Friday, June 27, 2008

Leonard Cohen


Shambhala Sun has posted a feature on Art and Buddhism (a collection of older articles on this topic). A couple of the articles are about Leonard Cohen, one of my favorite musicians.

Here is Pico Iyer riffing on Cohen's Blue Alert.
Thanks for the Dance


Pico Iyer considers Leonard Cohen—the ladies’ man, the balladeer, the Zen poet, and the essence of cool with a new love giving voice to his songs of parting and old age.

Through the long hot nights of summer and early autumn I have been listening to the ten newest songs from Leonard Cohen, almost unbearably sad in their themes and beautiful in their bareness, yet turned sultry and smoky and rich with a full-bodied looseness thanks to his collaborator in life and in art, Anjani. The songs on Anjani's album (as it is officially), Blue Alert, are all about goodbye and "closing time" and passing away from the scene. “Tired" is the word that recurs, and "old," and the picture that Cohen uses for himself on the back cover (as the album's "producer") makes him look out of focus and almost posthumous, fading from our view. Yet when such songs of parting and old age are delivered by a young, fresh, commanding woman singer, they take on a much more complicated resonance. Sweet as much as bitter, with the echo of spring in the dark of early winter.

The album has stayed with me, almost every evening, because the paradoxes with which Leonard Cohen has always played so mischievously, so meticulously, take on new flesh and blood here, and show us a man—with a woman beside, and inside, him—who has passed through his stress and is not going anywhere except toward a final nowhere. The ceremonies of farewell have been mounting in recent years on his recordings. On Ten New Songs, in 2001, Cohen featured his co-singer, Sharon Robinson, on the album cover with him, and her husky, aromatic back-up often drowned out his aging growl. On his last album, Dear Heather, in 2004, he offered a drawing he'd made of a sylph or Muse (who looks very much like Anjani) on the cover—no picture of himself—and on at least two songs let Anjani more or less take over. Now he releases a whole collection of new songs in camouflage, as it were, delivered by his companion, and as if to say that it doesn't really matter who or where they come from. It's almost as if the songs, looking at death with a voice that never cracks, taking leave of everything with a due sense that much has been enjoyed, issue from someone already absent, or were sent in by his ghost.

Cohen has always held us by writing songs of naked desire and songs of monastic longing, and playing the one off the other: the ladies' man who is impossible because, deep down, he's reaching out for surrender. On his first album, his goodbyes were addressed to the women he was leaving to continue his quest. On recent albums his songs had very much the feel of Mount Baldy Zen Center in L.A., where, living as a monk, he really had taken leave of everything. Now, fully back in the sensual world (sharing a small house in L.A. with his daughter Lorca, Anjani just around the corner), he is writing of physical love with the wholeheartedness of someone who doesn't have other things on his mind. He's got his monastic stirrings out of his system, one feels, enough to take another being into his life. "Co-production" has rarely had a warmer implication.

The songs are tinglingly sensual, of course, full of an erotic charge and suggestiveness made keener, more piquant, I'm sure, by years in a monastery (where every swaying of a skirt, every echo of some perfume, becomes potent). In the very first song, "Blue Alert," we have a woman touching herself in the long night, and soon there are lovers lying down under a mosquito net, "to give and get," a woman with "my braids and my blouse all undone." The very slowness of the songs allows one to dwell on every drawn-out syllable. But the shock and excitement of the new work comes, in part, from the fact that some parts are written—and delivered—in a female voice. The shiver is hers, not her aging admirer's. And when she describes her "yellow jacket with padded shoulders" or how her "shoulders are bare," one gets an immediacy of detail that in Cohen's traditional work would have given way to wider philosophizing (or at least to his favorite word, "naked"). Other songs, while sung by Anjani with an ache and a sweetness and a robust sense of elegy that are all her own, sound as if they come from a man—Cohen himself—and sometimes the voice seems to go back and forth within the same song between the woman and the man. Goodbye to dualism!
Read the whole article.

Who By Fire

This article by Sarah Hampson is a cool interview with Cohen.
He Has Tried in His Way to Be Free
By Sarah Hampson

And to a remarkable extent, Leonard Cohen is succeeding. Sarah Hampson had a rare opportunity to spend an afternoon with the famed singer and poet. He’s got the wisdom of age but he’s still the essence of cool—the perfect reflection of his years of Zen.

The park is like a poem: self-contained and spare. Smokers sit on benches in the morning drizzle. Pigeons swoop over a small gazebo, under the limbs of stately trees. There is a solemn-looking house, three storeys high with a gray stone facade. It’s the only one that faces this park in the east end of Montreal, and it’s his. There are two big front doors, side by side. No numbers. No bell. No indication which one is right. You just pick, and knock.

There is more than one way into the world of Leonard Cohen, and on this day, they are all open.

Cohen, now seventy-two, novelist, poet, singer/songwriter and Buddhist monk, is highly regarded all over the world, not just in his native Canada. But he dances in our heads mostly unseen, like a beautiful idea. It is rare that he makes himself available for scrutiny.

Here he is, though, a gentleman of hip in black jeans and an unironed dress shirt beneath a pinstriped, gray-flannel jacket. Atop his thick white hair, combed back off his deeply lined face, a grey cap sits at a jaunty angle, and in the breast pocket of his jacket, instead of a handkerchief he keeps a pair of tinted granny glasses. Standing in the cramped foyer to which both front doors open, sporting a wry, knowing smile, he politely ushers you into the house (once partitioned into two dwellings) that he has owned for more thirty years.

Almost eight years ago, Cohen came down from Mount Baldy, outside of Los Angeles, California, where he had secluded himself at a Buddhist monastery under the tutelage of Zen master Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi since 1993. He is back in the spotlight with new work. In 2004, he released his seventeenth album, Dear Heather. Earlier this year, expanded editions of his first three albums hit the market, as did the critically acclaimed CD, Blue Alert, that he worked on with his lover, Hawaii-born songstress Anjani Thomas. An exhibition of artwork appeared in June. He acknowledges that his increased creative activity is partly to compensate for the millions he lost in royalties at the hands of his former manager, but there’s something different about Cohen.

He seems at ease. He exudes a calmness, as if his age—and more than forty years of study with Sasaki Roshi—have brought him clarity and peace. There is nothing off limits in a discussion with him. Over a bottle of Ch√Ęteau Maucaillou, Greek bread, a selection of Quebec cheeses, and a fresh cherry pie, bought for the occasion from the local St. Laurent Boulevard merchants, you learn that he prefers to sleep alone; that he is no longer looking for another woman; the real reason he secluded himself in a Buddhist monastery for almost five years; and that a small, faded portrait of Saint Catherine Tekakwitha, the seventeenth-century native woman and heroine of his novel Beautiful Losers, hangs on the wall in his kitchen, above a table holding a fifties radio and a telephone with on oversize dial pad. He lives in the world but his space is spare.

He will entrance you in the stillness of a moment that stretches to five hours, and in the end, because you happened to ask, playfully, he will say sure, come back any time for a soak in the claw-footed tub, one of several in his house, that sits in a closet of a bathroom under the slope of the stairs.
Read the whole article.

Dance Me to the End of Love

This one is a fan video, but it's one of my favorite songs.

Waiting for the Miracle

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