Music That Means Something – Day 1: Leonard Cohen

When Willow told me she had kindly nominated me for the five day music challenge, my first thought was… where on earth would I start? And could I include all the old stuff from my mother’s collection of 78s that I loved playing as a girl…or the operatic songs…the French songs I love, many of which come with their own memories and meanings…

I thought I probably shouldn’t. Better go with something less obscure… though I might change my mind on that. The rules of the challenge are simple:

Post a song a day for five consecutive days.
Post what the lyrics mean to you.  (Optional)
Post the name of the song and a video.
Nominate 1 or 2 bloggers each day of the challenge.

Today, I’ll ask Sally and Trent if they would care to join in (But only if they want to!)

The twist in the challenge is that the lyrics should mean something…. though, tracing the challenge back, I haven’t been able to discover precisely in what way, which gives me lots of possibilities.

I’m starting with Leonard Cohen. He has a special place on my list of musical memories for all sorts of reasons.

How I missed him, I’ll never know. It probably had something to do with Led Zeppelin and co. but I had never heard of Leonard Cohen…or at least, never paid any attention, until I went to work in France at the start of the 80s. My employers gave my name the French pronunciation and, every time I was introduced to someone, they would start talking about tea and oranges. When I finally got through the confusion and asked for a bit of light to be shed on this strange behaviour, I learned about what they all agreed was ‘the most beautiful love song ever written’. When I finally heard the lyrics, I had to agree, though there is a different love here than there seems on the surface.

Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror…

I was hooked on Cohen’s poetry before I had finished listening to that first tape.

Leonard Cohen looked deeper than most and behind the apparent meaning of the lyrics of his songs are stories that the casual listener would never suspect. When I first heard ‘Dance me to the End of Love‘ the year that my eldest son was born, I thought it ‘just’ a love song. It has a feel of a wedding dance… and that is exactly what it is. But it goes beyond the love of lovers to something far deeper…

The song, according to an interview with Leonard Cohen, was inspired by the Holocaust and the tragedy of the musicians, forced to play to allay the fears of those heading for the gas chambers. He is quoted as saying,

“It’s curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that’s why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,” meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved.”

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love

Oh, let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love

(Full lyrics here)

 

 

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
This entry was posted in Love, Memories, Music, mystery and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to Music That Means Something – Day 1: Leonard Cohen

  1. Oh now i’m going to cry. Leonard Cohen is so special to me. Aside from walking into my wedding reception and waltzing to ‘Dance me to the end of Love’ his music was the first that taught me that lyrics could mean beauty and mystery and not just be something to accompany a jazzy tune. The world is so much colder now that the Poet King is gone. https://jessicabakkers.com/2017/03/10/ode-to-the-poet-king/

    Fantastic post Sue.

    Like

  2. barbtaub says:

    Sue, I can’t believe you started with one of my favourites! Can’t wait to hear what comes next.

    Like

  3. Oh Sue, this is so sad. I am on the verge of tears.

    Like

  4. Carol and I aren’t big concert goers but when he came to Austin for Austin City Limits, we made sure to get tickets close to the front. Cohen was an enigmatic song writer and poet, an anti-Rod McKuen who somehow managed to outlast him and watch a resurrection in the eighties. Jazz Police is still one of my favorite songs.

    I remember in the early seventies, when the Jesus Movement was in it’s early stages, before it was coopted by the charismatic moneymakers, you couldn’t spend more than two hours in a Christian coffeehouse without hearing at least one Cohen song co-opted for Christianity. Someone would sing Suzanne and the entire audience would go into rapture. I would picture Leonard sitting in a coffeehouse of his own shaking his head at the irony.

    But love is love and Leonard spread more of it than the Beatles. Although a set with Leonard and John Lennon riffing off each others lyrics would have been divine.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I would have loved to have seen him live, Phillip. I can imagine the head-shaking and the smile too, but as you say, Cohen, at least, knew that love is love by any name.

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    I do love a challenge and Sue has nominated me for Music that means something which requires the posting of a song each day for five days with lyrics that mean something to you. Well hold the presses.. that is a challenge I will certainly accept.. However, having read Sue’s fantastic post on the subject of Leonard Cohen and his profound and meaningful lyrics … I will have to look to my laurels.. Thanks Sue and I will start Monday. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ritu says:

    Great post Sue. 🤗

    Like

  7. TanGental says:

    I never recovered from having to sit through Bird on a Wire because a girlfriend made me. That put me off Cohen’s voice for life. Ditto the girlfriend. His poetry though is stunning just as long as he doesn’t vocalise it!!

    Like

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  9. Such a deeper meaning, I had no idea. I never paid attention to the “burning violin”, which makes a lot more sense now. The video stands alone in its beauty, and the sadness of those empty chairs always gets to me. Thanks, Sue.

    Like

  10. willowdot21 says:

    I have always shied away from Leonard Cohen, this post shows the reasons why. I do admire the poetry it as amazing. Thank you Sue this has been a beautiful post.

    Like

  11. dgkaye says:

    Sue, what an excellent choice of song. A most heartfelt, beautiful post. ❤

    Like

  12. Strong song. I’ve never heard it before. It is sad to know the story behind it, so tragic.

    Like

  13. A beautiful tribute. He really was wonderful.

    Like

  14. trentpmcd says:

    Nice song. My sister is a huge Leonard Cohen fan but I don’t listen very often. I like his music a lot, but I’m more of one who listens to music and totally ignores words, while it’s his words that make the music so special. His songs often do go deeper than most. As far as the music challenge, I’ll give you a firm “Maybe” 😉 If i do, it’ll be next week and slightly different…

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  15. What a poet, what a voice. ❤ Great pick for Day One. Look forward to your others.

    Like

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  17. Oh, God, what an awful thing to have to do, playing music whilst people are being led to their dealths, knowing that you are going to be next.
    THat song by Leonard Cohen is so poignant now I understand the lyrics. Wonderful choice, Sue 🙂

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  24. I didn’t know the back story to this song, Sue, but it doesn’t surprise me. Leonard Cohen can never be accused of producing trivial work. I’m a big fan, and had the pleasure of watching him live twice – the first time when he toured the I’m Your Man album (from which this song is taken), the second about 10 years ago when he was trying to earn back the money he’d been swindled out of. A truly charismatic individual. Frankly, you did well to settle on one song, because there are so many that touch the soul.

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