Thursday, January 12, 2017

Self Help Radio 011117: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen

(Original image here.)

There's a famous story I'm going to screw up.  Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen are sharing a cab or a limo or something, & are being complimentary to one another.  Cohen mentions a song of Dylan's - in my brain it's something off of Infidels, but I can't recall what it is - & asks Dylan how long it took him to write it.  (I assume this is the sort of thing about which songwriters compare notes.)  Dylan says he wrote it in a cab on the way to a show.  He then compliments Cohen on the song "Hallelujah," & asks how long it took him to write that song.  Cohen replies that he worked on it off & on for a decade.

This story may explain why Cohen, in a career just a little shorter than The Bob's, only released fourteen studio records, while The Nobel Bob has released four thousand.  & by the way, there's a part of me that things both men are being somewhat hyperbolic - Dylan to show off, Cohen to be humble.  Which also says something about the two men.

There are times when you gotta be Dylan, & there are times when you gotta be Cohen.  As I stumble through my meaningless life, a life defined at times by gloom & at times by painful beauty, at times by bleakness so vast my eyes & ears fail, & at times by love so true & surprising that I am grateful for my senses - as the road ahead gets shorter than the one behind, as what the heart remembers starts to overshadow what it has yet to feel - I find in myself less & less Dylan & more & more Cohen.

Truly I could talk about him & his music (which is also him) all day & night long.  Maybe one day you & I will do that, with a bottle of wine in front of us.  Until then, here's my feeble attempt to pay tribute to someone I have loved & needed for almost my entire adult life.  Oh, Leonard Cohen.  I will listen for you everyday as you sing to us sweetly from the Tower Of Song.

The show, such as it is, is at the Self Help Radio website.  The songs I played are below.  I hope you like it, if you listen.  But the truth is, as piss-poor a tribute as it is, I needed to do it, for me.  To say thanks.

(part one)

"Suzanne" Nina Simone _To Love Somebody_
"Memories" The Extra Glenns _Martial Arts Weekend_
"Why Don't You Try" Colleen Rennison _See The Sky About To Rain_

"There Is A War" Great Plains _Slaves To Rock & Roll_
"Story Of Isaac" Green Pajamas _Indian Winter_
"Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" Claudine Longet _Let's Spend The Night Together_
"Lover Lover Lover" Ian McCulloch _Mysterio_
"I'm Your Man" Mystery Twins _Arrow_

"Dress Rehearsal Rag" Goodbye Mr Mackenzie _Jezebel_
"Tonight Will Be Fine" Herman Düne & Clemence Freschard _Kreuzberg Cafe_
"The Law" Tanya Donelly _Swan Song Series, Vol. 2_
"If It Be Your Will" Human Drama _Pinups_
"Sisters Of Mercy" Area _The Perfect Dream_

(part two)

"Avalanche" Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds _From Her To Eternity_
"So Long Marianne" Bill Callahan _The Songs Of Leonard Cohen Covered_
"Dance Me To The End Of Love" The Civil Wars _Barton Hollow_
"Bird On A Wire (feat. Marc Ribot)" My Brightest Diamond _I Have Never Loved Someone_

"Hallelujah" John Cale _I'm Your Fan_
"Who By Fire" Coil _Horse Rotorvator_
"You Got Me Singing" Jenny Adkins _You Got Me Singing_
"Joan Of Arc" John Wesley Hardings Love Hall Tryst _Songs Of Misfortune_
"Paper Thin Hotel" Close Lobsters _Nature Thing_
"Diamonds In The Mine" Broken Family Band _Balls_

"Passing Through" Dick Blakeslee _Songs For Political Action, Vol. 6: The People's Songs Era 1945-1949_
"Chelsea Hotel # 2" Lambchop _Rainer On My Parade_
"Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" Palaxy Tracks _Twelve Rooms_

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Whither A Tribute To Leonard Cohen?

(This image found there.)

If it hasn't been made perfectly clear by what I wrote after I found out about his death, Leonard Cohen is one of my musical heroes.  If I had to make a list of my favorite artists, as people do & then pressure other people to do, he would undoubtedly make my top ten most of the time.  I have thought about & listened to to his songs for almost thirty years now.  There are few musicians who have touched me so deeply & affected me so strongly.

