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The Ladies' Man Will Never Die

New music three year's after the death of Leonard Cohen

The great man may be dead but his music lives on. Such a line could apply to a hundred artists, but it fits perfectly to Leonard Cohen, just as his famous fedora hat sat perfectly on his distinctive head!

Cohen fans will be delighted to know there is yet another posthumous album from the legend of the inventive line! Thanks for the Dance has been released three years after his death and provides yet another astonishing self-tribute to the Canadian poet/singer.

And poetry it certainly is. How about this opening verse to “The Nights of Santiago”, a song which is so Leonard Cohen you wonder why he waited so long:

She said she was a maiden

That wasn’t what I heard

For the sake of conversation

I took her at her word

The lights went out behind us

The fireflies undressed

The broken sidewalk ended

I touched her sleeping breasts

They opened to me urgently

Like lilies from the dead

Behind the fine embroidery

Her nipples rose like bread

Then I took off my neck-tie

And she took off her dress

My belt and pistol set aside

We tore away the rest

The song – by “the man of a thousand lovers” - reflects on a sexual relationship with a married woman. The punch line comes, not in those consuming opening lines, but in the closing verse where the legendary philanderer openly challenges the listener on the morality of life:

And yes she lied about it all

To her children and her husband

You were born to judge the world

Forgive me but I wasn’t

It leaves one to imagine the thoughts going through the mind of someone reflecting a diminishing life. For this was an album from recordings made in Leonard’s closing days.

The first tracks were released 19 days before his death in November 2016 on the album You Want it Darker, put together by his son Adam Cohen.

Leonard laid the vocals and Adam did the rest. He enlisted collaborators from his father’s musical life, including the legendary Spanish guitarist Javier Mas, who sat stage-left of Leonard on his final global tours of the 21st century. Add another legendary musician, Daniel Lanois, producer of Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris, plus stars like Beck (guitar, jew’s harp) and old flame Jennifer Warner (backing vocals).

Speaking of past loves, the title track “Thanks For The Dance” was in fact a song he gave to Anjani Thomas for inclusion in her 2006 album Blue Alert. Thomas, a long-time backing singer to Cohen, sings in the first person. Leonard does not.

She says:

There’s a rose in my hair

My shoulders are bare

I’ve been wearing this costume forever

He sings, ten years later:

There’s a rose in your hair

Your shoulders are bare

You’ve been wearing this costume forever

More tellingly.

She says:

Thanks for the dance

And the baby I carried

It was almost a daughter or a son

He sings, ten years later:

Thanks for the dance

And the baby you carried

It was almost the daughter or a son

So Leonard Cohen!

Even more provocative - in this #MeToo age - comes with the opening track “Happens to the Heart” where Leonard is at his age-old poetical best:

Had a pussy in the kitchen

And a panther in the yard

In the prison of the gifted

I was friendly with the guards

So I never had to witness

What happens to the heart

The song delves into sexual politics with Cohen making judgement on past acquaintances, including - what the critics speculate - a disgraced former Zen master:

No fable here, no lesson

No singing meadowlark

Just a filthy beggar guessing

As one might expect, there are connotations to earlier works. “It’s Torn” has a resemblance to “Anthem” (“There’s a Crack In Everything”) in rhythm and in verse:

There’s silt on your ankles

And sand on your feet

The river too shallow

The ocean too deep

“Listen to the Hummingbird” has Adam Cohen adding the piano to father Leonard’s recital, or, indeed, final instruction:

Listen to the Hummingbird

Whose wings you cannot see

Listen to the Hummingbird

Don’t listen to me

What is remarkable about this release is the familiarity the famous baritone voice has to recordings he made on albums as remote as Ten New Songs (2001) or even I’m Your Man (1988). His declining years did not damage the voice, given that during these recordings, Leonard was so ill that he required constant medical attention in the studio. This is not unheard of. The likes of David Bowie and Prince were, after all, intent on leaving some of their best to the very end.

Leonard has done just that. There will be no death of the ladies’ man!

Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation


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