby Lilifyre » Mon May 03, 2010 6:04 am

This song has been haunting me lately. The melody alone is enough to reach my soul and touch the hidden corners thereof. When you add in the words it becomes so much more. Leonard describes it as "a new soul entering the world". It seems to me that description fits both the beginning and ending of life for both birth and death are a time of transition from one "world" to another. There is both joy and sorrow at each transition.

One other thing I've noticed about this song is how Leonard uses juxtaposition. The first time he speaks of the "guests arrive, the guests are coming thru" he says "the open-hearted many, the broken-hearted few" then he repeats that line only with "the broken-hearted many, the open-hearted few". To me, this is further example of the song speaking of those 2 transition points in everyone's life....birth and death. They are mirror images of each other.

On another forum I participate on, we've recently discussed the ceremony of the Bris Milah (circumcision). I immediately thought of this song. The ritual, which is much more than merely a medical procedure, is one that carries many mixed emotions. It is a welcoming of a male child into the peoplehood of the Jewish community. There is definitely both joy and sorrow....pain and pleasure.....another transition. Transitions are not easy. Perhaps that is what this song is saying........we all go thru transitions and transitions are always accompanied by difficulty.

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."
holydove
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Re: The Guests

Postby holydove » Thu May 06, 2010 12:07 am

Hi Lili & Tine - I also find this song more & more haunting, the more I listen to it - the melody, the words, everything about it so beautiful. . .

And one thing I love about it is the reference to that rare moment of "grace"/connection/harmony ("all at once the torches flare, the inner door flies open" & "noone knows why the wine is flowing. . .") - the song's images of how we spend our lives seeking & longing for that connection, & how fortunate one is if it happens, even for a moment (through our "striving" and/or through the "grace" of the "host"); I remember an interview where Leonard talks about how we don't know the mechanics of how that moment of "grace" occurs, but if & when it does, we are very fortunate.

And Lili, I like your analogy of the Garden of Eden - it fits well - in that moment of grace, we are in the Garden again; & when that moment passes, we are once again "cast beyond the garden wall" - actually, every moment of our lives (&deaths) is a transition; (I've wondered why, in some versions of the song, Leonard leaves out that wonderful verse about "cast beyond the garden walls" - but then, with Leonard's many creative changes, one wonders about that kind of thing alot, doesn't one?
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Re: The Guests

Postby Steven » Thu May 06, 2010 4:55 am

Hi,

The song and poem that it arises out of remind me of meditative experience that parallels life itself. There's
lots of comings and goings of "guests" in both (mindfulness meditation* and life, generally). That there's an acknowledgement of needing someone (despite and maybe because of the transience of all the guests making their appearances) is honest admission that the observer/person doesn't want to go through these experiences alone. We don't really know where the night is going, do we? And despite faith and expressions of certainty,
there's enough doubt usually left to feel a need to connect to a figure of "love."** Interesting, that it's the
night and not the brightness of day that is spoken of. Darkness sometimes illuminates real needs. Hope I'm not an unwelcome guest. ;-) Enjoyed what others here have already said.

*Sensory perceptions and thoughts have been likened to guests in some meditation traditions.

**For Rumi, the poet, God was representation of "love."
holydove
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Re: The Guests

Postby holydove » Thu May 06, 2010 9:48 pm

Hi Steven - you are certainly a very welcome "guest" - thank you for your input. I have also thought about that connection: that in Zen & Buddhist meditation (which include mindfulness meditation), one is instructed to view thoughts/emotions/perceptions as guests - to welcome them, but not to identify with, or hold onto them - to let them come & let them go - & if you can do that long enough, they may just dissolve, & at some point (hopefully) an "inner door flies open", & when you pass through that door, you may find yourself in another space (a space where the Source of Creation, the Source of Grace, the Host of the Feast resides, perhaps). I think both Rumi & LC may be drawing a parallel, as you said, between our guests in the physical realm (all the individuals that cross our path), & the guests (thoughts/emotions etc.) that pass through our minds, both during meditation, & during our moment-to-moment existence. And of course, that longing to connect with the Source (whatever it may be), and with other human beings, is so exquisitely & hauntingly expressed in this song.
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bridger15
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Re: The Guests

Postby bridger15 » Fri May 07, 2010 3:33 am

Lilifyre wrote:There is definitely both joy and sorrow....pain and pleasure.....another transition. Transitions are not easy. Perhaps that is what this song is saying........we all go thru transitions and transitions are always accompanied by difficulty.
Oh, Lili .... so beautifully written .... so incredibly moving.

