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Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968) & Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)

December 21, 2015

Music of the World_Canada

exemplary artwork by sarca @ caughtmegaming

Made in Canada Artist #1: Neil Young

Made in Canada Artists #2 & #3: Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell

[Album 440 & 441/1001]

Admittedly, when I saw the Leonard Cohen video for Closing Time in 1993-ish, I was bemused by its inclusion in the MuchMusic rotation.220px-SongsOfLeonardCohen

Where are the guitars? What’s the deal with the fiddle? Why is he speaking instead of singing/yelling?

Not a fan…until I saw Leonard accept an award (I believe a Juno) for male vocalist of the year.

His acceptance speech? Something along the lines of, “Only in Canada could I win a singing award.”

A little self-deprecation goes a long way.

Especially when it’s the first time you hear an artist speak about him/herself.

.

Conversely, a little self-importance is a major deterrent.220px-Joni_hissing

Especially when it’s the first time you hear an artist speak about him/herself.

Admittedly, in early 2012, I wrote a very favourable review of Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

I was a fan…until I read Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead by Neil Strauss later that year.

In her interview, self-deprecating, Joni Mitchell was not.

And I’ve struggled with her music ever since.

.

From my experience as a coach, the best athletes are the most humble & respectful. 100% of the time, no asterisks.

It’s the wannabes, that second tier, where you run into the attitudes, the egos, the inflated sense of abilities.

The same is true for any & all student musicians I’ve worked with; if you’re great, people know you’re great, you don’t need to tell them yourself.

.

Now it’s possible that Cohen’s self-effacing acceptance speech was the only trace of humility he showed in his career.

It’s equally plausible that Neil Strauss caught Mitchell on an off-day (or a series of off-days) and she has otherwise been the most gracious and humble artist Canada has produced. Or perhaps he was unfairly biased, a hater that was gonna hate as the kids say?

I’ve learned I have my limits when attempting to separate the artist from the art; ignorance is more blissful than hearing artists (Rodney Dangerfield notwithstanding) moan about not getting no respect.

After reading the Strauss book, I’ve consciously avoided reading interviews.

.

But by avoiding further research, aren’t I breaking one of my golden rules (if you don’t like something, try to understand it)?

TouchΓ©.

However, when I dropped my ignorance is bliss strategy and sought out more of Joni Mitchell’s comments, my understanding somehow diminished and I liked these new-found comments even less.

I gather she’s had some major recent health issues and I certainly wish her well, anything less would be decidedly un-Canadian.

Am I being unfair with Joni because her lack of gratitude was decidedly un-Canadian?

.

Maybe I’m just not a Joni Mitchell fan? But I was at one point.

Maybe I’m just a Leonard Cohen fan? But I wasn’t pre-gracious acceptance speech.

All of which is my thinking-out-loud way of wondering why I’ve eagerly listened to Songs of Leonard Cohen on repeat but I’ve struggled to drum up much enthusiasm for The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

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From → 1960s

53 Comments
  1. Zack permalink

    Great post with a lot of great points. My intro to Leonard Cohen was via the movie Natural Born Killers. I thought that was a strange place to find the guy who wrote ‘Hallelujah.’
    I’ve never been into Joni Mitchell, but I think it’s weird that the guy who wrote her bio also worked with Marilyn Manson on his.

    • jprobichaud permalink

      Ha! My intro to Leonard was through that 80s Christian Slater film ‘Pump up the volume’.

    • Thanks Zack – yes, I wouldn’t have thought of Joni & Marilyn as kindred spirits!

  2. Remaining humble after achieving such a degree of success is very admirable. I see why you were drawn to that. Very interesting post!

  3. I wish I could Like this post a hundred times. You make many excellents points!

    I didn’t know Joni was so un-humble like that, at least that once, though to be fair she’s a superlative and highly creative player and knowing that probably lends its own gravity. And I say that as a card-carrying non-fan.

    As for Leonard, he often seems genuinely humble. I had message contact with him through canoe.ca once, where we could submit questions and he’d answer. I asked why they haven’t yet re-printed all of his old books of poetry, like Energy Of Slaves or Flowers For Hitler. He said he wasn’t certain that all of it was worth reprinting. Sigh, oh Leonard. You silly man.