Tonight I'll pay tribute to him in a curious way: I'll do an entire show of his music covered by other artists.  Why do I do this?  You'll recall, I've done this before with artists like David Bowie & the Velvet Underground, but I've mixed some shows up like with George Jones & Morrissey.  Why just play others interpreting Cohen's work?  Why not hear from the man himself?

You must know by now I'm a contrarian by nature.  I have listened to enough Leonard Cohen tributes in the past two months to not want to basically do the same radio show as others have done.  But I also find something magical about reinterpretations of songs - sure, covers can be awful, but there are covers that make you think about a song in an entirely new way, & covers that unlock the potential of a song so it actually surpasses its original.  I hope you'll hear some of these tonight.

Tonight!  9-11pm Eastern!  8-10pm Central!  93.9 fm WLXU in Lexington! LCR online everywhere!  Join me in paying tribute to a true poet.

(P.S. I noticed that I chose images from the album Live Songs on two blog posts about LC.  I don't think that's my favorite picture of him, but for some reason I think of it first when I think of pictures of him.  I don't know why that is.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Preface To A Tribute To Leonard Cohen: Another Poet Entirely

Because of Leonard Cohen, I found my way to Federico García Lorca.  Leonard Cohen has a song on I'm Your Man called "Take This Waltz" which is a translation/reimagining of a Lorca poem called "Little Viennese Waltz."  It's a gorgeous song, so unusual in the pop idiom, with pure poetry bursting from its lines:

In Vienna there are ten pretty women
There's a shoulder where Death comes to cry
There's a lobby with nine hundred windows
There's a tree where the doves go to die

It's hard to imagine even our most poetical of musicians getting away with such lush imagery.

Cohen named his daughter Lorca.  That's a beautiful name.

At some point in the early nineties, I got to see a Lorca play being performed.  I believe it was Yerma, & it was eye-opening & jaw-dropping to hear the lines of the play - so poetic - being recited by actors.  It's the same epiphany one feels when one sees Shakespeare performed for the first time, especially after having been forced to read it for a class.  Poems were meant to be sung, I believe.

Why, in general, aren't they?

After that time, I would pepper Lorca lines in letters & emails I wrote to women I was courting.  Here's one:

Like a snake, my heart
has shed its skin.
I hold it here in my hands,
full of honey and wounds.

Here's another:

Only your hot heart,

nothing more.

& one more:

The guitar
makes dreams cry.
The sobbing
of lost souls
its round mouth.
& like the tarantula
it weaves a great star
to ensnare sighs floating
in its black
cistern of wood.

That last one, called "Six Strings," was one I'm sure Leonard Cohen knew intimately.

Gosh, it would have been nice to have a conversation with him once in my life.  I'll have to live for the rest of my life with all the conversations I've had & will continue to have with the beautiful music he made.

Monday, January 09, 2017


Do you know about this?  It's an invitation-only (they send invitations through the snailmails with activation codes on them) website for neighborhoods.  I have friends who are very skeptical of it - thinking it's another way for criminals to break into their homes! - but the wife & I signed up mostly out of curiosity.  Since we've only been in our new home for a little over a week, we don't have much to contribute.  But both of us have been pretty voyeuristic with its contents.

One thing that's handy: people talk about stray dogs & cats in the neighborhood, & so far two dogs & one cat who've gone missing have been found, possibly thanks to the service.  (It must work better than flyers posted on telephone poles in places where no one walks!)  That's very good for me - & when it got cold here - below zero cold - people were shaming folks who leave their animals outside all the time.

Another handy thing seems to be recommendations for services.  People are asking their neighbors - albeit online - if there's a good plumber or dentist or whatever.  That feels sort of old-fashioned, even (again) if it's through some website.

