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Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Cohen’

On Thursday of last week (13 October) it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel prize for literature. It should be obvious to anyone who has read my posts on Bob Dylan, of which there have been many, that I am fully in agreement with his receiving this accolade. As I have stated several times, to me Bob Dylan is a poet, but someone who has chosen to set his poems to music. Not all of his songs can be considered poetry, but I would argue that many of them can be, and there is little doubt that he brought a level of literary craftsmanship to writing song lyrics which had not existed before.

That the best songwriters are creating poetry is, for me, a matter of little dispute. At the top of this list sits Bob Dylan, but he is not the only one. Other names which spring to mind are Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. As the Nobel prize cannot be awarded posthumously, the Nobel committee better get a move on if it’s going to award any of these three the same honour that it has just bestowed on Dylan.

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On Thursday of last week (13 October) it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel prize for literature.

As four examples of Dylan’s genius for writing songs which are poetry, here are “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” from 1965 (which appears on the album Bringing it All Back Home), “The ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” from 1967 (which appears on his album John Wesley Harding), “Tangled Up in Blue” from 1974 (which appears on the album Blood on the Tracks) and “Not Dark Yet” from 1997 (which appears on on the album Time Out of Mind).

Do you think Bob Dylan is deserving of the Nobel prize in literature, or is songwriting a lesser form of literature than poetry? Which are your favourite Dylan lyrics?

It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
Person crying

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

Well, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
They were the best of friends
So when Frankie Lee needed money one day
Judas quickly pulled out a roll of tens
And placed them on a footstool
Just above the plotted plain
Sayin’, “Take your pick, Frankie Boy
My loss will be your gain”

Well, Frankie Lee, he sat right down
And put his fingers to his chin
But with the cold eyes of Judas on him
His head began to spin
“Would ya please not stare at me like that,” he said
“It’s just my foolish pride
But sometimes a man must be alone
And this is no place to hide”

Well, Judas, he just winked and said
“All right, I’ll leave you here
But you’d better hurry up and choose which of those bills you want
Before they all disappear”
“I’m gonna start my pickin’ right now
Just tell me where you’ll be”
Judas pointed down the road
And said, “Eternity!”

“Eternity?” said Frankie Lee
With a voice as cold as ice
“That’s right,” said Judas Priest, “Eternity
Though you might call it ‘Paradise’”
“I don’t call it anything”
Said Frankie Lee with a smile
“All right,” said Judas Priest
“I’ll see you after a while”

Well, Frankie Lee, he sat back down
Feelin’ low and mean
When just then a passing stranger
Burst upon the scene
Saying, “Are you Frankie Lee, the gambler
Whose father is deceased?
Well, if you are, there’s a fellow callin’ you down the road
And they say his name is Priest”

“Oh, yes, he is my friend”
Said Frankie Lee in fright
“I do recall him very well
In fact, he just left my sight”
“Yes, that’s the one,” said the stranger
As quiet as a mouse
“Well, my message is, he’s down the road
Stranded in a house”

Well, Frankie Lee, he panicked
He dropped ev’rything and ran
Until he came up to the spot
Where Judas Priest did stand
“What kind of house is this,” he said
“Where I have come to roam?”
“It’s not a house,” said Judas Priest
“It’s not a house . . . it’s a home”

Well, Frankie Lee, he trembled
He soon lost all control
Over ev’rything which he had made
While the mission bells did toll
He just stood there staring
At that big house as bright as any sun
With four and twenty windows
And a woman’s face in ev’ry one

Well, up the stairs ran Frankie Lee
With a soulful, bounding leap
And, foaming at the mouth
He began to make his midnight creep
For sixteen nights and days he raved
But on the seventeenth he burst
Into the arms of Judas Priest
Which is where he died of thirst

No one tried to say a thing
When they took him out in jest
Except, of course, the little neighbor boy
Who carried him to rest
And he just walked along, alone
With his guilt so well concealed
And muttered underneath his breath
“Nothing is revealed”

Well, the moral of the story
The moral of this song
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong
So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’
Help him with his load
And don’t go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road

Tangled Up in Blue

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

Not Dark Yet

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

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At number 16 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Leonard Cohen. Cohen was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1934. He was raised in a middle-class religious Jewish family; his maternal grandfather was a Rabi, his father Nathan Cohen died when Cohen was 9 years old.

