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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 33 THROUGH THE LONG HOT NIGHTS OF SUMMER and early autumn I have been listening to the ten newest songs from Leon- ard Cohen, almost unbearably sad in their themes and beauti- ful in their bareness, yet turned sultry and smoky and rich with a full-bodied looseness thanks to his collaborator in life and in art, Anjani. The songs on Anjani’s album (as it is officially), Blue Alert, are all about goodbye and “closing time” and passing away from the scene. “Tired” is the word that recurs, and “old,” and the picture that Cohen uses for himself on the back cover (as the album’s “producer”) makes him look out of focus and almost posthumous, fading from our view. Yet when such songs of parting and old age are delivered by a young, fresh, command- ing woman singer, they take on a much more complicated reso- nance. Sweet as much as bitter, with the echo of spring in the dark of early winter. The album has stayed with me, almost every evening, because the paradoxes with which Leonard Cohen has always played so mischievously, so meticulously, take on new flesh and blood here, and show us a man—with a woman beside, and inside, him—who has passed through his stress and is not going any- where except toward a final nowhere. The ceremonies of farewell have been mounting in recent years on his recordings. On Te n New Songs, in 2001, Cohen featured his co-singer, Sharon Rob- inson, on the album cover with him, and her husky, aromatic back-up often drowned out his aging growl. On his last album, Dear Heather, in 2004, he offered a drawing he’d made of a sylph or Muse (who looks very much like Anjani) on the cover—no picture of himself—and on at least two songs let Anjani more or less take over. Now he releases a whole collection of new songs in camouflage, as it were, delivered by his companion, as if to say that it doesn’t really matter who or where they come from. It’s almost as if the songs, looking at death with a voice that never cracks, taking leave of everything with a due sense that much has been enjoyed, issue from someone already absent, or were sent in by his ghost. Cohen has always held us by writing songs of naked desire and songs of monastic longing, and playing the one off the other: the ladies’ man who is impossible because, deep down, he’s reaching out for surrender. On his first album, his good- byes were addressed to the women he was leaving to continue his quest. On recent albums his songs had very much the feel of Mount Baldy Zen Center in L.A., where, living as a monk, he really had taken leave of everything. Now, fully back in the sensual world (sharing a small house in L.A. with his daughter, Lorca, Anjani just around the corner), he is writing of physical love with the wholeheartedness of someone who doesn’t have other things on his mind. He’s got his monastic stirrings out of his system, one feels, enough to take another being into his life. “Co-production” has rarely had a warmer implication. The songs are tinglingly sensual, of course, full of an erotic charge and suggestiveness made keener, more piquant, I’m sure, by years in a monastery (where every swaying of a skirt, every echo of some perfume, becomes potent). In the very first song, “Blue Alert,” we have a woman touching herself in the long night, and soon there are lovers lying down under a mosquito net, “to give and get,” a woman with “my braids and my blouse all undone.” The very slowness of the songs allows one to dwell on every drawn-out syllable. But the shock and excitement of the new work comes, in part, from the fact that some parts are written—and delivered—in a female voice. The shiver is hers, not her aging admirer’s. And when she describes her “yellow jacket with padded shoulders” or how her “shoulders are bare,” one gets an immediacy of detail Thanks for the Dance PICO IYER considers Leonard Cohen—the ladies’ man, the balladeer, the Zen poet, and the essence of cool. Cohen has a new love giving voice to his songs of parting and old age. PICO IYER is the author, most recently, of a mystical romance, Abandon, and a book of essays, Sun After Dark. PHOTOSBYLORCACOHEN Little Lotus Hearts TM Our animal companions offer unconditional love...to us...and to one another. They are wonderful examples of loving kindness. They teach us many things, including patience, generosity, respect and impermanence, but what do we really give them in return? Little Lotus Hearts was founded on the Buddhist belief that all sentient creatures are equal and deserving of happiness and the absence of suffering. 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