52 albums – week 25

Chelsea Hotel # 2 – Leonard Cohen
Song Of Bernadette – Aaron Neville & Linda Ronstadt
Famous Blue Raincoat – Jennifer Warnes
Tower Of Song – Robert Forster
The Future – Leonard Cohen
Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On  -David McComb & Adam Peters (The Triffids)
Chelsea Hotel – Lloyd Cole
Joan Of Arc – Jennifer Warnes
First We Take Manhattan – R.E.M
I Can’t Forget – The Pixies
Song Of Bernadette – Jennifer Warnes
Hallelujah – John Cale
Come So Far For Beauty – Jennifer Warnes

Bahh! Yet another maudlin collection of gloomy songs!
You know a cursory glance at this journal would leave you with the impression that whoever was in charge of programming (wait, that would be me) must be “Misery’s long-lost Child”. In an effort to raise the tone I’ve collared my son Zeke into selecting next weeks assortment of tracks, so Stick Around For Joy as the SugarCubes Album says.

Everyone knows Leonard Cohen and just about everyone has covered at least one of his songs at some point in their career. So I thought rather than the obvious choices I’d gather together a collection of my favorite covers.
I’ve always thought that while Mr Cohen writes beautiful songs, he rarely does them justice himself. Having said that apparently his 2010 Australian tour was something special; Robert Forster gave the concert a glowing review in his book  The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll which is eminently readable and highly recommended.
Chelsea Hotel opens proceedings. I like this version particularly much! It’s slower and more deliberate than I remember. The guitar is right up there in the very front of the mix. It’s almost like it could be sitting on the sofa right next to you, as side by side you both listen to Leonard, ‘way over there in the minor key’ 🙂 I like that mental image.
Lloyd Cole’s version a little later on in the proceedings is equally nice. It rolls along with a quicker tempo and a jaunty swagger in its stride.
Not wanting to stop at one good thing I have also included two versions of Song Of Bernadette that I cannot split. I love Aaron Neville & Linda Ronstadt’s  interpretation. Not only does Aaron capture the yearning in that beautiful poetry. His interpretation seems more sensual and feminine than Linda’s, despite the obvious gender disparity. Then it is her turn to step up and share the vocals and we are taken in a different direction as she tilts the emphasis towards the quiet strength of Bernadette. Her strong voice beautifully capturing the certitude and conviction of Bernadette’s faith.
Six of the songs I’ve picked are culled from an album called I’m Your Fan. On that L.P there were two versions of The Tower Of Song. Now much as I put Nick Caves music right up there on an extraordinarily tall pedestal, he does a dismal job with this song. So i have gone with Robert Forster’s version instead (Yes the same one and alongside the sorely missed Grant McLennan, the nucleus of The Go-Betweens).
Then we come to John Cale’s rendition of Hallelujah. For me this is the definitive interpretation. When I first moved to Sydney I shared a run down terrace in Redfern with Helen and Paul who were both a few years older and a good deal more worldly than me. Paul got us tickets to see John Cale at The Capitol Theatre in Chinatown. This was before it was renovated, so it’s crumbling baroque auditorium lent a certain savior-faire to the evening. I can’t remember the order but one half of the concert was John Cale on Piano and the other a single spotlight and his Guitar. The version of Hallelujah he put to wax on Music For A New Society is predominately strings but I am almost sure that he performed it that night on a black Grand Piano. If I do the maths, 1983 would have been the first time I heard Hallelujah and what a privilege for my first time to have been both ‘live’ and in the sympathetic hands of the great John Cale. This and another song from that evening, the Chinese Envoy:

have stayed with me ever since.
Unfortunately Jeff Buckley’s supermegamultiplatinium recording is the one people associate with Hallelujah but if you want my opinion (and that’s all this journal is, an overfilled cup of ‘opinion’) it is a SHOCKER. If I ran the world it would be unceremoniously deleted from every store, database and catalog in existence. Whilst I am a fan of Jeff Buckley’s and there are albums of his on our shelves, he murders this song with vocal hieroglyphics histrionics that would make Michael Bolton blush. If you want more of John Cale however, This stream is worth a look.

I’ve only included two Leonard Cohen originals. The afore-mentioned Chelsea Hotel and The Future. The later is taken from the album of the same name. It’s a minor one in his back catalogue and there is not much else on the record to recommend it but I do like the title song.
To bring it to a close I’ve gone with Jennifer Warnes again, singing I’ve Come So Far For Beauty. It struck me as a neat summation of Leonard Cohen’s body of work, a little haiku of sorts for his life.

‘mes amis au revoir.’

addit: A few revisions to this post. My unreliable memory has caught me out so I’ll have to update the passages pertaining to Cale & Cohen. The Chinese Envoy was released on Music for a New Society. While Cale’s version of Hallelujah wasn’t. It didn’t appear till 1991’s tribute album, I’m Your Fan. I did see John Cale again around 1992 so maybe it was that concert I’m remembering. Michael also sent me this great little photo he took of the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel. Sure there are sharper pictures out there but since a large part of this journal has been directed his way, I wanted to include it.

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