Tag Archives: Leonard Cohen

You want it darker? We kill the flame

20 Nov

Georgia O'Keeffe

 

Stephen Bannon, chairman of the fascist platform Breitbart News, has been appointed chief strategist in President-Elect Donald Trump’s new administration.

In apparent response to fears that a darkness has fallen on the US since Trump’s election, Bannon countered: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

(Here’s a useful glimpse into the men Trump is considering as his most senior staff.)

The binaries dark and light, good and evil, have long dominated western political discourse. George W.Bush and his axis of evil; Tony Blair and his messianic conviction that the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein was a just and holy intervention: the bright light of democracy beamed into the abyss of despotic darkness by the forces of good.

There’s no nuance in the narrative, no shades of grey, and the lack of hue hasn’t changed with the ascension of Trump, it has merely been reversed. Trump doesn’t pretend the light and the good are superior ideals to which we should aspire. Darkness is good. Evil is power. There’s no longer any need to mask the dark with false light, as did Blair, Bush and sycophant John Howard. Trump has dragged us from those layered duplicities into his unmitigated and unmediated darkness. A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker? We kill the flame.

I’m quoting from Leonard Cohen’s final album, released just weeks before he died. As with all great work, it’s both intensely personal and universal. I’ve been listening to it for days, not just because he’s dead and I mourn his loss, but because the album seems to speak with uncanny prescience of our current transition into a Trumpian world.

At first blush the work is about Cohen’s approaching death, but it is also about the dying of our irresponsible innocence, our smug carelessness, our neglect, our wilful blindness to how the Blairs, the Bushes and the Howards led us inevitably to Trump and Bannon, leaders of the killers of the flame, leaders of those who want it darker.

Trump’s vision for the US (and necessarily the world) Fox News, 2014

You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.

Bannon, 2016 interview with the Daily Beast:

I’m a Leninist, Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

Lenin, he answered, wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

Meanwhile, at home, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia found it necessary to release a press statement expressing concern over inflammatory remarks made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on the subject of various “cohorts” and “nationalities” welcomed to Australia by former PM Malcolm Fraser. These refugees, Dutton asserts, may well be responsible for producing “terrorist” children and grandchildren. Fraser should have been more careful, Dutton (no doubt emboldened by Trump’s success) claims.

And to top off an increasingly dark fortnight, the UN Human Rights Council has appointed the Saudi ambassador to oversee women’s rights world-wide. The Ambassador will have the right to vote on, participate in and influence the following:

Elimination of discrimination against women
Equal participation [of women] in political and public affairs
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women
The right to a nationality: women’s equal nationality rights in law and in practice
Addressing the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls
Annual full day debate on women’s rights
Annual half-day panel on the integration of a gender perspective

Saudi Arabia has among the worst, if not the worst, record on women’s rights in the world.

What I’m seeing in our new picture is even less nuance than we had before, which wasn’t all that much, we could have done with a bit more. Like an individual who decides to thoroughly trash his or her life as a means of effecting change, so Trump and Bannon see disaster and destruction on what could well be a global scale, as a legitimate method to correct perceived wrongs. We’re post fact, post truth, and post nuance.

You want it darker?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leonard Cohen. Donald Trump.

12 Nov

leonard-cohen

 

I will not forget the day Donald Trump became President Elect of the USA, because it’s the same day Leonard Cohen died, and that is almost too much of a coincidence to bear.

It seems excessive, that one should have to deal with the arrival of Trump and the leaving of Cohen in the same twenty-four hours. As the poet departs the soulless prepare to take over: it’s a bad succession and I can’t help wondering if there are too many of us who took the poetry for granted and lost our focus, and while we weren’t paying attention the hollow men moved in.

The two men, Cohen and Trump, represent extreme points on a continuum of human possibility. The former mined the infinite richness of love, sex, loss, grief, joy: the mysteries of feeling, experience and meaning. The latter reduces human experience to its most crude and its most base: not for him the mystical transports of a thousand kisses deep, his desires are far more readily satiated.

