Tuesday, October 6, 2015

THE FUTURE: Leonard Cohen

By and large there is nothing like the future for making a monkey of the past, with the present being, usually, equally no less capable of second guessing what's next. But it seems us humans love nothing so much as to dreaming away the now by imagining about later, whether a simple reverie about what's for tea, or all the pillars of literature parading their visions of times yet to pass. Orwell's 1984 is the prime example, written 36 years earlier and, as we now know, getting it not quite right. But, having read it at school, even as late as 1983, aged 26, I was certainly worrying whether he would turn out to be right, helped even, or hindered, by the film that came out in the same year it was supposedly depicting. Handy timing or what! And 2001, book and film, both from 1968, also portraying the future in a way the past has failed to deliver. Of course there are rules in all of this: just as the past is always portrayed as utopian, anything about the future has to have in its byline the word dystopian. Talk about glass half empty pessimism, I wonder whether it is an automatic response to the often grim reality of the present. Is the only way to accept the now to be by assuming worse ahead?

Music is no stranger to such fantasy, and what better place to start than rocks elder, maybe eldest, statesman, laughing Leonard Cohen. Having had a share of fame as poet and novelist, then bedsitter singer-songwriter exemplary, in the later 70s and early 80s it was all going a bit quiet for him. Rather than hanging up his mitts, he came back in 1988, already 54 years old, with 'I'm Your Man', a re-invention with a much wider sonic spectrum than his earlier acoustic guitar and drone. 1992 saw 'The Future' appear as a belated follow-up, and was arguably his most counter-intuitive work yet, blowing his old persona into a distant (utopian?) past, synthesisers and massed girly vocals well to the fore. Having loved 'I'm Your Man', I well recall being a little shaken at the time. Taking no prisoners, it burst straight for the jugular with the eponymous opening track, mentioning both crack cocaine and anal sex (censored in the above video) in the very first few verses. No more Mr Nice Guy, and good bye to playing it to your parents generation. (Or his, by chaotic coincidence.) But, the audience was growing, whether old fans, auspiciously disappointed,  or those who just liked to hear a grown man talk dirty.So long Marianne, for sure. All in an unclassifiable genre, probably its main strength, or, as his biographer put it: "Classic big budget AOR, yet with lyrics by Bukowski and Lowell, sung by an old wino from skid row who really wanted to sing like Ray Charles at the Apollo." I think that's perfect, and he even became Canadian Best Male Vocalist fo this in 1993, which tickled even him, even allowing for the partisan nature of his home crowd.

                                                   "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 Saint Paul
                                                   I've seen the future brother:
                                                   It is murder."

So what's it all about? Has it come true yet? Well, I neither know, nor, actually care that much, but here's a link to one essayists thoughts that are certainly profound. I'm not sure if I buy all of it, and, anyway, what's with needing to constantly understand and interpret? It's like the infernal never ending learned resumes about Dylan versus Keats. It's pop music, fer chrissakes!

What has troubled me, though, in times more recent, is how the singer has chosen to bowdlerise himself, the anal sex of the 90s now sung as careless sex, somehow altering the impact, not to say the cadence. Has the now octogenarian become a pussy? Or is there regret that his dystopian future failed to warn him of his own journey to follow, whereby he effectively retired to his cave whilst an errant manger spent his nest-egg, necessitating a return to the greasepaint and trappings of performance, a 3rd rebirth, possibly his most successful yet. And who, in 1992, could possibly have foreseen that, with new work appearing still, in his ninth decade? So. What's next for Cohen. Slippers and commode? Don't bet on it!

Studio or Live, buy it down the links!

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