Monday, October 30, 2006

Soft With Sorrow

Probably unlike most great songwriters, Leonard Cohen’s songs often seem to lend themselves to being interpreted by others. I don’t think the same is true of Dylan or Lennon/McCartney. I’m not sure what this might mean. It’s not that Cohen’s recordings of his own tunes aren’t excellent either. I just read that Cohen was the president of the debating society when he was at McGill University. His grandfather was a Talmudic scholar. I was just looking at a Cohen songbook yesterday and there was curious ID picture of him from sort of Greek driving club. I wondered why that was, but then I just learned that he -- like the great painter Brice Marden whose retrospective just went up at MoMa and about whom there have been a bunch of articles appearing lately - owns a house on the island of Hydra. Must be a fun place to hang out.

Cohen, it turns out, is one of the most quotable singers ever. He said this about working with Phil Spector, who produced Death of a Ladies’ Man. "I was flipped out at the time and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns - the music was a subsidiary enterprise ... At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil.'" According to the Guardian he described the album they made together as "grotesque."

But this isn’t about Leonard Cohen. Nope. It’s about Roberta Flack. I love the cover (help me Lefty) of her album First Take so much. She’s got this great floral print dress on and she’s playing the piano with a rapt concentration or else it could be a sort of spiritual focus or maybe autistic despair or maybe self-obliterating doubt. Hard to say. What drew me to this record was the fact that bassist Ron Carter, who had probably only recently stopped playing with Miles Davis at the time, plays on it. One thing I can’t quite figure out is that it lists guitarist John Pizzarelli on the credits. But the John Pizzarelli I know of, son of Bucky, was, like 9 years old at the time, though he evidently started performing out at age six. I do like the thought of a 9-year-old joining Carter and Flack, though, whatever the case may be.

According to the Leonard Cohen Files there are at least 20 recorded covers of "Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye," many of them by Norwegians (who evidently love L. Cohen). I think it’s safe to say that Roberta Flack’s version rules the most.

"Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" - Roberta Flack

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