It’s the poet’s task to find words that express the inexpressible. The poet/musician Cohen found the chords as well and while he didn’t think of himself as possessing a voice of any great interest, like Bob Dylan his voice, its timbre and rhythms, its hesitations and its forcefulness, its yearning, its anger and its joy, struggled to describe what it is to be here, to be human and divine, to love and to hate, to fully live this inexplicable life on earth.

While Trump knows the power of words as well as Cohen did, he uses them to conceal truths rather than unveil them, and there is no music to be found in him that makes any sense. Trump is discordant, senseless, unconnected, deadly. Cohen knows this darkness:

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!
Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
and stuff it up the hole
in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

I’m mourning Cohen and I understand that this mourning is complex. That he should die at this precise moment in the history of the world is significant. It’s as if his death is an alert to examine what might have died unnoticed in us, leaving an absence of feeling that permitted the ascension of Trump and those like him. They represent a world without poetry, and I use the word in its broadest sense, that of a sensibility that permits the recognition of another’s humanity, vulnerability and frailty as being common to all of us rather than the characteristics of an alien other, to be despised and denied. A sensibility that recognises tenderness towards others and our earth as strength, and not as weakness ripe for exploitation. Cohen died, but what Cohen represents has been slowing dying in many of us, and perhaps a poet had to die before we could understand what we’ve been losing.

There’s a more personal sorrow: Arnie, my  husband, loved Leonard and bore a remarkable physical resemblance to him, especially, I realised today looking closely at images of Cohen, their hands and fingers. They shared a similar sensibility and they were both Jews, with a certain ambivalence towards their traditional culture and religion. Cohen spent five years living as a monk in a Buddhist monastery, Arnie cherry-picked his religious observances and like Cohen, never quite turned his back on his heritage. I think most days Cohen sang in our house.

So for me, Cohen is inextricably bound up with our love and our life. Losing Cohen is like losing another part of us, and I am staggered, still, to find that there are yet more aspects of us I must lose and grieve over.

Cohen left behind a body of work from which can be constructed a soundtrack for a revolution. This is the man’s miraculous gift: he created a soundtrack for the most intimate of relationships, and a soundtrack for a world that must, if it is to survive, find poetry again. In that poetry must be found the means to overcome the hollow men who today, the day after the poet’s death, the day after the most hollow of hollow men was appointed leader of the most significant country in the world, seem disastrously, unassailably powerful.

Come healing of the reason, come healing of the heart: 

 

 

Lies

10 Jan

This was your heart
This swarm of flies
This was once your mouth
This bowl of lies… Leonard Cohen, “Nevermind”

For weeks now, months even, I’ve been thinking about lies.

My childhood was steeped in the lies of the adults closest to me, and I think this has left me with a visceral horror, even terror, of being lied to and/or about.

The worst lies are the ones intended to eradicate  your history, to rewrite events as you’ve known them, the lies that deny your experience and leave you shaken, uncertain of the trustworthiness of your own perceptions. These lies can be personal, and they can be political. They can be lies of omission and commission, they can be half-truths, or they can contain just enough of the truth to be almost incontestable. Perhaps these last lies are the worst of all.

I don’t know if lies, lying, and being lied to and about is as important in our culture as it once was, or if it has always been as unremarkable as it seems to be now. Was there ever really a time when a person’s word was all that was required, and if that word was broken the offender was ostracised? Or did such an idealised moral code of an individual’s responsibility to speak the truth exist only in romantic novels?

And when someone lies about you or about events you have shared, the sense of helplessness and rage at the injustice of such lying can mess with your head for quite a long time. Personally and politically, individually and collectively, lies are at the root of all injustice.

I would rather know the worst truth than be told a lie. Fighting my way out of a childhood that consisted almost entirely of lies has left me with a hunger for truth that is quite likely excessive. It’s made me forensic. But I do believe lies have the power to destroy the liar and the lied to, whether the lies are personal or political. Lies erode trust, and without trust we are nothing to one another, we live as empty shells, bereft of intimacy, lonely and alone.

