Leonard Cohen, albums -The Dove Is Never Free

Leonard Cohen’s work is so good it tends to lift up those who write about him.

For instance this line:  “… given that “Hallelujah” was as much about triumphing over waning potency as it was about anything religious… ”

Today it has generated the following thoughts from me.

His newest album, Old Ideas, is perfect example of what I fear I am losing as I indulge myself with more singles and move away from the concept of albums.

The first time I heard the album, the only song I liked, or even understood for that matter, was Different Sides.

The second time I listened to it, I also came to have a deep and profound experience with Banjo.

If you could hear what I hear when I listen to Banjo…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UXmo5hBYgY

That would be something… that really would be something.

I would love to know what you hear as well.

 

Then I put the album away for a while. But I came back now and again, and now I count Going Home and parts of Amen among the songs I feel like I understand.

Going Home alone is worth the price of the album for me.

But more importantly I look forward to coming back to the album over the next few years to see what other surprises it has in store for me.

I tend to be dense when it comes to art so my particular experience is likely tinged by this. That is part of the attraction for me. But I suspect the thrill of coming back to a large complicated piece and finding new nuances is a more universal experience.

I don’t begrudge the evolution of how we consume music (although I worry about mp3 sound quality). The form has always been dominated by its limitations, and our current distribution model has many advantages.

But the experience I am having with Old Ideas is one that I have to work harder to find.

More quotes:

“For a Zen monk who started his career as a poet, Leonard Cohen has used a lot of synth horns.”

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16228-leonard-cohen-old-ideas/

Possibly apocryphal:

I’ve come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I am going to die. So naturally those questions arise and are addressed. But, you know, I like to do it with a beat.

Leonard Cohen, when asked at a recent press conference whether he had “come to terms with death”.

Has there ever been a musician with as consistently good album titles? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen_discography …

And because it cannot be avoided:

Psychedelic Pill – Art and Ageing

Neil Young & Crazy Horse have finally released a follow up to 2012’s Americana.

As Neil Young has gotten older, the artifice of his songwriting has fallen away. This leads unashamedly clunky to passages like this:

I was born in Ontario
I was born in Ontario, Ontario, Ontario, Ontario
(Guitar solo)

But it also means we get 25+ mins of Driftin Back, including the lines:

“Hey now now, hey now now
I used to dig Picasso
Then the big tech giant came along
And turned him into wallpaper”

Ok… that passage doesn’t quite prove my point.

But when this loose, unencumbered style works, it is brilliant.

The best of these songs play with lyrical and musical themes that come from the deepest instincts of a band that has been doing this for a lifetime. They are vital and alive, not afraid to experiment, to breathe, and the band is good enough to pull it off.

I want to walk like a giant.

Three thoughts about the Rolling Stones – Gloom and Doom

The emotional heart of my recent science-fiction/corporate espionage short story was inspired by Rolling Stones imagery.

I am not entirely comfortable with my proclivity to treat real people as mythological figures in my internal cosmology.

Nonetheless I recently returned to thinking about music through autobiography and started reading Ronnie*. This has inspired the following thoughts in no particular order:

1). Keith Richards autobiography Life might have been a better biography if he had demonstrated a greater degree of self-awareness, but as a literary work, that awareness could have been fatal.

Adherence to reality aside, Life conjures up a portrait of a man overflowing with raw talent and passion for which he is rewarded with enormous success.

It also reveals a man trapped by the limitations of narrowly defined masculinity and his own image. He seeks redemption in friendship and art, even as he fails to acknowledge his own role in undermining the efficacy of these elements in his own life.

None of this would have the same layered depth, the same nuance, if you had a fully self-aware author. The phrase “show, don’t tell” is overused writing advice, but it applies here. As a novel, it leaves the reader wondering if the narrator is even a good person. What does it mean to leave to leave that kind of trail of destruction and not have any real sense of responsibility for it?

As it stands, Life is a beautiful portrait of undeniable talent mixed with obliviousness.