    Anyway, I think with great talent comes an awareness of that talent. It’s all in how the individual chooses to handle it. Sadly, many go the way of ego and it’s gross. Remaining humble when everyone’s kissing your ass, though, that’s gotta be tough!

    My bias makes me want to think Leonard is as cool a cat as he seems to be. πŸ™‚

    • Based on your interactions with him, I’d say he’s as cool a cat as you (and now me too) believe!
      Kudos to you too Aaron for being able to appreciate Joni, if not really enjoy listening.
      Bruce made a great distinction recently about that combination of appreciation of skill & actual listening enjoyment in the best records.
      With this Joni, I think I’m stuck in appreciation mode, but with this Leonard, the appreciation/enjoyment balance is right where it should be!

      • I’ve been following his work (and reading about him, etc) since high school, and he’s always been one of a kind.

        Yeah that’s a good way to put it, I can appreciate Joni but it wouldn’t be something I put on for listening pleasure. I think I’ve said before it always feels like I should like it more but I just haven’t connected yet. Maybe next time.

  4. Joni is definitely a challenging person, it had to be difficult being one of the few women singer songwriters at the time.
    I think we just want our confessional songwriters to be likable, they draw us into their world and make us care and then we realize they are flawed like us. Joni has always seemed aloof and a little arrogant, she is very much the artiste and seems to want to be seen that way.

    • Thanks neil66 – good point about the context, that’s something I have to keep reminding myself when listening.

  5. jprobichaud permalink

    Either it’s a great act or Cohen is almost too humble. I’ve seen him live twice in the last few years and both times, he just seemed so baffled that so many people wanted to see him live. He filled the K-Rock centre and Canadian Tire Place with ease.

    • Can’t believe I missed him in Kingston – next time I won’t be so foolish!

    • When we saw him on his first comeback tour, my lovely wife was fairly early-days pregnant with our son. I like to think that having absorbed the Leonard while in utero is what made our boy the brilliant and cool kid that he is.

      • I think that would certainly be recommended in utero listening!

      • Absolutely. He’s heard a lot of Leonard in the 6 years since his parole, too.

      • Fitting that Leonard is also mentioned on Nirvana’s Pennyroyal tea, from their album In Utero

      • It’s true, but that line always smacked of pretence, to me. I can’t express why, exactly, but there ya go.

      • jprobichaud permalink

        You’re probably right on that count.

  6. I find that applying ‘separate the person from the music’ logic helps in scenarios like the Joni one you describe. That being said, sometimes traces of that aloofness is in the music they create.

    As for the artists here, I dig Cohen a whole lot. Joni not so much. I admire her art, but can’t say I’m that inclined to explore the catalogue further.

    • So far with Mitchell, it’s been diminishing marginal returns for me as I’ve gone deeper in the catalogue (that could of course reverse itself as there’s plenty left unexplored).
      With Cohen, the opposite’s been true thus far!

      • My bias will show here, but we own all of his records and they are all excellent. πŸ˜‰

      • And I now own the Future too πŸ˜€

      • Oh yeah? I wonder how THAT happened!

      • Cohen has so many strong albums. In fact, I don’t think there’s one that I don’t like!

      • I’m listening to him RIGHT NOW!

      • Yes!

      • Indeed! All this talk about Leonard got me playing his stuff. Right now it’s the Essential 2CD set, currently on Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. The kids are asleep, I have a Guiness to hand, we’re just chilling. All is well.

      • Nice. I tip my hat to you, sir.

      • And I raise my pint in return… crap, it’s getting low. Time for another! πŸ˜‰

      • By the way, now it’s Bird On The Wire. It’s just past midnight and we’re floating. Ahhh…

      • I’m in the mood for some Leonard sounds now. Morning off work, so maybe coffee and the Songs Of Leonard Cohen before I board the train for the afternoon’s shift …

      • I think coffee & Cohen would pair very nicely!

      • Coffee goes well with everything!

