Columbia/Legacy Reissues

Leonard Cohen

The "grocer of despair" Leonard Cohen has interjected himself into my life so many times I don't know where to begin. So, on the occasion of Columbia/Legacy's reissuing of his first three recordings, I'll begin with the first one, Songs Of Leonard Cohen. It is 1967 and I am living with the love of my life in an apartment on Bradford on the east side of Milwaukee. We have a small but growing collection of records such as "Disraeli Gears," "Winds of Change," "The United States of America," "Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett," and "Songs of Leonard Cohen." The latter was different. Cohen was a Canadian poet and novelist given to writing songs Judy Collins liked to and still does sing. I had seen Judy Collins in high school, so I knew she must be on to something; and she was. She was onto one of the greatest poets who ever lived though he would not call himself that. And a man whose voice was somewhat better, but only somewhat, than the way Leo Kottke once described his as "goose farts on a summer's morning." It takes some getting used to.

But like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan and more than a few Lou Reed impersonators, that voice had something others lacked. And the songs were way above normal and all written for women — and sometimes men I'm told — who were more like "the shy one at some orgy" than they were akin to the citizens of faraway Lake Woebegone. By the time Songs From A Room, the second album, was released, it was obvious that Cohen was a slam dunk. Ask any European who probably thinks he walks on water. Check out "Bird On A Wire," especially as sung by Aaron Neville; or "Story of Isaac" and my fave rave this time out, "The Partisan," which could make you join the resistance against Franco if that were still possible. And, maybe it is.

But I should backtrack a bit to some of Songs Of Leonard Cohen, which kept the love of my life and I connected, shall we say. "Suzanne” took us down to her place by the river, where "The Sisters of Mercy" said, "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye," so "So Long, Marianne... One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong." Or can we?

Songs Of Love And Hate, the third album that's still a pseudonym for stunning in your thesaurus, was made during Cohen's famous blue raincoat scientology period. He never did say if he ever went clear, but we can never forget the question especially if we've heard Jennifer Warnes sing that song on her Leonard Cohen covers album on which the composer himself sings backup.

There's not too much else I can tell you about Leonard Cohen except maybe a few things like this: My friend Carol Line who interviewed him for the Bugle American back in 1975 ran into him at the Jack In The Box in Austin just before the night he played "City Limits" and dedicated a song to then governor St. Ann Richards. It's a good bet he has never dedicated any songs to the man who took over Ann's old job before he became the anti-Christ.At that 1975 concert, Cohen made a little speech about the Bugle American, which had just been blown up by a bomb and burned to the ground. He said: "some things never burn" and that was on the cover of the first issue to come out only a week late cause we did know how to put out a paper with a piece of sidewalk and an Exacto knife or two.

Maybe you've seen the magnificent film, I'm Your Man from Australian director Lian Lunson and produced by some guy named Mel Gibson. If you have, you know that all the wild horses in the sun and all the young and even some older dudes and dudettes rightfully worship the ground Leonard Cohen walks on, especially U2. You heard of them, I hope… Someone said that movie was the single greatest film ever made about music and if you don't neglect the one about Tom Dowd, maybe it is.

"Poetry is just the evidence of life," Cohen says. “If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash."

Leonard's life is burning very, very well indeed. As my friend Bob Bordon told me: "One day, I was working at the paper (the Jemez Thunder in Jemez Springs, NM) and this guy walks in and says he wants to take out a classified." Bob, a poet himself who's been published by City Lights, stared at the guy and then stared at him again. No longer able to resist asking the obvious, Bob blurted out: "You sure do look like Leonard Cohen!” Whereupon, the man replied: 'I am Leonard Cohen!'"

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Leonard Cohen and both you and your souls need these CDs. Buy them for the extra cuts if not for your inner "grocer of despair."

~ Gary Peterson

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