This week marks the 18th anniversary of the release of Leonard's live album Field Commander Cohen. The album commemorates Leonard's concerts in December 1979 in London and Brighton. We all know Leonard's rigorous songwriting process often involves writing many verses and discarding all but the best. Here's an alternative verse for the song "Field Commander Cohen" from Leonard's notebook pages.
Ten years ago tonight, Leonard brought his world tour to the US at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Over 200 members of the press attended and reacted much like Andy Greene of Rolling Stone, calling it one of the most magical concerts he'd ever seen. The positive press lead to the historic 2009 North American tour that included two sold out shows at Radio City Music Hall and Leonard's first sold out appearance at Madison Square Garden. Enjoy Leonard performing "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" from that night.
It's been 56 years since the publication of Leonard's first novel, The Favourite Game. The novel overflows with remarkable descriptions and memorable lines. Within the first few paragraphs, Leonard writes: "Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh. "It is easy to display a wound, the proud scars of combat. It is hard to show a pimple." In 1963 CBC conducted an interview with Leonard, providing us an early look at Leonard discussing his work.
Leonard's album I'm Your Man debuted 31 years ago this week. Renowned photographer Dominique Issermann directed a music video based on the first song off the record, "First We Take Manhattan." About that song, Leonard said, "You’re provoked, you’re feeling somewhat demented. That becomes a geopolitical manifesto full of menace like 'First We Take Manhattan.' But these statements develop with a sense of immediacy although the process of refinement is very long. The impulse for the work is immediate and stunning."
Leonard's song "Hallelujah" will be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame along with 25 other recordings. Recordings chosen for induction must be at least 25 years old and “exhibit qualitative or historical significance.” Previously, Leonard's record Songs of Leonard Cohen was inducted in 2015. Watch Leonard Cohen performing "Hallelujah" on YouTube : https://youtu.be/YrLk4vdY28Q
Today marks the seventh anniversary of the release of Leonard's record Old Ideas. UK's The Guardian concluded about the album: "You don't want new ideas from Leonard Cohen. You want to sink into that coal-black pit of a voice and contemplate the essentials: lust and loss; failure and redemption; the appalling comedy of existence and its inescapable end. His 12th 'manual for living with defeat' answers that longing, while ever so gently ribbing it." Listen to the harmonies of the Webb Sisters and Sharon Robinson as they introduce us to Leonard and "Come Healing" from Live in Dublin.
William Logan, whom esteemed author Joyce Carol Oates labels "the Rush Limbaugh of poetry reviewers," turns his acerbic attention onto Leonard's THE FLAME in The New York Times Book Review. Mr. Logan goes on to share his opinion of Leonard's music and even his fans. His conclusions are not positive. Alexandra Pleshoyano, Associate Professor at the University of Sherbrooke, Academic Ambassador for the Leonard Cohen Estate and Archive, and Editor of THE FLAME responds: "William Logan’s brutal academic criticism of Leonard Cohen's work harkens back to McGill professor Louis Dudek who first pronounced Leonard as one of the great emerging poets (the golden-boy poet) in Canada, and then rejected his work once Cohen became a singer/songwriter (the frontline writer). On the literary scene, Cohen stopped being perceived as a poet as soon as he decided to pick-up the guitar and sing. Dudek lamented the fact that popular music could become an honourable art form. In an article, Dudek published a caricature of Cohen, Dylan, Ginsberg, Ringo Star, with a multitude of fans following them. Dudek regretted that Cohen, such a promising poet, could possibly degrade himself to the level of popular music. (Dudek, 1969, p. 5) As Stephen Scobie commented: “the more he [ Cohen was] taken seriously as a ‘rock star’, the less seriously he [was] taken as a ‘poet/novelist’.” (Footman, 2009, p. 110) There is quite a persistent dichotomy between poetry and music. Universities and concert stages are concretely and obviously considered as two separate genres of performances: the former for scholars and the latter for the general public. This is typical of our Western way of separating sciences from humanities; the former considered as being ‘objective’ and the latter ‘subjective’. As Guy Beck stresses: “[r]eferred to as the ‘old paradigm’ by more progressive thinkers, this dichotomy of insider/outsider or musician/scholar, also known to anthropologists as emic/etic, has continued to inform attitudes for well over a century.” (Beck, 2006, p. 19) It is a pity to hear such judgemental criticism from academic intellectuals who claim the right to separate the “bad” poems from the “good” ones. As Stephen Scobie once wrote regarding Cohen’s poetry, “[s]ome of the best lines occur in some of the worst poems, and vice versa.” (Scobie, 1978, p. 45) But then again, isn’t academia about debate, and isn’t the intensity of the debate, in some way, a sign of great respect by the academic world?" The debate continues as another critic, Don McLeese, pens an answer to Mr. Logan's review concluding: "This is a prime example of the 'emperor has no clothes' review, in which the masses are blind, and only the critic can see clearly... For anyone who wants to seek out the recordings, the videos of live performance, and, yes, the pages upon pages of poetry and fiction, the artistry of Leonard Cohen is amply clothed indeed, even when it cuts so close to the bone of naked truth. The work redeems itself. It’s the critic who lies exposed." https://bookandfilmglobe.com/creators/new-york-times-sends-an-assassin-to-kill-leonard-cohen/ In Flood Magazine, Anya Jaremko-Greenwold disputes Mr. Logan's dismissive comments about Cohen's music and fans: "Logan seems uninterested in exploring the mass appeal of Cohen, tossing aside his illustrious career and legions of adoring fans... To critique any artist intelligently, though the eventual analysis may be scathing, there should be a modicum of respect; if not for Cohen himself, then for his scores of fans, who cannot all be fools... Logan fails to realize poetry isn’t only diction and syntax on a flat page—the way Leonard Cohen sings, his lustrous, growly cadence, is poetry too." http://floodmagazine.com/56120/leonard-cohens-lyrics-are-as-good-as-any-poetry/ Another writer, Mark Athitakis, defends Mr. Logan's intentions: "[C]ritics rarely deliver hit jobs with ill motives... Negative reviews, done right, are correctives. Mark Twain attacking James Fenimore Cooper was good fun, but also an attempt to banish Romanticism from the American literary landscape... And Logan had some correctives to deliver too... Logan made it clear enough that he didn’t see [Cohen's] appeal... But that doesn’t mean the end result was inherently mean and unhelpful." https://markathitakis.substack.com/p/mark-athitakis-newsletter-16 As always, Leonard's fans get the last word. Fans flooded Twitter and Facebook with indignant posts. The New York Times published several Letters to the Editor fuming about Mr. Logan's review. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/18/books/review/letters-to-the-editor.html Finally, one particularly enraged Cohen fan made a short-term modification to William Logan's Wikipedia page describing the critic's true nature in rather graphic terms. Take that, Mr. Logan! 😁 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Logan_(poet)
For his final album, Leonard recruited his son Adam Cohen as producer. In this Spotify article, Adam depicts a truthful picture of the experience of making You Want It Darker. You can listen to You Want It Darker streaming over the New Year's holiday here: http://smarturl.it/YWIDalbumSTR
CBC's Canadian Music Class Challenge calls on young musicians across Canada to deliver their best performance of selected songs. The band at Orchard Park Secondary School delivered an emotional and intense rendition of Leonard's song "Hallelujah" to win first place in the high school instrumental category. The band credits their success to the family atmosphere among the musicians that love of music and a dedicated music teacher created.