Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man: not a perfect offering

Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man: not a perfect offering

The other day I went along to our local Picturehouse, drawn by what I anticipated would be a new film portrait of the late and incomparable Leonard Cohen. What I got was a lesson on the increasing unreliability of my memory: as soon as the opening credits began rolling I realised that I had seen Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man not just once, but probably twice before, perhaps on TV.

No worries, though: the film, which combines segments of an extended interview with Cohen and performances from a tribute concert at the Sydney Opera House in January 2005, is one I was happy to sit through again. It’s always a pleasure to listen to Leonard’s wry assessments of his life and worth (one of his best is here: ‘My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly the 10,000 nights I spent alone’), while the cover versions are generally (though not always) interesting, even revelatory. Above all, there is the best cover of ‘Anthem’ (which gives this blog its title) by Cohen’s regular backing vocalists, Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen. Continue reading “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man: not a perfect offering”

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In the dark times will there also be singing?

In the dark times will there also be singing?

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
– Bertolt Brecht, motto to Svendborg Poems, 1939

In an essay called ‘Undefeated Despair’, John Berger wrote of ‘Despair without fear, without resignation, without a sense of defeat.’ ‘However you look at it’, the Guardian editorialised a few days ago, ‘2017 offers a fearful prospect for America and the world.’ In the words of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’, I don’t have a friend who feels at ease when weighing the prospects for the year ahead. In the spirit that some solace may be found in poetry in these dark times, I offer a selection of poems or brief extracts – some have which have appeared in posts here before – which seem to offer meaning and hope; they may reflect Berger’s stance of undefeated despair, offering not ‘a promise, or a consolation, or an oath of vengeance (forms of rhetoric he states are are for ‘the small or large leaders who make History’), but rather insists that ‘One was born into this life to share the time that repeatedly exists between moments, the time of Becoming.’ . Continue reading “In the dark times will there also be singing?”

You Say You Want a Revolution? A brilliant V&A exhibition brings the Sixties to life, and questions the decade’s legacy

You Say You Want a Revolution? A brilliant V&A exhibition brings the Sixties to life, and questions the decade’s legacy

While I was in London, I went to the V&A to see the exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970. I had expected to be confronted with a mass of memorabilia, images and text. What I discovered was one of best executed and clearly articulated exhibitions that I’ve ever seen. In large part this was due to someone’s brilliant idea of utilising the magic of (I presume) Bluetooth headphones which offered a contextual soundtrack that changed as you drew near to a particular display or video. Continue reading “You Say You Want a Revolution? A brilliant V&A exhibition brings the Sixties to life, and questions the decade’s legacy”

Goodbye Leonard: You let in the light for us all

Goodbye Leonard: You let in the light for us all

Not for the first time this year, a musician has departed this life, but not before leaving us with a final album whose words have a decidedly premonitory aura – as if, first David Bowie and now Leonard Cohen, sensed that they were, in Cohen’s words ‘out of the game’.

For the 50 years of my adult life the songs of Leonard Cohen, who has died at the age of 82, have been a source of insight, inspiration and healing. He has been, in the words of Rolling Stone today, ‘the dark eminence among a small pantheon of extremely influential singer-songwriters to emerge in the Sixties and early Seventies. Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equalled him as a song poet.’  Continue reading “Goodbye Leonard: You let in the light for us all”

The music in my head (part 1): recycled and new this year

The music in my head (part 1): recycled and new this year

There’s a programme on Radio 4 that I hear sometimes when I’m driving in the car. Called Recycled Radio, it chops up old BBC programmes and recycles the snippets into something new. That made me think of all the recycled music I listen to, with album tracks often reassembled into new playlists. As I get older, I listen to a lot of recycled music – but not all the time. Every year brings exciting new sounds. In this post (the first of three) I want to round up some of the music – recycled and new – that I’ve enjoyed in 2015 but never got round to writing about. Continue reading “The music in my head (part 1): recycled and new this year”

Election day: Everybody knows

Election day: Everybody knows

Election day. Some words from Leonard, who always lets in the light: Continue reading “Election day: Everybody knows”

Scientist reveals how the light gets in

Guadagnini violin
A Guadagnini violin

I couldn’t let this pass unremarked.  The title of this blog was inspired, of course, by Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ with its chorus:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

An editorial in today’s Guardian notes that scientists in Trieste have discovered that the reason why Guadagnini violins produce such exceptional sound is because:

the tiny irregularities introduced in its construction that give it an edge over symmetrical instruments. In other words, its perfection comes from its imperfection.

The explanation comes in a report in the Telegraph two days ago in which Dr Franco Zanini, a physicist and amateur violinist who examined the violin at a laboratory in Trieste, explained:

We noticed there were a lot of asymmetries in the instruments. In principle they have no reason to be there, but it is possible these imperfections were made to remove the unpleasant harmonics that you get in symmetrical instruments.

The Telegraph account continued:

In the Guadagnini violin [Zanini] studied, he found two patches on the top plate of the violin while part of the bass bar had been removed and glued onto another patch. Two small insect holes was also seen on the top plate while a crack was visible on the underside.  He believes that produces imbalances in the construction and thickness of the wood helped to produce an effect known as harmonic rejection – where harsh unwanted harmonics that can make note sound unpleasant are removed by the resonance of the wood.

So now the truth revealed in Leonard Cohen’s lyric of hope is scientifically proven: things may be crap, systems and structures broken, but the crack is how the light gets in. We may be battered, ripped off and exploited; war and corruption may turn beliefs to dust, but each new day the birds will sing and love will come, if as a refugee. In the teeth of adversity and ugliness, there is still beauty.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will

be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
The widowhood
of every government –
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Here’s a version by Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla: