The Partisan

That old troubadour is back, with Leonard Cohen releasing his latest album, Popular Problems, this week.  I haven’t gotten my copy of the CD yet but I am looking forward to listening to Cohen’s album in full, knowing that I, as a listener, am in the safe hands of a man who has remained at his artistic peak for many decades now.  The songs I have heard so far have only intensified this feeling.  His voice is certainly deeper, whispering as Cohen has aged, but he is still intensely recognizable in both delivery and tone.  His voice has always been a distinctive feature as he is not your typical singer, with his rich lyrics delivered via a sometimes monotone voice.  This, however, does not detract from his music and actually highlights the inherent poetry of his lyrics.  Female backing singers have also become more of a permanent feature, sometimes helping to echo his own lines or provide the chorus, but always enriching his songs.

As a poet, novelist and song writer Cohen has remained fairly prolific in his musical and literary output, only coming to a slowdown in his 70’s.  On learning that the vast majority of the money had he saved had been swindled, he once again took himself on the road to earn some money.  We, as the audience, must be thankful for humanity’s greed, as Cohen has since toured fairly extensively and has released two new albums (Popular Problems being the second after 2012’s Old Ideas).  It seems as if he has been re-invigorated and is flourishing once again, no doubt surprising his older fans with new ones who are only just discovering his extensive discography.

As I’ve mentioned on this site before The Partisan has to be one of my favourite songs that is covered by Leonard Cohen , exemplifying as it does the close bond of the partisan and the people who help hide them, of the intense love, hope and brutality of a country at war:

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning,
I’m the only one this evening,
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

A Letter of Love

I have always firmly believed that if my house caught fire, and my family were safe, I would not hesitate in saving my batch of personal letters.   Let my other personal possessions burn, another guitar can be found, books can be sourced and CD’s can be hunted down, but personal letters are one of a kind.  A written statement from one individual to another, never read by anyone else, containing all the thoughts that that person felt at that one time, particular only to them and them alone; they are irreplaceable and irrevocable.  The two packet stuffed envelops, tape wrapped for safety, sitting in a drawer near my bed, are the collected letters I have received from family, friends and lovers, over a decade or so, sitting comfortably close to me.  I hold them dear to my heart.  Letters from friends I have not spoken to in some time, letters from lovers in different countries, and letters from friends in different continents.

The night before major surgery I sit and compose letters to my dear friends, a final farewell if the worst were to happen.  Solace found in the hand written word.  I often wonder what world my letters find themselves in, letters sent to Brazil, France and Germany, where the language the letters are written in is not the mother tongue.  I imagine my friends opening the letters, sent perhaps unexpected for arrival, their hands and eyes scanning the page, the pearl of a grin beginning on their lips.  For me the sound of the postman in the early afternoon and the sight caught of a personal letter is one of sheer joy.

There are a few hauntingly brilliant songs about letters and their contents, but for me the stand out is the song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat‘ by Leonard Cohen.  I will always remember composing a letter to a dear friend at 2am on a quiet winter night in my university flat whilst listening to Leonard.  It is a memory I will treasure always, of the little academic holed up in his cold flat.

Old Ideas

That old troubadour Leonard Cohen released his latest album, ‘Old Ideas‘, on the 31st of January of 2012, now almost a year ago.  For myself it was a welcome return from this man of music, whose wise and melancholy words have kept me company long into the night on many an occasion.  I first discovered him through listening to Jeff Buckley’s tremendous version of ‘Hallelujah‘, and I subsequently dived into into Cohen’s works.  A poet, a novelist, a singer, and a lover, Cohen continues to be all of these and more.  He is the eternal voice of despair, depression, love, acceptance, melancholy, and culture.  As I discovered through my musical journey of his works he has been through a few different musical styles, but his lyrics, and his voice, have always remained distinctive.  A review of his extensive oeuvre of albums would be better served by seeking them yourself, but what follows here is a selected highlight of some of my favourite albums, songs and books of his.

His back catalogue is an extensive one, but it is a beautiful one.  One of the first albums I managed to procure was the elegant, subtle and subdued ‘Songs From A Room‘, his 2nd album released in 1969.  Largely consisting of Cohen and his acoustic guitar, occasional female backing singers and little else, the album is a revelation, even during its own decade of release in the 1960’s.  It is beautifully stripped back in its approach to highlight the poetry of Cohen’s lyrics and story telling.  Perhaps my favourite song from this album (though the album is rewarded when played as one) is the song ‘The Partisan‘.  The haunting lyrics, “‘oh the wind the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing, freedom soon will come”, is heightened by the addition of a french verse sang by both Cohen and female backing singers, extolling the grim reality of partisan war, of how life is often entangled in a deep romance with death.

Songs of Love and Hate‘ followed ‘Songs From a Room’ in 1971, and is much in the same vein as the previous album.  The most moving song is ‘Famous Blue Coat‘, a paean to a triangle of love written in the form of a letter.  It is an elegant, expressive, and an evocative song, with the details of a love soured.  A late album now, released in 1992 ‘The Future‘ is a move away from the bare singer song writer, and includes a fuller band working on Cohen’s songs.  The album largely leans towards folk rock, although there are tantalizing hints of synth and keyboard playing.  The song ‘Democracy‘ prompts the listener into exploring the views extolled in the song.

Cohen toured the world from 2008-2010, in a much anticipated and long awaited return to the spotlight after some financial difficulties.  The London date, in 2008, was released in DVD form, and showed the exquisite showman at his finest, singing strong even after all those years.

My first introduction to his poetry was the delightful and playful ‘Book of Longing‘ (2006).  The poems are joined by the doodling’s and drawings of Cohen’s which litter the book, and are often colourful and joyful.  A quick scan will show that he has a certain fascination with the female form, often returning back to it for further study and doodling.  At the moment a collected edition of his poetry sits by my bed, ready to dip into at a moments notice.

This has been a brief introduction to some of Leonard Cohen’s  works, and there are obvious gaps, but I hope you can fill them in by giving him a listen.  He is often given criticism for sounding dour, or downbeat, but he has become more cheerful as the years have drifted by, by some accounts.  Needless of what the critics have to say, his music, art and poetry will resonate for far longer than the snipes of criticism as to his state of mind or mood in which he created them.  I sincerely hope you enjoy what you hear.