Hey, THaT’s No Way To say Goodbye
SOMETIMES THINGS come together, strangely but appropriately. The news of Leonard Cohen’s death filtered through just as we heard that Donald Trump would be the next US President and just as ordinary Indians thronged the streets outside ATMs and bank branches, hoping desperately to withdraw the cash they needed to meet their daily needs. Outwardly, we were all optimistic but inwardly, we knew that there were more disappointments on the road ahead.
Everyone coped in different ways. I listened to Leonard Cohen. And to one song, in particular. It’s called Everybody Knows:
“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows that the war is over.
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody knows that the fight was fixed.
The poor stay poor, the rich stay rich.”
Finally I tweeted a few lines, because they seemed to me to capture the mood of our times. Obviously some people agreed; the tweet got around 300 likes.
But it was only one of thousands of tweets from around the world that quoted from Cohen’s songs in the aftermath of his death. A particular favourite were the words to Anthem. “There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”
Even as I mourn the loss of Leonard Cohen, I know the songs will live on
We discussed whether rock was a young man’s game. Sam had worked with Pink Floyd but was hard pressed to think of a great Floyd song from after the early 80s. (“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, may have been their last hurrah.) Even the Stones, Sam’s claim to fame (he coined the phrase “the greatest rock and roll band in the world” to introduce them), have not written a great song for 30 years. I grieved for David Bowie some months ago but as for the music, it was pretty much downhill after Let’s Dance (1983). When you listen to Paul McCartney in concert these days you realise how rubbish the new stuff is. Even my own hero, Paul Simon, is unable to match the glories of his past.
In that sense, rock is different from other kinds of music. Does anybody care about how old the great jazz musicians were when they recorded their best stuff ? The legendary blues singers were never young and the suffering was etched on their faces. The writers of standards (the Gershwins, Cole Porter, etc) transcended age. And so, I guess, does Hindi film music. When RD Burman composed the music for 1942, A Love Story, he was at the height of his powers, even though it was among the last scores he composed.
The exception to this whole rock-is-a-youngman’s-thing rule was, of course, Leonard Cohen, both Sam and I agreed. But that may have been because Cohen was, always different.
He was a well-known Canadian poet who was drawn into the world of music and encouraged to record his songs (like nearly everybody else in that era) by the success of Bob Dylan who proved you didn’t need to sing like an angel if the words were any good.
His first album ( Songs of Leonard Cohen) came out in 1968 and included the songs ( Suzanne, Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, So Long, Marianne, etc) that came to define him to a generation of listeners who listened to music for meaning. (Is there anyone in that generation who has not broken up to “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”?)
The following year, Cohen released Songs From A Room which pretty much completed his legend and included the other songs that would become famous ( Bird on a Wire, Story of Isaac, The Partisan etc.)
So by 1969, he had already released the songs that a whole