Cohen’s Poetry

I want to think there are better uses for my time than writing confessionals.

One of the things poetry can do is capture a reality so completely that you can begin to understand its multifaceted truth. It can take that reality and redeem it. It can show you something about grace.

Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a songwriter.

The ninth song on Leonard Cohen’s 1979 live album (Field Commander Cohen) is “Memories”.   Sung to a do-wop track, the music and vocal swells until Cohen croons

I said “won’t you let me see”
I said “won’t you let me see”
Your naked body?”

It is a moment of sublime beauty, helped along by some biographical knowledge.

A man known in later years for his impossibly deep voice, in this moment, he croons.

A poet turned musician, known for his stark sound, it highlights a nuanced and intricate musical arrangement backed by an accomplished band.

Lyrically it is a simple song, with little of the careful wording or complex imagery or metaphor of the rest of his oeuvre. Unlike Anthem it was not labored over for years until it shone with perfection.

It is not coincidental that it’s origins are an album produced with Phil Spector, an album that has been disavowed by Cohen for mostly good reasons.

Leonard Cohen has been referred to derisively as a “boudoir poet”. Sex is one of his great obsessions, and he frequently attempts to make it a vehicle for transcendence.

And so, perhaps in it’s own way this is one of the most raw moments in his catalog. All of the artistry, all the Suzanne’s and Show Me the Place’s falling aside so that he can cry out:

“won’t you let me see….
won’t you let me see….

Your naked body?”

“This is a song I wrote a couple of years ago with Phil Specter. One of my most dismal efforts… Probably last longer than my most delicate lyrics. Because it is armored in steel, designed to move through time like a panzer division.

What care I if my voice is lost within all these treads and dust and sand? What care I indeed?

This song encapsulates my most irreverent recollections of an extremely banal adolescence.

I am happy to sign my name to this song. It is like signing my name to a tax form. I don’t understand it at all.

I know not why I came to pen this ditty. However, here it is, it exists in the world. Who can say it’s name?”

-Transcript of the introduction from the Manchester 1979 version.

Or looked at another way: It also helps to normalize the undermining of female agency. The male gaze always exists to reduce them to sex objects, regardless of their wishes. And then wants some pity because they can’t always get what they want.

And the crowd cheers on.

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