      • Missed out earlier today, Geoff. Sad face. However! I did get a hit this evening! Happy to report that Songs of Leonard Cohen minus the coffee is still pretty marvellous! Hurrah!

      • All is well indeed!

      • Ah yes. It’s the little moments that all add up!

  7. You weren’t the only one surprised when Closing Time started regular rotation on Much! But it was different and interesting and I’m glad Much, for a decade or so, had some integrity.

    Weirder though was seeing Leonard reading Tower of Song on prime time TV!

    • I haven’t seen much music in years now – are they even showing music videos anymore?
      I’ve heard MTV (MusicTV) is now just a clever name, apparently it’s all contrived reality shows!

      • Jen watches something called M3, I think it’s a third Much station that only does retro?

  8. A while back, at a blogger’s question as to the 5 best albums, I managed 6. One was Songs of Leonard Cohen. A random sample: ” With one hand on the hexagram and one hand on the girl I balance on a wishing well that all men call the world. We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky, and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye.” This is my response when someone asks me why modern song lyrics just don’t cut it. Read all the lyrics to the first album, for example here: http://homepage.usask.ca/~mid422/songsofl.htm (just noticed it’s Canadian.)

    Yes, you can read just the lyrics and appreciate them without the music. But the music is good as well. Great album.

    IIRC, the other 5 were Rush’s Moving Pictures, three by Jethro Tull (Stand Up, Thick as a Brick and Songs from the Wood, and Evensong by The Amazing Blondel. (Get the two-albums-on-one-CD with Fantasia Lindum as well.

    Until you appreciate all 6 of these albums, you have not lived. It’s as simple as that.

    • I have only half lived than Phillip – 2 of the 3 JT and the Amazing Blondel are as of yet unexplored.
      The others are certainly appreciated though!

  9. Sometimes it is better to keep the person separate from the art, eh? If I removed all albums by people who have, at some point in their lives, behaved like arseholes, I would definitely not have a storage problem in the music room. But nor would I be allowed to enter the room, based on my own rule.

    Seasons greetings and best wishes, Geoff.

  10. I relate to not liking Hissing of Summer Lawns all that much. It’s good, but it’s not a must-hear-before-you-die sort of thing. As for Mitchell’s personality, I’ve seen her interviews from the 60s onwards, and I think some of that attitude has to do with the sexism in the industry. Watch her on the Dick Cavett show (available on youtube) and you might change your mind.

    I struggle too, with separating the artist from the art. A friend of mine just ignores the artist altogether. Something along the lines of Roland Barthes famous essay ‘The Death of the Author’, which implies the artist’s opinion is irrelevant towards appreciating the work of art.

    • I’d like to see that interview as I’m afraid your right about how male vs. female attitudes may not be portrayed fairly.
      And maybe the interviewer catches interviewees on a bad day sometimes? Or has a narrative for the article all set and is just looking for quotes to support it.
      In any event, I’m reading Mike Myers’ “Canada” and he absolutely adores her, so a Joni revisit may happen sooner rather than later

      • I’m afraid it’s pretty much the same in all interviews of her in recent years, irrespective of the interviewer. It comes across as unpleasant (criticizing Woodstock when she wrote a song called “Woodstock”?) But from her point of view it also makes sense. She’s also had a tough life (you might know about her long-lost daughter) so, I don’t know, I guess I just accept her as she is. Respect her as a formidable talent and perhaps love her as a complex human being. Maybe I’ve got some of that Canadian niceness I keep hearing about!

      • I’m glad you mentioned the Canadian niceness – as perhaps that’s why I was so startled by her interview.
        I’m probably unfair when fellow Canadians appear less than humble – when they seem less than ‘nice.’
        And admittedly I don’t know much about her beyond her music, I might have a better appreciation if I learned more of her personal story.
        Court & Spark is on the 1001 as well, so I’ve got one more opportunity through this project

      • Court and Spark is way better than Hissing. Perhaps second best only to Blue. And her life’s a book in itself. I appreciate she’s classy enough to not permit anybody to make a movie out of it.

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