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Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen

I have often shamelessly appropriated the technique of dictating a list of potently symbolic objects and stirring them up like a recipe into something more resonant than the component parts – most recently with the growing Fortress Longing reading list (more on that in a later post) and the reference in the Introduction to Fortress Longing podcast of the contents of the flight table, and the Andalucian hotel floor.

I first stole the technique from Leonard Cohen when I was a boy. It appeared in a two part piece called The Pure List and the Commentary in Flowers for Hitler. (The whole volume can now be read on Scribd, though I am not at all sure of the legal standing of this.)

This is point 6 from the commentary. Happy Birthday, Mr. Cohen!

“Albert Hotel sixth floor seven thirty p.m. On the scratched table I set out in a row a copper bust of Stalin, a plaster of paris bust of Beethoven, a china jug shaped like Winston Churchill’s head, a reproduction of a fragment of the True Cross, a small idol, a photograph of a drawing of the Indian chief Pontiac, hair, an applicator used for artificial insemination. I undressed and waited for power.”

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Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen

I always put a line or two of Leonard Cohen’s up here for his birthday (2007, 2006), but this year I offer a twist.

Joni Mitchell wrote Rainy Night House for Leonard after he had taken her to his mother’s house and showed her his father’s service revolver. Many years after their brief affair had ended, when Joni was moving out of her own home, a slip of paper fell out from behind the mirror on the mantelpiece. It was a poem that Leonard had written when he had visited her all that time ago. I have always admired Leonard Cohen’s use of the written word as spell, as invocation. To leave a poem behind a girl’s mirror, or to bury a line or two with your dog. I have always considered this a more natural use for the written word than the published artifact.

But this song by Joni Mitchell is a work that I find quietly astonishing. It is, most unusually, a love song that does not in any way claim the lover. It is reportage of an event, and is filled with love. Yet there is absolutely no claim to ownership – no bind of any kind. Quite lovely.

It was a rainy night
We took a taxi to your mother’s home
She went to florida and left you
With your father’s gun, alone
Upon her small white bed
I fell into a dream
You sat up all the night and watched me
To see, who in the world I might be

I am from the sunday school
I sing soprano in the upstairs choir
You are a holy man
On the f.m. radio
I sat up all the night and watched thee
To see, who in the world you might be.

You called me beautiful
You called your mother-she was very tanned
So you packed your tent and you went
To live out in the arizona sand
You are a refugee
From a wealthy family
You gave up all the golden factories
To see, who in the world you might be

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Only a master can punish you and make you grateful

I recently came across this sweet footage of the induction of Leonard Cohen into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

Cohen recites the first couple of lines from Tower of Song and, perceiving that this well fed and oiled crowd of industry bosses and pop-whores did not even recognise the damn song, seemingly decides to punish them by reciting the whole song, verse by chiselled verse.

I was recently offered back stage access and a chance to meet Leonard at his forthcoming performance at Edinburgh Castle. This once in a lifetime opportunity is unworkable as it transpires that Fovea Hex will be playing the very same night in Trento, Italy. Fuck.

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Happy Birthday Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen – born 21st September 1934
“The Twentieth Century belongs to you and me. Let us be two severe giants not less lonely for our partnership, who discolour test tubes in the halls of Science, who turn up unwelcome at every World’s Fair, heavy with proverbs and corrections, confusing the star-dazed tourists with our incomparable sense of loss.”