The part of Montreal in which he grew up was an English speaking part of this predominantly French-speaking city, and so one can say that Cohen grew up as a minority within a minority; an English-speaking Jewish boy in a predominantly French-speaking Catholic city. I have always held that this perception of himself as an “outsider” has influenced much of Cohen’s work.

Before becoming a songwriter, Cohen was a published poet. His first album of songs was Songs of Leonard Cohen, which was released in 1967. By this time, he had already published four books of poems; this poetic style is clearly visible in many of his song lyrics. I am a huge fan of Cohen, personally I would place him in my top five of the greatest songwriters. In terms of his lyrics, he is, in my opinion, up there with the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Like Dylan and Simon, he has elevated “pop songs” to sheer poetry.

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At number 16 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Leonard Cohen.

There are so many Cohen songs that I could have shared in this blogpost. I have already posted several Cohen songs, “Famous Blue Raincoat” here, “So Long Marianne” here and “The Partisan” here. The song I have decided to share today is possibly less well known; it is “The Guests”, a song which appears as the opening track on his 1979 album Recent Songs. This song illustrates many aspects typical of Cohen’s songs, including the evocative and complex lyrics, as well as another hallmark of Cohen’s songs which is his deep voice being accompanied by female voices, something I find quite enchanting.

One by one, the guests arrive
The guests are coming through
The open-hearted many
The broken-hearted few

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

And those who dance, begin to dance
Those who weep begin
And “Welcome, welcome” cries a voice
“Let all my guests come in.”

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

And all go stumbling through that house
in lonely secrecy
Saying “Do reveal yourself”
or “Why has thou forsaken me?”

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

All at once the torches flare
The inner door flies open
One by one they enter there
In every style of passion

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

And here they take their sweet repast
While house and grounds dissolve
And one by one the guests are cast
Beyond the garden wall

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

Those who dance, begin to dance
Those who weep begin
Those who earnestly are lost
Are lost and lost again

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

One by the guests arrive
The guests are coming through
The broken-hearted many
The open-hearted few

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh I need you now

Here is a video of this mesmerising song. Enjoy!

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I thought it was about time I posted another Leonard Cohen song. Previously I have blogged about “So Long Marianne” and “The Partisan“. “Famous Blue Raincoat” is another of his early songs, released in 1971 from his 3rd album “Songs Of Love and Hate“.


The cover of Leonard Cohen’s 3rd album, Songs of Love and Hate.


The song is in the form of a letter, and speaks of a love triangle between the singer, a woman named Jane, and an unnamed man. Enjoy!



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Just a quick post today, as I need to be getting on with doing things outside on a rare dry sunny day in Cardiff. As I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Leonard Cohen. I consider him to be one of the best lyricists who has written songs in the last 50-60 years. This song, So Long Marianne is from his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen.


So Long Marianne comes from Leonard Cohen’s debut Album “Songs of Leonard Cohen”, which was released in 1968.



What is your favourite Leonard Cohen song?

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I only have time for a quick post today as my students have a mid-term exam, so not much time for anything substantive. I posted this on my FaceBook account yesterday, but thought I would share it on my blog today. It is one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs, “The Partisan”, from his album “Songs From A Room“.



Leonard Cohen as he was in the 1970s




When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often,
I’ve lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

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.

Les Allemands étaient chez moi (The Germans were at my home)
ils m’ont dit “Résigne-toi” (They said, “Surrender,”)
mais je n’ai pas pu (this I could not do)
j’ai repris mon arme (I took my weapon again)

J’ai changé cent fois de nom (I have changed names a hundred times)
j’ai perdu femme et enfants (I have lost wife and children)
mais j’ai tant d’amis (But I have so many friends)
j’ai la France entière (I have all of France)

Un vieil homme dans un grenier (An old man, in an attic)
pour la nuit nous a cachés (Hid us for the night)
les Allemands l’ont pris (The Germans captured him)
il est mort sans surprise (He died without surprise)

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.




What I like most about this song is the haunting melody, the use of French (Cohen grew up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada), and the haunting female voice accompaniment. To my mind, Leonard Cohen is one of the most talented lyricists that “pop music” has had in the last 50-60 years. In fact, he was a published poet before he turned to songwriting. Many people glibly say his songs are depressing, but if they think that then have not really listened to his lyrics. There is nothing depressing about “Hallelujah” or “Paper Thin Hotel” (from “Death of a ladies man“)

What is your favourite Leonard Cohen song?

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