---Arlene
2009-San Diego|Los Ang|Nashville|St Louis|Kansas City|LVegas|San Jose
2010-Gothenburg|Berlin|Ghentx2|Oaklandx2|Portland|LVegasx2
2012-Austinx2|Denver|Los Ang|Seattle|Portland

Arlene's Leonard Cohen Scrapbook http://onboogiestreet.blogspot.com
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TineDoes
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Re: The Guests

Postby TineDoes » Sat May 08, 2010 2:56 am

The inner door flies open
One by one they enter there

It is clear that the guest go through one at the time.
This makes me think of another song that Leonard wrote: 'The innermost door' - Anjani Thomas sings it on Blue Alert. This song is about saying goodbye at the innermost door.
Through these inner(most) doors one must or can only go alone.
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
Lilifyre
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Re: The Guests

Postby Lilifyre » Sat May 08, 2010 5:49 am

I want to thank all who have contributed here. This song has been haunting me for some time now.....since before I began this thread. Like so many of Leonard's songs, it's only by bouncing my thoughts off those of all the rest of you that things become clearer. So often, one of Leonard's songs begins "singing/speaking" to me but not so much in words as in feelings. Such is the case with this one. It began with a stirring in my soul. The combination of words and music touched something on a quite primitive level. That "new soul" coming into existence understands the universe, but is unable to communicate that understanding until it begins to forget. Language is that "forgetting". The pure essence of understanding must give up part of itself in order to develop language that enables it to communicate with other souls.

Today, as I was driving around, running a few errands, I happened upon the song, "The Window". Suddenly, it was like a light bulb was lit, illuminating some of the thoughts I've had about "The Guests". Hopefully I can maintain a balance between remembering and forgetting to communicate what came to me today.

As I heard the following, things became somewhat clearer to me
Then lay your rose on the fire
The fire give up to the sun
The sun give over to splendour
In the arms of the high holy one
For the holy one dreams of a letter
Dreams of a letter's death
Oh bless thee continuous stutter
Of the word being made into flesh
This verse demonstrates so clearly the Biblical essence of Creation. In reading the first chapter of Genesis, you may notice that Creation begins with the "evening" and proceeds to the "morning". In other words, first must be an ending before there can be a beginning. The verse from "The Window" moves from placing the rose onto the fire where it is destroyed. It proceeds to rise heavenward to the "arms of the high holy one". Once all has been destroyed...evening...then "the holy one dreams of a letter"...the very beginning of creation can only take place once nothing remains and then it (creation) begins with a "dream", an idea. But then an even more curious thing happens. The "dream" (or the dream of the beginning) dies. Thus begins the never-ending "stutter" of endings and beginnings....but ALWAYS, the ending comes first.

It struck me that this is the same thing Leonard is saying in "The Guests" in the final verse:
And here they take their sweet repast
While house and grounds dissolve
And one by one the guests are cast
Beyond the garden wall
First there is the "death" "while house and grounds dissolve". THEN the guests are cast "one by one" beyond the garden wall...to be born into the new universe. On and on the cycle continues.

This is further demonstrated, and hints of that "remembering and forgetting" from life to life, in the following verse from "The Window":
And come forth from the cloud of unknowing
And kiss the cheek of the moon
The New Jerusalem glowing
Why tarry all night in the ruin
And leave no word of discomfort
And leave no observer to mourn
But climb on your tears and be silent
Like a rose on its ladder of thorns
We can't bring our full knowledge and understanding of one "universe" with us into the next. We must forget in order to learn language so that we can function in the new "universe". We must die before we can live.

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."
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mat james
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Re: The Guests

Postby mat james » Mon May 31, 2010 3:16 pm

You're onto something Lili and all. 8)
Co-incidentally, I copied those two songs (lyrics) onto a word doc. last night as I wanted to discuss/consider "The Window", but thought it needed to be discussed in conjunction with "The guests"....Then today I read this post.
For what it is worth, I have a few unsubstantiated ideas on how (process) Leonard goes about his "work" and why it is multi-layered.
Leonard uses what I might call "symbols from the unconscious" when he writes. Whether this method is intentional or unintentional, I am not sure. I suspect it is unintentional/spontaneous as this is creativity in action. For me, the "unconscious" is the mother of creation, the eternal field where the Muse picks her flowers or sips her honey, so to speak. All the symbols are flourishing there, as in Eden. This Eden seems to be cross-cultural or "universal", as they say.
Leonard talks the talk of mystic Poets in the language of mystic Poets. When each "poesy" is gathered from that field of symbols, it has many angles to be viewed from and hence the resultant poem has many "interpretations", as is evidenced on this forum.
Dreams do the same sort of thing...they tumble out images, create a story or scene; and leave the recipient wondering. Very Creative!
Most writers get their conscious mind to create their story. They are "poets", not "Poets" (my prejudice).
Leonard, I suspect, gets his unconscious mind to create his stories and hence his "universality" and his mystery and his rare, though not unparalleled, uniqueness. He is unique because he does it constantly; consistently. Other contemporary artists, for example Don McLean do it maybe once (American Pie) then move on, probably bewildered.
Dreams help in this method of creation but also long periods of isolation/meditation/prayer/laziness/disassociation or similar.
The beauty of writing this way is that the contents of the Psyche/soul/unconscious gradually become apparent; and the poet's conscious and unconscious have fruitful intercourse. The Poet evolves to what the Chinese call, "a superior man" (I Ching).
That Leonard can also put these poesy's (poems) to such beautiful music is staggering. Multi talented.
The music is also often archaic, mysterious and dark in nature and may come from a similar source/method/unconscious process; I'm not sure, but the throwing around of ancient melodies and rhythms would work on the unconscious of such a mind, I suspect.