2) The commonly cited theory that the Rolling Stones recent albums are mere retreads of past glory’s holds up if you narrow your focus to their greatest hits. But their critical success rests primarily on the their streak from Beggars Banquet – Exile on Main Street.

Listen to those albums with fresh ears and you’ll notice that the Rolling Stones (for good or ill) have not even attempted to replicate the same heady mix of blues and folk that that they exemplified during that period.

If nothing else, their recent production relishes in clarity, while these albums are confident attempts to to bury their dynamic riffs and simplistic lyrics** behind layers of atmosphere.

At their worst the last three albums (Voodoo Lounge onward), are cynical retreads of Start Me Up, but they have not attempted to ape triumphs such as Jigsaw Puzzle, Loving Cup, or Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.

The trash on their recent albums are clearly throwaway Rock and Roll McSingles, but for my tastes I can cobble together a pretty good album with selective editing. But even that mix-tape of an album has few of the sonic influences that they were playing around with at their peak.

3). It is surreal is it that they have released a Greatest Hits Album (containing up to 80 tracks) entitled GRRR!

Seriously…. GRRR!

It is even stranger that barely anyone comments on the absurdity of this.

On the other hand, GRRR! contains one of their better McSingles titled: Gloom and Doom. The music is serviceable, gritty and on the right track, but lacks dynamism.  It’s lyrically great and it grew on my after repeated listenings.

It’s the kind of song that in a different context would make me think “this band is really onto something – I can’t wait to hear what they do when they get an album together.”

Who knows what they could do if they cared to really try.

*Random non-music autobiography book recommendations:  The Swerve (which demonstrates how old modernity is) and End This Depression Now! (which functions as nice economic’s primer for mainstream liberal thought and shows that money does strange things in large groups).

**My internal struggle with the content of most of their lyrics merits its own post.

A Short Story

I have placed some words together in a specific order, with the express purpose of entertaining potential readers.

I have not put enough words together that the result can correctly be referred to as a novel… or even a novelette. The most fitting term is: short story.

I now provide access to it here.

On the Marriage Equality Issue

EDIT: here is the link.

What I really wanted to post here was a link to an NPR interview I heard years ago with an evangelical involved in the creation of the Moral Majority.

I wanted to post this because I don’t have anything original to say about the recent controversy’s regarding marriage equality, but I felt the need to say something.

I felt the need to comment, because despite the fact I should be inoculated against it by now, I am shocked and dismayed that this is a legal controversy.

Not because I don’t understand how someone could be against it. I just don’t understand how such large numbers of people can feel as if it’s acceptable to give that dislike voice in the law.

The interview I wanted to link to was with a sincere evangelical who believed that homosexuality was a sin. He talked about the calculations required to raise it up over other sins such as money lending.

I despair over our ability to handle complex problems if we cannot agree on minority rights. If we can’t say, “I don’t like it but it’s not really my call.”

If we cannot agree that if marriage is a big enough term to legally encompass all the non-christian weddings, the loveless marriages, the sexless marriages…

If it includes the people who don’t have ceremonies,

If it’s a concept that (legally speaking at least) really just involves two people declaring that they want to bind there lives together in some amorphous way….

then it is also big enough to include people irregardless of their gender.

If the libertarians can’t show up in force for this issue…

If slippery slope fallacy is able to stand uncontested…

If we can’t acknowledge that in the “culture wars” same sex marriage is the next logical step now that we’ve made marriage about romance…

If a hundred other things I’m forgetting to mention. Then how are we ever going to solve the complicated problems. The policy problems.

So, I couldn’t link to the NPR article, and I didn’t have anything new to add to the issue. But apparently I felt the need to say something anyways.

Also, the last link, the “made marriage about romance…” one. Is worth reading if nothing else.

Playing favorites: Cameron Crowe, redeeming Elizabehtown and trying my hand at film criticism

Q: What is your favorite film?

