February 15, 2013

Like a bird on a wire
I have tried in my way to be free

Trey Wright, Cut/Copy (spanish fly), 2012

* Old Ideas and New Generations: What Leonard Cohen means to us. excerpt:

Prominent and unique in pop music, Cohen becomes part of the furniture in its history, despite the fact he never quit fit within its grand narratives. Music criticism and pop culture at large too often regarded him with a lazy shorthand written in reductive labels. You probably know the kind of thing: the Poet of Melancholy, the Dark Romantic, the Lothario of Despair… blah, blah and blah. The clichés then become jokes, usually bad ones about slitting your wrists in a bedsit. “I get put into the computer tagged with melancholy and despair,” Cohen once said. “And every time a journalist taps in my name, that description comes up on the screen.”

True, Cohen has spent a lifetime battling depression, and for a man who has tried almost every means available to escape psychological desolation—drugs, alcohol, sex, psychiatry and religion—it is both inspiring and reassuring that his most effective solution is, and always has been, his art. He once joked that he had mentioned his drinking problem to one of his backing singers. She responded: “That sounds serious. We better set it to music.” But the idiotic assumptions, bad jokes and tired clichés it attached him to are exactly the sort of thing a new generation of Cohen fans could well do without. (Victims of depression generally don’t listen to music to make themselves feel more depressed. They listen to music to make them feel better. For an uncounted many, Cohen appears to have done that.)

We should bear in mind that Cohen, now in his late ‘70s, may not be around first-hand for yet another generation to discover; we’re probably the last who will have that honour (though I do have a fond vision of a 100-year-old Cohen, still besuited and still charming the ladies with a smile and bow). That’s as morbid as I’m prepared to get on that subject, but it should put a few things in perspective.

When confronting music that is not their own, the choice of each new generation usually comes down to this; do they want to repeat the experiences of the past, i.e., “My parents got Beatlemania, why the hell shouldn’t I?”, or to take something old and find a new way of appreciating it? Trying on the formative experiences of another era like fancy dress costumes is something almost everyone will enjoy at some point, but after a decade-plus of considering myself a Cohen devotee, I decided that he deserved more than to be another hand-me-down icon, another poster on the wall. He was bigger than that.
I hope we take him as an example that artists can express themselves in all the ways that feel true to them. Popular culture may be more forgiving of multidisciplinary artists than it once was, but in an age where celebrity is conferred for a single viral Youtube sensation, the inclination to try anything and everything, and to keep doing so, has been overshadowed.

It may be a vain hope, but it would be nice if the mistakes of the past were not repeated, and his poetry was even half as well-known and celebrated as his music. This is mainly because I worry that ages without poetry don’t do well, and that this might be one of them. Cohen made significant steps to figuring out how to be a poet in the 20th century, a problem that naturally informs the question of how to be one in the 21st. Today, lot of young people—most of whom have been told that poetry is a ticket to the unemployment line—will be considering that problem, too. But then, must art be tied to commerce, to make the act of making art attractive?

Asking what Cohen ‘means’ to the youth of today is a question that really doesn’t have any single one. The experience of discovering your own belongs to you. To me, Cohen is the man with the spirituality that can move an atheist. He is a gentleman bearing the kind of dignity we should all hope for. He has, time and time again, performed the role of the poet, which is to articulate that which cannot be articulated any other way. And believe it or not, his music can be rather good for dancing, if you’re in the right mood, in the right place, and with the right person. Try it.

* "Power does not corrupt men. Fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power." -- George Bernard Shaw


Anonymous klipschutz said...

Thanks for this post. Not sure where you find all you do, but glad you hunt it down.

1:03 PM  

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