I always thought the Rolling Stones song was about the loneliness and lovelessness of lies:

And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave

 

 

dead flowers

Save the last dance for me

1 Dec

When a performer has reached the age of  seventy-nine one can be forgiven for fearing every appearance might be his last, and it was clear at Leonard Cohen’s concert in Brisbane last night that thought has also crossed his mind.

Though he is enviably fit (he drops to his knees with strength of feeling, and there’s not a catch in his voice when he rises again without even putting his hands on the floor) and his voice has thrillingly deepened since I saw him last some three years ago, he is an old man and I have prepared myself for last night to be the final time I see him.

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey 
I ache in the places where I used to play 
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on 
I’m just paying my rent every day 
Oh in the Tower of Song

The man was on stage for well over three hours, finally remarking that he really wouldn’t mind if we all decided to go home, but nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to leave him,  and we stamped and clapped and yelled “More please, more please,” like two-year-olds presenting our empty bowls for refills.

And refill them he did. Perhaps it’s to do with his sojourn in a Buddhist monastery, but Cohen has a talent for living in the moment that allows him to sing every song as if it’s the first performance, with a freshness and passion that lets the audience hear the lyrics anew, even though some of us can recite them in our sleep. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who can do exactly the same thing, performers for whom Cohen expresses the most gracious respect, granting them time and space to shine as he steps quietly away, his hat doffed, his head bowed in deference to artists such as Javier Mas, the “sublime” Webb Sisters, and long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, whose breathtaking interpretation of Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving” I present here for your pleasure.

Music is, of course, from and for the emotions, but it takes a rare talent in any genre to convey the kind of feeling that deeply moves the heart, mind, body and spirit. Cohen and his fellows share the ability to imperceptibly nudge their audience out of the everyday into the realms of poetry, that is, to evoke meaning over and above the prosaic, the obvious. Cohen stirs the emotional imagination, the man can’t help it, a brief account of his journey through the Brisbane tunnels on his way to the Entertainment Centre becomes a metaphor for life. The tunnels were therapeutic, he says. He entered them feeling not so well but by the time he emerged he was feeling splendid. Through darkness into light: there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Although Buddhism became a significant part of Cohen’s life, like Bob Dylan he is also fascinated by Christian imagery, and often references the traditions of that faith, especially in his latest album, “Old Ideas.”

I have to add here that there’s not much else Dylan & Cohen have in common attitudinally. Cohen assumes everybody likes him and won’t hold it against them if they don’t. Dylan assumes everybody is his enemy and especially hates them if they like him. I could write a thesis comparing the two, and I might well one day.

“Old Ideas” has the feeling of a man preparing for the end of his life, especially the quite lovely “Come Healing:” Behold the gates of mercy in arbitrary space, and none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace…

Yet it is a measure of Cohen’s astounding talent that he can imbue the 1960’s Drifters classic “Save the Last Dance for Me,” recorded by, among many, Dolly Parton, the appalling Michael Buble, Ike & Tina Turner, Harry Nilsson, Emmylou Harris et al, with such poignancy, as he performs it as his last song of the evening (no matter how much we shout and plead he’s skipped off stage, yes, he skips, and he won’t come back) and the familiar song takes on the quality of a farewell to the audience that he loves, but knows he must finally leave, and he wants us not to forget him, he wants us to save our last dance for him cos he loves us, oh so much.

Ah, Leonard. Right back at ya.

I love Leonard, because he is sublime.

27 Nov

In three more sleeps, I’ll be at the Leonard Cohen concert in Brisbane. 

