Jay-Z is not the Dylan of Anything
I am the Dylan of anything
I am the Kanye West of Kanye West
The Kanye West
Of the great bogus shift of bullshit culture
From one boutique to another
Don’t act so surprised. The Canadian singer and writer retains an aura of hallowed spirituality in the public imagination, but he was, first, a man of this world. Yes, Cohen’s work quoted scripture and contemplated apocalypse; yes, he lived for years in a Zen monastery. And yes, he wrote a song called “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On.” The fleeting, contemporary, and crass were all part of the great story that he wanted to tell about permanence and impermanence. In the final lines of the Kanye poem, after his sassy-ironic appropriation of rap swagger, he delivered one of his trademark dark prophecies. “I only come alive after a war,” he wrote. “And we have not had it yet.”
Did Leonard Cohen watch The View? That’s one of the questions I’m left with from Thanks for the Dance, the strong posthumous album assembled by his son, Adam Cohen. On “Moving On,” Leonard bids a tender farewell to a beloved woman (probably his legendary ex Marianne Ihlen). His voice is a moss-encrusted slither, just like it always was late in his life. His melody unfolds with the simple oomph of a folklore. Tender chords twitch and hover from the Spanish guitarist Javier Mas. “I loved your moods,” Cohen sings. “I loved the way they threaten every single day.” Then: “Your beauty ruled me, though I knew / ’Twas more hormonal than the view.”
That opener makes for one of the fuller songs on the album: Though not quite a “Hallelujah”-level anthem, it’s a complete statement that you can hum along to. Other tracks are just brief poems set to aching mood music, and when the poet is as hypnotizing as this one, that’s hardly a critique. On the minute and 12 seconds of “The Goal,” Cohen simply journals a day in the life of a dying man. “I look at the street / The neighbor returns my smile of defeat,” he sings, and you can hear the smile. The closer, “Listen to the Hummingbird,” was reconstructed from a public reading Cohen gave shortly before his death. It sees Cohen making himself very small by asking the audience to heed not his advice but that of the butterfly who lives only three days.
only three days.
The last time Leonard Cohen appeared in public was in mid-October 2016 at a Los Angeles news conference for his 14th studio album, “You Want It Darker,” just a few weeks before his death. Behind him hung a Canadian flag and beside him sat his son, Adam, a musician who had served as producer on the stirring LP. At one point Cohen, stooped and frail but sharp as ever in an impeccably tailored black suit, treated the audience to a recitation from a piece still in progress. He drew a breath, and then in that inimitable baritone, he began:
Listen to the hummingbird
Whose wings you cannot see
Listen to the hummingbird
Don’t listen to me
The audience applauded, and Cohen — who retreated at the height of his fame to live for five years in a Buddhist monastery — demurred with a characteristically self-abnegating joke: “I would say the hummingbird deserves the royalties on that one.” The interviewer asked if the song would appear on his next album. Said the ailing, 82-year-old Cohen, “God willing.”
It seems to have been his will. “Listen to the Hummingbird” is the final track on Cohen’s posthumous new album, “Thanks for the Dance,” which will be released on Friday. The raw audio of that passage from the news conference was tracked down by Adam Cohen and the engineer Michael Chaves, who mixed out the buzzing tone of the room’s halogen lights and composed around it a gentle, unobtrusive piano melody. Adam had already done the same for many of the other vocal takes and half-finished songs his father left behind.
The vocals that make up the other eight songs on “Thanks for the Dance” were all recorded during the “You Want It Darker” sessions, though Adam does not believe they should be considered “discarded songs or B sides.”