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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cohen

Every year on his birthday I listen exclusively to Leonard Cohen. Inevitably something else sneaks in from somewhere, but it's still one hell of an immersion experience. Since this is the first year I've had a blog on Leonard's birthday, it seems only right to celebrate by sharing what might be my favorite song of his. I say might be because, of course, the competition is pretty stiff.

Leonard Cohen - "Famous Blue Raincoat"

Basically, no one else can write like this. This is one of Leonard's greatest compositions, a story song (a veritable short-story, actually) in the form of a letter that sacrifices nothing. Not poetics or imagery, not melody, nothing. I especially love the way he reveals the details of the story so carefully, accomplishing as much with what's hinted at as with what's shown. Case in point: the third verse, where he begrudgingly admits "I'm glad you stood in my way". In my mind, it's crystal clear what his brother stood in the way of, but part of the beauty of this story is that each listener gets to fill in the details themselves.

And don't ever let anyone tell you Leonard Cohen doesn't have a beautiful voice. I realize this is coming from the distinct perspective of someone who considers Bob Dylan and Corin Tucker to be two of the greatest singers ever, but just listen to the way Leonard sings this. This vocal, in itself, is poetry.

This stunning, dare I say haunting song comes from Leonard's third album, 1971's Songs Of Love And Hate. There's no excuse for not at least giving this masterpiece a try.

Happy birthday, Mr. Cohen. Thank you.

Leonard Cohen's Website

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