It’s impossible to choose a favourite quote from Cohen’s sublime output, but I do rather like this one, bearing in mind the man spent fifteen years of his life in a Buddhist monastery, from which he emerged to discover his manager had fleeced him of every cent:  I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies and the religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Cohen’s sense of humour underpins everything he writes: those unbelievers who  claim he creates “songs to cut your wrists to” entirely miss his often gentle, sometimes darkly ironical humour, his innate”cheerfulness breaking through,” his extraordinary self-deprecating modesty that he manages to combine with an equally extraordinary dignity. Cohen is great. Cohen is humble. Cohen is, always, the one whose lonely love is unrequited: My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone, he wryly observes, and in the  beautiful “Ain’t no cure for love” he mourns:

I’m aching for you baby 
I can’t pretend I’m not 
I need to see you naked 
In your body and your thought 
I’ve got you like a habit 
And I’ll never get enough 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure for love
 

I use the word “sublime” to describe Cohen’s work reservedly. While “sublime” indicates the presence of an emotional depth and integrity that transcends rational thought and language, strictly speaking it also requires the presence of horror and fear inspired by that which is, in Kant’s terms “absolutely great.” Kant explains the difference between the beautiful and the sublime thus:

Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt. 

The boundlessness of the sublime inspires a desire to transcend the limits of the self,  a fear-inspiring project if ever there was one, most commonly experienced when falling in love, that chaos of intense emotions, sublime delight, and necessarily, if one is offering one’s heart to another, trembling fear. To be in Cohen’s stage presence is to be for those few hours in an open-hearted state of  love without the fear: the man emanates an almost tangible love and generosity, you are the only audience he has ever had or ever will have, he is, like the best of lovers, entirely focused on you, given over to your pleasure, he lives, for these few hours, only to delight you. You feel Leonard Cohen in all your erogenous zones but it isn’t about sex. Cohen’s presence is sublime.

It is not so easy to find horror and fear in Cohen’s work, mediated as it is by humour, melancholy, and melody, however lyrics such as “The Future” describe a chilling dystopian vision:

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!

I can’t argue that Cohen’s music and lyrics are by themselves sublime. But the man’s presence and delivery make them so. Of course, like any text, they are not fully realised without the participation of the reader or audience: if you want to feel Leonard’s great-heartedness, you have to open up your own. He is a spiritual man, whatever one takes that to mean, and many of his love songs can be read as addressing either a mortal lover or a transcendental exteriority.

I’m counting the sleeps.

Like a bird on the wire, 

like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free. 
Like a worm on a hook, 
like a knight from some old fashioned book 
I have saved all my ribbons for thee. 
If I, if I have been unkind, 
I hope that you can just let it go by. 
If I, if I have been untrue 
I hope you know it was never to you. 
Like a baby, stillborn, 
like a beast with his horn 
I have torn everyone who reached out for me. 
But I swear by this song 
and by all that I have done wrong 
I will make it all up to thee. 
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch, 
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.” 
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door, 
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?” 

Oh like a bird on the wire, 
like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free.

leonard_cohen_1208796c

Tony Abbott: I’m your man

7 Feb

If you want a boxer 
I will step into the ring for you 
And if you want a doctor 
I’ll examine every inch of you 
If you want a driver 
Climb inside 
Or if you want to take me for a ride 
You know you can 
I’m your man* 

It’s unsettling to observe the speed with which Tony Abbott is attempting a personal transmogrification from street fighting, slogan-chanting, Putin-wannabe stuntman into calm, responsible, intelligent and concerned alternative prime minister.

Some might argue this is an indicator of the man’s ability to adapt to changing situations, and therefore positive. Others might point out that Abbott’s willingness to turn himself into whatever he thinks you want him to be is a troubling personality trait for the leader of the country. Does it indicate a lack of certainty on his part as to who he really is? Or, if he does know who he is, does his preparedness to adapt indicate a compulsion to act out what he thinks is required of him in any particular moment, rather than be himself?

We saw a similar early attempt to be who she thought we wanted her to be on the part of the incumbent PM, Julia Gillard. Ms Gillard went so far as to publicly declare the emergence of the “real Julia”, in retrospect not the most wise course of action for a leader, and likely a contributing factor to the punters’ lack of trust in her. Announcing that you’re going to be real now, as Abbott has done without actually declaring he’s doing it, can only cast troubling doubt on what you’ve been until that declarative moment.

