TALES OF LEONARD THE BARD – LEONARD COHEN: POSTHUMOUS ALBUM AND CONFERENCE

Leonard Cohen, singer-songwriter, poet, novelist and cultural icon, exited the material world on 7 November 2016, at the age of 82. However, the famous Canadian’s spirit is still very much with us, as now appears with the release of the posthumous album Thanks For The Dance (2019), which brings the tally of Cohen studio albums up to 15 and follows on seamlessly from the last album released in his lifetime, the acclaimed You Want It Darker from 2016.

The circumstances of the new album’s making are chronicled on the site of the Leonard Cohen Chair (Cátedra Leonard Cohen), the permanent research unit founded in 2011 at the University of Oviedo, in the region of Asturias in northern Spain. We learn how Leonard Cohen worked with his son Adam on this final album knowing he would almost certainly not live to see it released, at:

https://www.unioviedo.es/leonardcohen/index.php/2019/07/02/articulos-y-noticias/

(with a collection of links in Spanish and English),

The final product consists of nine songs, eight with words by Cohen père and music by Cohen fils and one (the title track) composed by Leonard jointly with long-term associate Anjani Thomas. The musical arrangements on this album are particularly haunting, with instrumentation of an ancient timbre – including jew’s harp, ukelele, mandolin and, performed by virtuoso Javier Mas, the Spanish lute of Arabo-Andalusian origins – as well as background vocals from an array of collaborators including  Cohen stalwart Jennifer Warnes. The sound recalls the timelessly universal musical effects to be found on two of Cohen’s finest albums, Recent Songs from 1979 and 1984’s Various Positions. The lyrics are classic Cohen, ambivalent glimpses into the dark night of the soul traversed by flashes of redemption. Enigmatic compositions like Happens to the Heart or The Night of Santiago will long keep Cohen exegetes at work. Light and darkness, destruction and creation, play out their patterns in these songs: in the tellingly titled It’s Torn, the bard declaims: ‘Come gather the pieces / All scattered and lost / The lie in what’s holy / The light in what’s not’.

Now, hard on the heels of the new album comes news of a conference, to be organised by the Oviedo centre from 15 to 17 April 2020, under the banner: ‘Oppressed by the Figures of Beauty:  International Conference on Leonard Cohen and on the Work of Singer-Songwriters’ [Oprimidos por las formas de la belleza: Congreso Internacional sobre Leonard Cohen y La Canción de Autor] (the  quotation is from Cohen’s song of 1974, Chelsea Hotel No 2). Details are at:

https://www.unioviedo.es/leonardcohen/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/CFP-Congreso-sobre-Leonard-Cohen-y-la-canción-de-autor.-ENGLISH.pdf and

https://www.unioviedo.es/leonardcohen/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/CFP-Congreso-sobre-Leonard-Cohen-y-la-canción-de-autor.-Oprimidos-por-las-formas-de-la-belleza.-ESPAÑOL.pdf

This international event, which will be conducted in English and Spanish, promises to bring appreciation of Leonard Cohen’s legacy to new heights, as the healing power of poetry and music continues to manifest in the voice of the composer of Hallelujah, the singer gifted with a golden voice who in that song of 1984 famously affirmed: ‘I’ll stand before the lord of song / With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah’. With a remarkable new album and a major Cohen event looming, that hallelujah still resounds beyond the grave.

 

**

Note added 30 July 2020:

The Oviedo conference was unfortunately cancelled, for reasons it would be superfluous to explain. Yet Cohen’s hallelujah still reverberates, the fire of song still burns, and the event may yet finally happen ..

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: