Sunday, 13 November 2016

From the bloody cross in Calvary / To the beach in Malibu

This blog has, quite obviously, been on hiatus since... 

Okay, over two years. 


But 2016 has not been kind to music, or celebrity in general, or just in general, really. It's been an almost overwhelming year for 'events', and there's still a month to go. 

So in the middle of all this hubbub, I just wanted to leave a quiet word about Leonard Cohen. I don't have any unique insight to share, but I have a couple of stories about how, in some little ways, he defined some periods of my life. I think I can divide this into three parts in miniature. 

Caro Diaro

Despite having a parent who was apparently heavily into Leonard Cohen as an artist, I didn't encounter his work until I was nearly 20 (which is longer ago than I'd like to think). Oddly, though, it's intimately tied to something that came to change my life; film. The first time I went through the academic mill, the only thing that made me happy was finding I was able to take film studies modules to replace other parts of my degree. 

One of these was an Italian cinema module, where one of the films we were shown was Caro Diario ('Dear Diary'), a 1992 film by Nanni Moretti. Part of the film's opening involves Moretti travelling through a somnolent Rome in the high summer, swerving his scooter back and forth across the road to the sound of I'm Your Man. It sparked something in me at the time that lead to my current quote-unquote vocation, because it was mesmerising and quirky and odd all at once. It's stuck in my memory ever since. 

First Love

The second little story of Cohen's influence in my life isn't actually a piece of work by Cohen himself, but rather First Love by Emmy the Great. It's an oddly incendiary, cursory piece of assessment of a boyfriend who didn't measure up to scratch and who inspired this incredibly acerbic piece of songwriting. 

The song is damning, difficult, and never likely to get airplay (unless you dub out the acidic and I would forget like I'd piss on a grave are the words as they came to my tongue), and the kind of thing 6Music would champion for a while (they still play the odd Emmy the Great track as of the current time). 

The crux of the song is an obsession on the part of the boyfriend with Hallelujah ("The original / Leonard Cohen / Version) and an equally doomed obsession with being damned and that being so was somehow preferable to just getting on with life. The video is beautiful, and beautifully choreographed, but just to centre a song around such a conceit is what stands out for me. 

The actually relevant example

I actually got to see Cohen live, just the once. It's irritating me that I can't precisely pin it down, but it was in Bournemouth on the Stranger Music tour, and I haven't seen someone hold a theatre in such rapt thrall since. 

I only got to go because someone dropped out and I got a last-minute invite, but it was worth the several-hour journey as a passenger in a cramped car with people I didn't necessarily like, dislike, or feel anything particularly strong for. 

Of everything, the song that stood out and grabbed me was Everybody Knows. It stuck with me to such a degree that I ended doing some due diligence on it, and then ended up finding this version, which stuck in my head to an even greater degree to the point that I ended up using it to score my final student film to, listening to the Elizabeth and the Catapult version on repeat, like a mantra, drilling it into my brain until I knew it back to front and forward to back. 


I can't claim to be a huge, devoted fan of Leonard Cohen, nor to have an extensive knowledge of his discography (although Tower of Song remains a favourite). But if anything was going to inspire me to bring this blog out of hiatus - however temporarily - it would be this weekend, because the world is much poorer for Leonard Cohen's death. 

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