Field Commander Cohen went with a Tower metaphor to describe the world we labor in, and wrote a brilliant song about it--in his 50s. (I suppose his Tower could be viewed as a phallic symbol to my more vaginal SongMine, but the ideas are similar.) In any case, it is appropriate, because Leonard Cohen's songs and his career tower over nearly everyone else's. He gives the lie to the notion that songwriting is a young person's game, having done his most startling and powerful work in the last two decades. Check out this video of him performing Tower of Song. And then we'll talk...
THE SECRET IS HARD WORK
In Paul Zollo's excellent book "Songwriters on Songwriting" (De Capo Press, 1997) the interviewer asks Leonard Cohen if he considers the Tower of Song a place of exile or of retreat.
LC: I think you can use it as a retreat but it doesn't work. It's best thought of as a factory. It's some combination of a factory and a bordello...Once a song enters the mill it is worked on by everything I can summon--Thought, meditation, drinking, disillusion, insomnia, vacations. I need everything. I try everything. I try to ignore it, try to repress it, try to get high, try to get intoxicated, try to get sober. All the versions of myself that I can summon are summoned to participate in this project, this work force. I try everything. I'll do anything, by any means possible.
This is coming from a man whose place in the pantheon of singer songwriters has been firmly established since the 60s. He didn't need to work so hard, but he believes in it. He LOVES it. By his own account, it was in the 1980s when he really started to roll up his sleeves and get to work as a songwriter. So many songwriters have this sort of childish belief in going with their first spark of inspiration, the first words or melody that tumble out, believing them to be somehow divine. It's lazy, and it results in mediocrity. Cohen fills whole notebooks with different versions of the same song. He works in the Tower of Song. If a familiar Leonard Cohen song has 10 verses, he probably wrote 100. And where some of his early work often leaned toward the vague, his later stuff is aimed straight at the bullseye of themes like Sex, Religion, Death, Politics, War, Disease, and Aging. There's no confusion about what he means when he writes Everybody knows the game is rotten, old black Joe's still picking cotton for your ribbons and bows...and everybody knows.
Leonard is also an extremely gifted melodist. Working within an extremely limited vocal and instrumental range, he has produced many or our most haunting tunes. "Dance Me To The End Of Love" has become a standard at certain hip weddings. "Sisters Of Mercy" and "Stranger Song" and "Traveling Lady" still hypnotize. And for raw immediate energy, check out "Democracy" "Everybody Knows" "Who By Fire?" "Leaving Greensleeves"...Heck, check em all out if you're not familiar with Leonard's whole body of work. And buy his records! He got ripped off recently by his business manager and is in need of our support. (He's playing in New York February 19, 2009, at the Beacon Theater, by the way. I wish I could be there.)
More on Leonard Cohen in the weeks to come. One post couldn't possibly do him justice. Tell me your favorites and we'll discuss them! BB