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”→
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?”→
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”→
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”→
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: