[identity profile] cabaretlights.livejournal.com

Joan of Arc (ft Leonard Cohen)
Jennifer Warnes
Famous Blue Raincoat

: Like Stevie Wonder's Musiquarium  -- this album, cover art and tracklisting, is replete with memories of my childhood (that basement music room; belting out the lyrics with my father). In fact, I think my earliest memories of Leonard Cohen's songs are actually from this collection of Cohen covers by Jennifer Warnes. I definitely remember being surprised when I heard his growling original of "First We Take Manhattan" (and even preferring Jennifer's version until about 2009 -- oof!). But Cohen's original version of that song -- and many other of his tracks from the late 80s -- featured J-Warnes' backup vocals. They even wrote a couple songs together -- which is why, even though this album is laden with nostalgia on my behalf, it's also a fairly objectively interesting musical artifact. I mean, how often is it that a singer is intimately involved in the gender-bending recreation of his own work?

The songs are totally different, totally hers, but they still bear the inimitable weight of Cohen's approval. It's like listening to a musical version of a Master's thesis -- directed by the advisor, but emotionally inspired by the student. You can't quite escape the advisor's influence, much as you try -- especially if your advisor is a world-renowned genius. So.

But in "Joan of Arc," especially -- though true for all of them -- there is something rather inspired about switching the vocals to female. It's not that it's gender-bending, despite what I said earlier -- intentionally or not, for the most part Warnes picked songs which craft narratives as opposed to love letters. But to have a powerful female vocalist mellifluously crying out Cohen's guttural lyrics changes the tone and, in some respects, entire meaning of the songs. And how beautiful a testament to a brilliant writer: interpretation is key.

Warnes'"Joan of Arc" is beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful. It's beautiful when Cohen does it, too -- but Cohen does it as a waltz, in 3/4 time, sort of sweet and dance-y, very inoffensive (though that in itself makes a statement). The time signature isn't the only thing that changes completely in this version, though. In Warnes' hands -- and, of course, Cohen's -- the song becomes a haunting, sweeping, powerful duet between Joan of Arc (Warnes) and the fire that took her life (personified by Cohen, who covers his own lyrics -- in my opinion -- much more effectively here). It is a work of art.

But -- as with much of Cohen's work ------ for each new listener/reader, it's best if it speaks for itself.

I'll just say that while it is clearly Leonard Cohen and clearly lyrically brilliant and incomparable ---------- Jennifer Warnes' voice makes it magic.

(...and that in writing this post, I belted out the words just as loudly as I used to with my dad in the basement -- and oh my god, what a song to sing to.)
[identity profile] cabaretlights.livejournal.com

Closing Time
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: The Future
Year: 1992
: I can't even express how much this song annoyed me when I first heard it. To my young, musically-undeveloped ears it was the equivalent of being stuck in a country-western bar full of rednecks. For six minutes. Synth fiddles, square-dancing-esque women-chorus-echoing at seemingly random times, and and and just, those fucking fiddles. I couldn't deal. I wanted to shoot myself in the head every time it came on.

But it was Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen has defined my literary and musical souls for as long as I can remember. Before Bowie, there was a low grumbling voice that barely hit any notes, expelling (because he never speaks) poetry. My father, a few years younger than Cohen, idolized him, and grew up in his footsteps -- just a few neighborhoods away from Westmount, where Cohen embodied (and, I'd argue, in a lot of ways still embodies) the spirit of artistic Montreal. I was raised on Cohen. I knew the lyrics to "Everybody Knows" before I understood what any of it meant, would write down lines about taking Manhattan and then taking Berlin in my elementary school notebooks.

This is a fairly dangerous way to raise a little girl.
If you raise a girl on Leonard Cohen, she will start to wonder what all those volatile lyrics refer to. She will fall in love with words, with the way you can weave them together. She will turn strange, separate; these words will somehow be enough. She will read nonstop, trying to find comparable beauty, but her standards will be set too high by the time she is twelve. She will major in Literature, throw away plans for medical and law school, devote her life to books (and, futilely, to getting teenagers to understand their power). She will forever return to the first writer to spark her heart, and she will forever wonder why no one else can write words that speak to her in quite the same way.

And when this girl grows up, when she stops getting offended by fiddles and starts understanding that lyrics can be more important than instrumentation, when her father dies and she is trying desperately to find ways to remember him, she will return to "Closing Time."

I don't know what changed when I returned to it, in July 2008, but it was like I was listening to a completely different song. Sure, the music still annoyed me (it still annoys me, sometimes, but it wouldn't work otherwise), but the lyrics were transcendent. I can't decide which ones to include in this post because Cohen is a poet and this is a poem. It is entirely flawless, and I keep finding new reasons why, every time I return -- because every time I return, I've grown up a bit more, discovered new struggles in my life that Cohen, somehow, articulates perfectly.

Here's this return's revelation (and listen to the honesty in his voice), but every lyric is another:
And it looks like freedom but it feels like death
It's something in between, I guess
It's closing time.

So much in so few words ------
This song is childhood, future, present, and such a testament to how much you change as you grow up ---- and, of course, the writers (and musicians) who allow you to do so.


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