But.  The wife & I were chuckling about this today.  When it comes to interacting with strangers, there are definitely two distinct camps.  For example:

There's an environmental group that comes through, asks folks to sign a petition & accepts donations.  One person wrote on nextdoor that the person who came to their house seemed suspicious.  There were two swift, completely opposite, reactions: one, people defending the group, supporting them, & explaining their purpose; & another, saying, basically, call the police!  "Code blue," one of the neighbors succinctly put it.

During the Christmas season, one neighbor's child apparently has the lovely idea to put candles on porches around their neighborhood.  The child nor his parents didn't quite explain what they were doing, & folklore immediately arose: one nextdoor neighbor said something like, I have heard that criminals are putting candles on your porches & if you don't remove them, they'll know you're not home & rob your house!  The other reaction was, naturally, How nice! How thoughtful! A candle for the season!

Amazing that this was as far from the truth as possible - & yet to a certain fraction of folks who live in this neighborhood, it wasn't far-fetched but probable.  Granted, most people, once it was explained, thought it was sweet & in the holiday spirit, but others grumbled - even with its innocent motives laid out, they couldn't help but see bad everywhere.

& there is bad, of course.  There was, according to a headline on the site, a "gun battle" (!) just a few blocks west of us the other night.  That shouldn't be as thrilling to me as it is - I'm sure if it were down the street, I'd be thinking of purchasing a gun to do battle myself.  But the thread was so much fun to read!

Have you used this website?  Is it available where you are?  If I end up posting stuff, I'll let you know how it's received.  We've already starting walking the dogs in the neighborhood, so I'm sure people are already talking about "the beagle family."  I hope the people who noticed our comings & goings in Lexington don't think we've died.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Writer's Writing, or, Writers Writing

Excuse me while I meander with no real destination in mind.

Back in the day when I wanted to be a writer, I read a lot of books & stories by writers about being writers.  Friends of mine who wanted to be writers were writing stories about being writers.  I was probably writing stories about being a writer.  This is not to discount very good books & stories about writers written by writers, but thinking of this reminds me of a series of experiences I had on a school bus when I was in college.

In Austin, the University of Texas provides buses to get students from certain areas to campus.  When I arrived in 1986, the buses were actual school buses of the kind without air conditioning & windows you could open up.  They had stereo systems with cassette decks that the misfit bus drivers used to play cool music on.  It was fun in 1986 to be taken to school on a bus blasting Joy Division.

At some point they replaced those buses with air-conditioned Capitol Metro buses, & apparently there was something of an uproar by the drivers because these buses - like most city buses - did not come equipped with a stereo system.  Many of the drivers would bring boomboxes & tie them to some space & play their music that way.  Eventually the management relented & put radios in the UT buses.

Always a dodgy proposition, this radio gambit meant that, on my morning commute, I could listen to drive-time wacky pop radio.  In general, I'd have a Walkman or later an iPod to listen to (I worked at the University so still rode the buses to work after I finished school), but some mornings I'd just be too sleepy to bother, & was forced to listen to Whomever & Whomever in the morning, the crazily-named people who played fart noises & other sound effects in-between whatever hits were programmed by the corporate owners of the station.

Like some kind of bored sociologist, I would listen to these guys & realized that all they ever really talked about was stuff they saw on television, their radio show, or events they attended because they had a radio show.  I guess they had very little time to read a book, or go on vacation, or have much of a life - their show was three or four hours long, a lot of time to fill, & there was pre-recorded material.  Talking about something they went to in the capacity as "morning deejays" was of course the entirety of their lives.  But boy it made for extremely dull radio.

There was probably a bit of jealousy there, of course - I was on the radio & had only a fraction of a fraction of their listeners.  & to be honest, I wasn't living much either.

Do you remember when you & your friends started working when you were in high school?  I worked mainly at my family's convenience store & had for a long time, but suddenly I was hearing stories about fast food joints or mall stores or any number of places teens used to work.  I was astonished, really, & wondered about what we talked about when we didn't have jobs.  Did we just talk about school?

These days I roll my eyes at movies, television shows, & books which are about writers.  Some I'll give a chance, most I'll reject.  Tonight the wife & I started the third (I think) season of the show The Affair which has, as its male protagonist, a writer.

Honestly, I'm amazed I've watched it this long.