It’s Thanksgiving today in the US which, unlike the spurious phenomenon which will occur tomorrow (and which I refuse to name), is something we might do well to import. Of course it’s tainted, because everything is tainted now; tainted with the knowledge and guilt of colonialism and with the awareness that many people around the world don’t have much to be thankful for. But those of us in the blogosphere surely do; at least I do, and one of them is the latest Cohen album (yes, he’s still churning them out from beyond the grave.) Actually to say churning out does him a great disservice, for Cohen was always the slowest of writers and could take years to produce a song and decades over an album; of all artists he knew how to take time over his work. But death seems to have sped him up a little, for this one has been less than three years in the making; the bones of it are recordings he left behind and the meat on the bones is the performances by those he worked with in his lifetime. It has a bleak, faded beauty with that unmistakable Cohen flavour and as to whether it works, it’s an incredible fusion of voices and intentions.
It feels like a return to his beginnings; one voice in a room, a guitar, other voices slowly coming in with maybe a gentle sax, a Spanish guitar, a piano, some distant drums. This is no cynical attempt to milk his legacy but a genuine collection of unreleased work made more beautiful by the collaboration of his old partners. The title track recalls both Joan of Arc and Take this Waltz. The Hills builds from a single voice to a near-orchestral climax and The Night of Santiago features the plaintive passion of a flamenco guitar, echoing Cohen’s love of Lorca.
It feels like Cohen singing through an open door after supper. They could even be in the same room.
Perhaps they were.
One thought on “Giving Thanks (for the Dance)”
I’ve not heard this yet. It runs for less than half an hour, which seems somewhat short by current standards. I realise that it was compiled under unique circumstances, and I’m sure what there is of it is great, but even so……
A book you may be interested in reading (but not in buying – I woudln’t go that far!) is Gods, Gangsters and Honour by a trousered ape who calls himself Steven Machat. Steven Machat is the son and heir of Martin ‘Marty’ Machat, the ‘legendary’ (to whom, I wonder?) showbiz lawyer who represented Leonard Cohen, among others. What makes Steven Machat’s perspective of interest is that he writes from the perspective of a non-fan: he is at pains to point out from the ‘get-go’(to borrow his own language) that he doesn’t care for Cohen’s music at all and nothing can dent his sworn allegiance to crutch-headed rawk-n-roll. He didn’t care for Cohen as a person, either (though that’s more likely to be a point in Cohen’s favour) and portrays him as revelling in his status as a ‘self-appointed victim’. Machat does come up with some interesting, and credible, points, though: Cohen was apparently furious with his early managers for allowing the rights to Suzanne to be ‘pilfered in New York City’ and Marty’s first priority was in removing the two women who had guided Cohen’s career up to that point. Cohen was not particularly grateful for all Machat did for him, though (which begs the question, why should he be, if Machat was collecting his 10-or-whatever-ti-was per cent?) and when the consigliere died only sent a ‘lousy’ bunch of flowers to the funeral. When Steven Machat confronted Cohen about this, Cohen told him, ‘Your daddy stole from me.’ This infuriated Machat, who felt that Cohen had been a ‘charity case’ for his father (he was by far his lowest-earning client, we are told, his ‘big money’ being made with artists like ELO), and that Marty had only taken Cohen on because he was a fan (of all the acts he represented, Cohen was the only one he actually listened to out of choice).
I recommend it, because most writers on Cohen are fans and take an over-laudatory approach. It’s interesting to hear from someone who’s not a fan but he knew Cohen the person.
I woudln’t recommend buying the book, though – I’m sure you can find a way to read it online for nowt. Machat comes across as a grade A muffin, with nasty Republican/Atlanticist politics (he thinks that Britain and America are ‘basically the same country’, so you may be hearing more of him when the Trump Colonisation Deal goes ahead). There is also a hilarious moment where he boasts about meeting Andrew, the Paedo Prince!