The majority of punters don’t really care for leaders with shaky personalities. Someone who will change with the wind doesn’t inspire trust. There’s a fine but important line between mature adaptability, and self-interested false accommodation in the interests of gaining or maintaining power.

Abbott has spent the last two years showing us his aggression, his wilful ignorance, his inability to deal with anything remotely complex, his fascist reliance on slogans, and his willingness to use women close to him as human shields. In the space of forty-eight hours he wants us to believe he’s become prime ministerial material. All he’s done is change into yet another set of new clothes and clothes, as my grandmother always told me, do not maketh the man.

*Leonard Cohen, I’m your man.

fire fighting abbott

Kathy Jackson. Journos as cannibals. Investigative bloggers. Leonard Cohen.

30 May

I’m reading a novel by Lionel Shriver ( of We need to Talk about Kevin fame) titled The New Republic. The blurb on the back claims the novel is about terrorism and personal magnetism. It does indeed deal with both, in that bitingly humorous fashion usually fuelled by deep anger, and contempt for the subjects. I won’t attempt to describe the convoluted plot, for to do so would be to ruin the story.

However, to my reader’s mind this novel is all about journalists and mainstream media, especially those who venture into theatres of conflict, and Shriver has not one good thing to say about them. For example:

“I’m a journalist,” she has a lead character, Barrington Saddler,  explain, “and journalists need news. Deprive them of it, and they go a bit barking. Deprive  them of news long enough, and they’ll make their own – much the way the starving will eventually turn to cannibalism.”

And this from his editor: “Journalists are parasites…on everyone else’s events. The worst thing that can happen to a correspondent is to start thinking of himself as a player. The hack who fancies himself a mover-and-shaker gets slipshod – thinks he’s covering his own story. Reporting is a humble profession, Mr Kellogg. Journalists -” Wallasek shrugged – “are History’s secretaries…a reporter’s not supposed to chip in his two cents.”

I find it significant that this novel is all about journalists, with terrorism and personal magnetism employed merely as vehicles to cynically explore the bleak terrain of mainstream media, but there’s no mention at all of this on the cover. Oh, BTW. It’s published by Harper Collins Fourth Estate.

And so to Peter Wicks’ latest expose of Kathy Jackson, her partner Michael Lawler, the HSU & FWA. Wixxy is doing an extraordinary job of investigative blogging without any of the resources or protections afforded to mainstream journalists. As Peter points out, with such limited resources he’s still been able to access flammable information about payments made by the HSU to Kathy Jackson, payments that beggar belief. These include over half a million dollars invoiced as “Key Management Personnel Compensation,” itemised only as “Employee benefits.” Kathy Jackson is the sole recipient.

Don’t miss reading Wixxy’s piece, published today in Independent Australia. Wicks provides all kinds of interesting links, including the connection between Jackson, FWA boss Michael Lawler, and Christopher Pyne, who were all spotted enjoying coffee together just last week. Why aren’t these matters receiving anything like the intense scrutiny given to Craig Thomson’s affairs? Why aren’t journos lurking beneath Jackson’s bathroom window while she takes a shower? How come the msm aren’t asking why Jackson’s child care centre whose staff do not wear uniforms, received money for their non-existent uniforms from the HSU? Are child care centres even in the HSU?

Why the mainstream media haven’t bothered to investigate these matters any further is a mystery. Idleness? Political pressure to refrain?

With a few outstanding exceptions, we don’t generally have investigative journalists, just an excess of self-regarding opinionistas. Thank god we do have bloggers.

Or maybe too many of our journos, like Shriver’s morally corrupt hacks,  are far too busy trying to be players?

Oh, and this has just been brought to my attention. I don’t know how reliable this source is, but it alleges Lawler belongs or belonged to Opus Dei. The thlot pickens.

Finally I am seriously disappointed in Barack Obama who has just awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour to Bob Dylan WHEN IT SHOULD HAVE GONE TO LEONARD COHEN. And yes, the medal can be awarded to non US citizens. I still take my hat off to you Leonard. Dylan is good, but you are better. Plus you don’t look as drug-fucked.

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