A: An unhelpful question. “Favorite” is vague enough to be meaningless and my answer is likely to change based on a variety of social contexts – none of which come into play when questioning myself.

Q: What’s a film that reveals something about you that you value?

A: Slightly better. Although my answer will still be random, at least we’ve eliminated Braveheart.

Q: Fine. What’s the movie you’ve had the most radical change of heart about?

A: Well now see Bravehearts back in the mix…

In this way we eventually approach Elizabethtown.  The linked trailer does justice to my first viewing. I almost walked out of the theater, casually dismissing the film as an unremarkable pat romance with some uninteresting family drama and a too long scavenger hunt at the end.

History has not been kind, and the general consensus seems agree with that interpretation.

Then I read Roger Ebert’s 3-star review, and I found an extra detail that caused me to reconsider. You see, at the start of the film, the protagonist is fired from the shoe company. This is the great professional failure that sets everything into motion (oh yeah- spoilers ahead for Elizabethtown & Almost Famous). Ebert writes:

“In the first cut of the film, there was a great deal more of the journey, followed by a pointless epilogue in which the Spasmodica shoe turns out to be a hit after all, because with every step you take, it whistles.” (emphasis mine).

It was this absurd detail – the idea that his great failure had been turned into success through some Jiminy Cricket like insane optimism.

Upon reading that I was suddenly able to see the movie not just as a long dirge with some manic pixie girl thrown in, but as a metaphor. Once I stepped back an inch everything else fell into place.

The scenes worked on there own just fine, but their power came from wielding larger concepts around with them.

Concepts about death. About love. About the meaning of life and parenthood and optimism and truly knowing someone else.

This highlights a few things:

1) I’m not so bright.

2) Context is everything. I could have gotten this context from knowing Crowe’s work.

Or from the opening of the film which signals it like a bat signal if you’re looking for it. Or maybe if I’d had a better breakfast that morning – who knows.

I do not mean to imply that detail about the whistling shoes should have been left in. Rather that viewing the film requires that we bring something of ourselves to the experience and what I bring can be unpredictable and may say more about me than the film.

3) Really good art can inspire interesting commentary even if the commentary isn’t particularly approving. Try searching for reviews of L. Cohen’s Old Ideas.

Once I saw the film with these larger themes in mind – it became a masterpiece.

The love plot became a layered balancing act of meaningful dialogue that commented both on the history of “meet cutes” as well as counter-balancing the foreboding sense of death, failure, suicide and regret.

Her manic pixie girl status wasn’t just a cheat or lazy writing, it was a conceit that opened doors.

Once I wasn’t watching just another romantic comedy, but engaging it as a something of substance it opened up and rewarded me for it.

Allow me to use an example from a better regarded Cameron Crowe film (since it has a youtube clip available – and because I’m slightly intimidated by Elizabethtown).

Sample Scene: Here

Here the “talent” of the band is getting back on the tour bus after a night of ill-advised partying. When they last left, it was unclear if he would return, or if the band was done for.

More importantly, the lead singer of the band, has made it clear that the rest of the band simply does not like him. The core of the tension is unresolved. This theme is hammered home throughout the movie. Time and time again when crisis hits – when you’d expect them to pull together and find a deep love for each other – they come up dry. They come up with selfishness and bitterness.

So why does the band stay together? Is it money/fame (partially yes). But then why do we care about them?

This scene argues compellingly that the answer is: music.

Sure they are all failures as human beings and friends.

But then there is the music. A theme (one of many) echoed throughout the film, from the rock critic to the too-wise band-aid. It is the heart of the film. It’s where the film begins, and ends.

Or maybe the movie is about a rock critic trying to maintain his distance so he can write about the music. Or maybe it’s about his love of the girl who puts her head on his shoulder, but is not with him.

It’s all there. The whole film is in that scene.

It also gets him out of the party, back on the bus and keeps things moving along pretty quick.

Or maybe it’s all in that song choice. It has the right kind of fame and feel to be sung on a bus. Not a bus I might be on, but a bus full of rock stars reaching for a way to show some appropriate manly sensitivity.

