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.
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)