Songs Of The Day 11/11/2016: 12 Leonard Cohen Covers
Leonard Cohen's passing came two days after the most gut-wrenching, corrosive election the U.S. has had since I've been alive. The night of that election I happened to be in Olympia for a personal appointment on the following day. The atmosphere felt compressed and heavy. It was a daze. Almost nobody on 4th Avenue was in a buoyant mood. There were four white guys who passed me who seemed to be having a good time. For what it's worth it felt more like they'd not paid attention to the election, instead of celebrating it. But who knows.
I wondered what we stood to lose in terms of character. I know what we stand to lose as an electorate, from universal health care and environmental standards to sane Supreme Court decisions and new rights for the historically oppressed. When I heard reports of suddenly validated hate crimes I started wondering what inner assets were in jeopardy. Kind of like how, after 9/11 happened, "irony was officially dead." (It wasn't. It came back, arguably crueler than ever.)
So what did the crumpling victory for the alt-right imperil? Nuance, I thought. That was already on the outs thanks to the blinding bipartisanship of the Internet. Now it practically feels like a banned substance. Compassion? Probably not totally endangered, but half of the country just expressed that they had no need for it beyond their own front doors. Poetry? Introspection? Quietude? Meditation? Deliberation?
The other day I posted a piece my son and I recorded back in April, well before any of this went down. I don't think explaining it would be helpful more than listening to it, but for the record: The extended introduction contained five prayers from various religions (and that 12-step thing), plus a recording of Bertrand Russell reading "Why I Am Not a Christian," all playing at once. Towards the end of the mass prayer a boy -- or more accurately, an adult man played by my 8-year-old son Hank -- is heard knocking on a wooden door yelling "Let me in! Let me in!" Soon the door and some nearby glass windows audibly break, and then all hell breaks loose. I'll leave that for you to find out, 'cause it's kind of stupid. Sometimes in these audio pieces I give in to my worst beat-you-over-the-head instincts.
Normally I wouldn't mix religions and Bertrand Russell together, but the reason I did is because I felt they shared certain intangibilities that were at risk: faith and reasoning. (If you want to insist they're not mutually exclusive that's fine, it's not my point, I don't want to argue about it right now, whatever, you're good.) Both of them imply some form of meditative thought, prayerful or logical reflection. All forms of that kind of contemplative activity -- whether for God, a god, a way of life or a secular belief structure -- feel threatened. Cultivating an atmosphere more answerable to heedlessness and brutality seems a very real thing all of a sudden.
Hopefully it's at least a little clear what this has to do with Leonard Cohen. If not, here's other people singing twelve of his songs.
Dead Famous People – “True Love Leaves No Traces”
Roberta Flack – “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
Enrique Morente and Lagartija Nick – “Pequeño Vals Vienés” (“Take This Waltz”)
Madeleine Peyroux – “Dance Me to the End of Love”
Lloyd Cole – “Chelsea Hotel”
Graeme Allwright – “So Long Marianne”
Allison Crowe – “Joan of Arc”
R.E.M. – “First We Take Manhattan”
The Last Shadow Puppets – “Is This What You Wanted?”
Willie Nelson – “Bird on a Wire”
Father John Misty – “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong”
Jennifer Warnes – “A Singer Must Die”