Not just a song that was famous around this time, but like the film, a song of this time. All enchanced if you bring certain cultural knowledge to bear on the moment, but works well on it’s own.

And of course it says a lot about the band-aid as well.

What I’m saying is, if you think Almost Famous has layers, give Elizabethtown a second viewing.

Or maybe it’s that I’m usually a lazy viewer and I woke up this one time.

More on this when I get the courage to break down Elizabethtown in detail. And if you beg, I’ll talk your ear off about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

A short tuft. A flibbertigibbet. A will-o’-the-wisp. A clown

A thought too long for twitter.

This is such a stunningly good line it deserves notice beyond those who want to know if Marie Antoinette is a good film:

1. This is Sofia Coppola’s third film centering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you” – Roger Ebert

************************

I had another line I wanted to add. Something about how we all take turns playing hero’s and villans for each other, but deep down all we want is that fleeting moment of connectedness … compassion… a hug.

If I could say it well myself I wouldn’t have needed the now-missing quote. But it can be seen as fitting that the quote itself has also floated past. Leaving only a vague and unsatisfying memory.

Beyond Problematic: Dr’s lying to patients in Kansas

I don’t have any special expertise in politics and even less in medical ethics, but thankfully some issues don’t require it.

“Arizona and Kansas are considering bills that would ban lawsuits in cases where doctors fail to warn their patients about birth defects… the Kansas provision, part of a sweeping, 69-page anti-abortion bill, would allow physicians to lie to women who might otherwise terminate their pregnancies.” Full article here.

They are attempting to make it consequence-free (read: legal) for doctors to lie to their patients about their health without oversight or fear of consequence.

This law is beyond problematic for many reasons (it decimates the patient-client relationship in ways that fall along gender lines; in practice it will have class implications; even people who are extremely anti-choice probably don’t want there doctors to deceive them), but here is one of the less intuitive ones:

It literally prioritizes the fetus over the baby. Many anti-abortion efforts have this effect, but here it is particularly stark. Imagine a fetus that will be born with a defect that will only allow it live outside the womb for a brief period of time in extreme pain.

This provision is aimed at making it possible for that fetus to be born at all costs, irregardless of what that means for the actual baby (let alone the uterus-possessing person who will then be responsible for it).

Plus there is this: Cobbs v. Grant, “The patient, being unlearned in medical sciences, has an abject dependence upon and trust in his physician for the information upon which he relies during the decisional process, thus raising an obligation in the doctor that transcends arms-length transactions.”

Courts, gender issues and legislators aside here is an article that thinks more deeply about the issue of lying to patients from a medical perceptive: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673833/

Twitter Thoughts

I was considering changing my status message in my chat client to “My heart is in the highlands”.

Most of the people who would see it would ignore it. Some of my friends would either look it up, or know instantly that it is an allusion to a sprawling song epic by Bob Dylan.

But the selfish, grasping part of me thought “I like my old status message – I am creating story-telling arc through my messages and the old one has not been up long enough yet. How sad it will all just disappear. How can I share this arc with the world?”

Twitter.

Being a good tweeter is a marketing act. That does not invalidate it. It simply is a selection of all the possible things one might do – and choosing the ones that fit into the norm and goals of that medium.

If you care deeply about me already, then you may find the allusion to the song interesting.

If you don’t, the inevitable onslaught of nonsense from my default take on twitter would be a cacophony of noise and song lyrics.

All social interactions are presentations of self, and my preferred mode of self presentation is through narratives that allow me to pretend that I’m not talking about myself.

So what to do with twitter. Be smart? Pretend like only real life friends are reading it? Use it as a promotional vehicle for my brand?

Time will tell.

Insanity is smashing up against my soul
You can say I was on anything but a roll
If I had a conscience, well, I just might blow my top
What would I do with it anyway
Maybe take it to the pawn shop 

Highlands by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark