Sunday, June 16, 2013

Various Positions

In the building excitement to finally see Leonard Cohen live after decades of listening to his music and reading his poetry, I find my thoughts swirl toward the insights the quiet Canadian provides those who look deeply into his poetry. My obsessive personality irritates many people, and I always retort, imagine living with it 24/7? I spent several hours yesterday listening to one song in particular, a song that I consider I finally understand - 'Heart with no Companion'.

Cohen may well be the poet of the melancholic, tackling many aspects of life and reality – but if you look closely to his lyrics you will find both an existential air as well as some wickedly dark humour. The first piece of music I sent Muriel, the woman who became my wife, was the Jennifer Warnes ‘Famous Blue Raincoat : The Songs of Leonard Cohen’ album [on tape] from when I worked in Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s.

I spent several hours last night listening to live versions of his track “Heart with no Companion”, from his CD ‘Songs from the Road’ as well as various gonzo-filmed clips at YouTube. Though dating from 1984’s ‘Various Positions’ Album / CD, the live version[s] are enlightening. Using contrast, we have a very upbeat, tempo tune sung cheerfully but featuring some dark insights into the tragedies that life can provide, but the narrator explains that it will all work out fine in the end. Not one to understate tragedy, Cohen’s narrator greets the listener from surviving his own despair, which was so awful that it shattered him and so he can reach out to everyone and tell them that is survivable. 

He warns of unrequited love, loneliness, unfulfilled aspirations that can lead to ‘the days of shame that will follow, and wild distress’

Never one to hold back [Cohen doesn't indicate that it will be bad, but uses the term wild distress]; the up-tempo rhythm allows these troubling insights to cheerfully seep into your consciousness. Reminiscent of Bobby Darren’s upbeat tune ‘Mack The Knife’ hiding the sinister tale of a serial killer, or Olivia Newton-John’s reworking of ‘Banks of the Ohio’ another dark tale masked by a cheerfully upbeat tune.

Like much of Cohen’s work, there are existential insights into our plight, as well as a calming, almost soothing edge to the melancholia, even when the apocalyptic visions he details in The Future as sung in a cheerful and amusing manner. When he confronts his topics, including the awareness of our own doom, what we term Mortality Salience and Terror Management, he does so with insight, as well as wink with his golden voice. Remember he is after all an ordained Zen-Buddhist Monk. 

So with 'Heart with no Companion', Cohen warns that trouble is coming and it is terrifying, and related to human nature - but take heart as he will see you on the other side; because you will survive, but you will need to hold firm as it will result in nights of wild distress.

Heart With No Companion by Leonard Cohen

I greet you from the other side
Of sorrow and despair
With a love so vast and shattered
It will reach you everywhere

And I sing this for the captain
Whose ship has not been built
For the mother in confusion
Her cradle still unfilled

For the heart with no companion
For the soul without a king
For the prima ballerina
Who cannot dance to anything

Through the days of shame that are coming
Through the nights of wild distress
Tho' your promise count for nothing
You must keep it nonetheless

You must keep it for the captain
Whose ship has not been built
For the mother in confusion
Her cradle still unfilled

For the heart with no companion ...

I greet you from the other side ...

Melancholia was seldom so wonderfully [and cheerfully] presented by anyone, apart from Mr. Leonard Cohen.

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