Short version: where exactly do the sheet-music versions (always PVG scores, when
I've noticed) of Leonard Cohen's songs come from? And who is responsible for editing
his lyrics for publication, when published separately?
I do not assume that the story is the same in all cases.
Surely the starting-point is provided by Leonard Cohen himself, rather than some
remarkably talented transcriber locked up in a broom-cupboard with a pair of
headphones and a blank tablet of music paper. Actually starting from scratch looks
too hard (even before deciding how to wrestle an actual performance into a piano
arrangement). How much is handed over to work from (and to whom?), and when,
and what vetting does the result receive? "When" may need a bit of explanation.
It seems that in many cases ("Democracy" springs to mind) the score was produced
as a preparatory aid to arranging the song, and was not revised to track the changes
introduced before studio recording.
I'm inclined to invoke the Trade Descriptions Act against these "vocal" scores.
I've never seen a purported Cohen PVG score which actually has the accompanying
vocal parts, except in a few odd places. For instance, the "I'd really like to live
beside you" stanza(s) in _First We Take Manhattan_ are noted out, but nothing
else from the (often delicious) accompanying parts. Major "holes" are often
plugged like this (e.g., _Closing Time_), but not minor ones ("Things are going to
slide, --- in all directions" from _The Future_). How anyone could bring himself to omit
the female-voice lines in _The Guests_ defeats me. Perhaps it is time Leonard
Cohen be touched by the slightness of his publishers' regard for the work of his
accompanying singer/arrangers, who have served him so well?
There are also some confusing questions arising from the lyrics as given in the
sheet-music. There are enough obvious mere blunders ("The music on Clinton Street"
from _Famous Blue Raincoat_, instead of "There's", the missing "The" on the second
appearance of "The ponies run" in the song _A Thousand Kisses Deep_, &c.) to make
it clear that the words haven't received much attention. This isn't as irritating as
the let's-just-not-bother approach to the later stanzas in _A Thousand
Kisses Deep_, but perhaps we should be glad that they did anything to note
differences between near-repetitions of the same melodic line. They've not
bothered often enough.
We do, of course, have another source. "The Songs of Leonard Cohen" (with or without
"Words of Love and Hate" as a preceding major title) is repeatedly neatly right when the
scores are (uninterestingly) wrong. Spellings (never mind, one day someone will find out
how to spell "smoky") are tightened up, and punctuation is more precisely adjusted.
Some of us can strip-mine our souls to touch other people profoundly, and some of us
can spell and punctuate. You win some, you lose some.
A parenthetical irrelevance: "Who kneels there as deeply as thee"? Fie! It should be
"Thou" - but that wouldn't rime. Sorry, it's just been irritating me, and I had to
tell somebody. Everybody. I'm better now.
I'll forgive the occasional decision to introduce a line-break for every internal rime, or miss
one out through sheer typographical perversity. There are enough spurious paragraph-
breaks to make me wonder whether the thing was prepared using M*cr*s*ft W*rd, and it
looked all right before it was printed. So, the layout is a bit of a mess, but is this an
"authorised" text from the Hand of the Master?
Just one example, in a little detail. We watch _Alexandra Leaving_ in full command of
every plan we wrecked - or is it "erect"?
"Songs of Leonard Cohen" has "every plan you wrecked". Bother and blow!
Not what I expected at all. The vocal score says "you erect", it's actually
broken into notes in a way which implies the right number of syllables. It
took careful and repeated listening, but I'm now fairly sure that "you erect"
is just what appeared in the first studio recording. "You wrecked" sounds
suitably wilful, and is easier to sing, but it invites a useless-looking question
"whose plans?". It really has to be "you erect" - a more feline insinuation of a
more deliberate kind of wrecking. At least, that's my tuppence-worth.
Does anyone outside the Invisible Shield which protects the Blessed Cohen while he
visits the Faithful actually know enough about the lines of transmission and of
And that's more than enough from me for the moment.
General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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Before they made me, they broke the mould.
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