So when from "The Window", the "Guests" are seen entering through "an open door"; and "one by one" they later exit "through an open door" where "Love goes on and on" until "Love itself is gone"; gone back to Unity, before and beyond even Eden. Unity was once contained; then dismantled into multiplicity and is slowly being re-unified back to Unity seems to me to be the message here from my 'window' regarding we 'guests'.

Regards, Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
Lilifyre
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Re: The Guests

Postby Lilifyre » Mon May 31, 2010 5:02 pm

Very well put, Mat. Your explanation goes far in explaining the connectedness of so many of Leonard's songs. They flow from the same source, but like each drop of water, they are both identical to each other and unique in and of themselves. Each song/poem is like a deep pool. The deeper you go the more you discover.

This explains, to me at least, why I seldom like the various covers of Leonard's songs. No matter how well crafted, those versions of Leonard's work by others, fall flat in so many ways. They may be very pretty and pleasing to the ear, but they always seem to lack the depth of the original. On other forums that I participate in, many friends of mine, knowing my love of Leonard and his music, will offer me a clip of one of his songs performed by someone else. While I appreciate their offer, I generally find such offerings only an imitation of the masterpiece. It's like giving someone a copy of the Mona Lisa. While it may be technically perfect in every way, it still lacks the magic of the original. All too often, one of these covers of Leonard's work end up being more like an amateurish, copy of the Mona Lisa produced by a 5 yr old with a box of crayons. Said 5 yr old may have a great deal of potential and may produce some excellent works of his/her own, but the attempt to copy a Master falls way short.

Amazing where you end up when you pick up one of these "threads" and follow it. You never know just where it will lead.

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: The Guests

Postby HelenOE » Wed Sep 04, 2013 9:08 am

I didn't see this mentioned anywhere on the forum; if I missed it, pardon me for bringing it up.

On the album, the lyric is "the open-hearted many, the broken-hearted few" and it's the same in the live performance in 2012. There's a video from 1979 though that has it inverted: "the broken-hearted many, the open-hearted few." Does anybody know what the distribution is of these versions, and when did the switch happen? Or has there been alternation?
holydove
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Re: The Guests

Postby holydove » Wed Sep 04, 2013 10:47 pm

HelenOE wrote:
On the album, the lyric is "the open-hearted many, the broken-hearted few" and it's the same in the live performance in 2012. There's a video from 1979 though that has it inverted: "the broken-hearted many, the open-hearted few." Does anybody know what the distribution is of these versions, and when did the switch happen? Or has there been alternation?
In the first verse, it's "the open-hearted many, the broken hearted few"; in the last verse, it changes to "the broken-hearted many, the open hearted few". That's how it is in the studio version, & I think he usually sings it that way live too (though I'd have to re-listen to all the live versions to ascertain for sure if he ever changed it in live performance). That's one of the things I've always loved about the song - the inevitable truth of more hearts breaking beyond the garden wall.. .
letitbeyourwillsee
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Re: The Guests

Postby letitbeyourwillsee » Fri Sep 06, 2013 12:15 am

Hi -

Wow - some really insightful stuff on this song. I'm actually writing an individual post on the dynamics of Cohen's songs - but this post and its replies caught my attention. I love this forum! At any rate, I have a running theory that Cohen (and plenty of other songwriters) write lyrics so as to fulfill 3 or more different meanings. This may seem impossible - but it's not! It's art! I've tried it and it's extremely difficult, but very possible. This would explain why Cohen takes several years to write one song - each of the meanings are intended - and they are meant to reflect one another. Also - there is very much a narrative happening on every album - the song sequence is very important - there is a story happening - there are several stories happening!

You guys definitely nailed the Biblical Metaphor in "the Guests" - every Cohen tune has it. Every single song can be related back to some part of the Bible. So that would be one possible meaning.

Beyond that, I picked up on another metaphor -

"The Guests" could be the Jews in the common era - after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Basically, from there, several Jews moved to what is now Europe. I've read that they were more or less welcomed in several countries at first - as guests, basically - please correct me if I'm wrong on that. But anyway, at the exact same time, the spread of Christianity was happening across Europe. In many ways, this new religion worked to villainize the Jewish people in a way that only progressed as the years went on - a wave of anti-semitism began here which found its climax in the Nazi Holocaust of the 20th century.

Cohen likes to employ word games with titles and lyrics. It's always worthwhile to look deeper into the words being used. For example, "the Guests" can be worked out to a rather grim "They Gassed Us."

On the other hand, here's a third reading:

"The Guests" could also be people going to an AA meeting. I don't mean to suggest anything about Cohen's personal life - that's not any of my business. It may only be a subject of interest to him. However, I do believe that this is an intentional metaphor - and it fits too well to ignore. Unlike the rather sad/dark implications of the other two meanings mentioned, this one allows for some humor:

"No one knows where the wine is flowing" suddenly makes perfect sense.

Here's a fourth reading:

The Host is very reminiscent of Jay Gatsby from the Great Gatsby.

This would play into the theory that the narrator of that novel, Nick Carraway is in love with Gatsby.

And I've even got more meanings! But I gotta run. More to come.

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