It is funny how we get attached to people and consider them our friends even though we have never met them and likely never will. I feel this way about a number of musicians like Van Morrison, John Prine, Paul Simon, Natalie Merchant, K.D. Lang (the list goes on) and of course Leonard Cohen. They through their music and lyrics have connected with me and over time they become to feel like friends.
My friend Leonard Cohen recently released his latest album: “Old Ideas”. This is his twelfth album in a forty-four year long career. That he is 78 years old this is impressive and an inspiration for all of us particularly those of us who are getting well into or past “middle age”. Gone are the days when nothing was expected of people once they were “old.”
His has had an impressive career. Twelve albums, several books of poems and a whole lot of influence on many other musicians around the world. His website notes that there are over 2000 cover versions of Leonard Cohen songs recorded by various artists in the world. His impact spans beyond musicians where of course his many songs and poems have affected the lives of many a fan. He is a Canadian icon and a musical icon of the world.
I picked up “Old Ideas” yesterday. Listening to it for the first time was like being with an old friend, the familiarity of the voice, the tone and the thoughts flowing from his lyrics were somehow comforting. I know that just like his other albums I will grow to love these new songs and they will soon become favourites. I have only listened to the album a few times so it seems a bit early for me to identify the ones I like the best but so far “Show me the Place”, “Amen” and “Come Healing” are on the short list.
Listening to Leonard’s new album made me think about the history of my relationship with Leonard. This would be my listening relationship and a one-sided relationship at that. This goes way back to when I was a melancholic teenager who found solace in listening to his melodic ballads. “So Long Marianne” became an anthem of sorts for the times when I needed solitude and unconditional company at the same time. My first Leonard Cohen albums were actually albums on vinyl which I have hung onto over the many years. They will stay with my keepsakes until I return to a turntable or will be passed onto someone worthy of taking them over. Listening to songs like “Suzanne” and “Sisters of Mercy” always bring back a feeling of soft comfort reminding me of the calm I gained from listening to the songs over and over and over again over the years. I thought it was so cool when I heard the speculation that he wrote the song “Sisters of Mercy” about his experience with some ladies of the night in my hometown of Edmonton in what was thought to be the MacDonald Hotel.
When I had a look at his earliest and my first of his recordings there is not one song that I would not consider a favourite. As a matter of fact when I tried to identify my absolute favourites over the years I ran into difficulty, there were too many that I liked for one reason or another. I tried to single out a few that have some special meaning but still came up with a pretty long list.
“Everybody Knows” a song he co-wrote with Sharon Robinson is a favourite that I have featured in a previous post. “Waiting for a Miracle” another Sharon Robinson collaboration on the same album: The Future is another song that over time has been an unusual source of inspiration to me.
Several of his songs done in a cover and collaborative album with Jennifer Warnes hold a special place in my heart: “Bird on a Wire”; “Famous Blue Raincoat”; and “Joan of Arc” are major favs. . The words from “Song of Bernadette”: “No one believed what she had seen; no one believed what she had heard, that there were sorrows to be healed and mercy, mercy in this world. So many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine, torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo, I just want to hold you, come on let me hold you like Bernadette would do” spoke to me and had me searching for Bernadette.
Speaking of covers, I, just like a million other people, loved K.D. Lang’s rendition of Leonard’s Hallelujah at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics’ in Vancouver and thought it was a good decision to have her sing the song.
Leonard’s songs and his singing have inspired me in many ways supporting my thoughts and my writing and conversely having an influence on my thinking and my writing. His rendition of the Irving Berlin song: Always (The Future) inspired me to include the words of the song in the toast to the Bride and Groom that I presented at my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding.
The lyrics from “Villanelle for Our Time” (Dear Heather) could be my theme song:
“This is the faith, from which we start,
Men shall know commonwealth again,
From bitter searching of the heart.
We love the easy and the smart,
but now with keener hand and brain,
we rise to play a greater part”
The songs “A Thousand Kisses Deep” (Ten New Songs), “Dance me to the end of love” (Various Positions) and “If it be your will” (Various Positions) take my breath away every time I listen to them. And I will never forget watching my daughter perform her self-choreographed biographical dance to the so appropriate song for her “Dear Heather”.
Judging from the staying power of all of Leonard’s songs his new album “Old Ideas” will also have a special place in my life.
Irene McDermott © 2012