Daily Briefing: Leonard Cohen: Canada’s Poet of Brokenness (January 10,2020)

Leonard Cohen on stage at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland 16 Jul 2008(Source: Flickr)

Dance Me to the End of Love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love.

                                                  — Leonard Cohen

Table Of Contents:
A Posthumous Letter To Leonard Cohen:  Irene Lilienheim Angelico, Canadian Jewish News, Apr. 28, 2017

Searching for Leonard Cohen:  Frances Brent, Tablet, Dec. 11, 2019

Leonard Cohen, Epic and Enigmatic Songwriter, Is Dead at 82: Larry Rohter, New York Times, Nov. 10, 2016

Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness: Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone, Nov. 30, 2016

A Posthumous Letter To Leonard Cohen
Irene Lilienheim Angelico
Canadian Jewish News, Apr. 28, 2017Dear Leonard Cohen,”Dance Me to the End of Love,” you once explained, “is a love song inspired by the Holocaust.” The Nazis often forced string quartets to perform as they sent prisoners to their death. “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,” you said, is about “the beauty there… at the end of existence.”I began this letter before you died. It is about your ancestral home, Vilnius, or Vilna, as the Jews called it, where your family was close to coming to the end of its existence. My husband Abbey and I were invited by the human rights festival, Inconvenient Films, to show our documentary Dark Lullabies, about the effects of the Holocaust on the next generation of Germans and Jews. You had been so warm in your response to the film, I wanted to return your generosity by telling you about the extraordinary event that happened in Vilnius.I was reluctant to accept the invitation to the festival. As you know, Vilnius was part of Poland before World War II. It was called “Jerusalem of the North” because of its vibrant cultural and intellectual Jewish life. But then the Germans and their collaborators created the Vilna Ghetto.It was there that my parents were imprisoned after fleeing Warsaw. It was there my mother audaciously removed her yellow star, risking death, to leave the ghetto and bring back a doctor to set my father’s broken leg. It was there my father’s twin sister Eda, her husband and their sweet little seven-year-old Misia were selected for death. My father never forgave himself for not being able to save them.

I read all about it in my father’s memoir, The Aftermath: a Survivor’s Odyssey through War-torn Europe. Why would I want to go to that monstrous place?

Yet, the trip to Vilnius was also a pilgrimage to my parents’ past. Abbey and I had been invited to the heart of darkness in Germany, and had travelled there several times. Each time we felt we had contributed to opening the hearts and minds of the next generations of Germans to the legacy they, like we, had inherited.

But Lithuania is different from Germany. Today it has a population of just over three million, mostly Roman Catholics and a tiny remnant of the Jewish community. Every year on Lithuania’s Independence Day, the neo-Nazis march in Vilnius from the Cathedral up the city’s central boulevard.

Like the other former Soviet bloc countries, Lithuanians placed all the blame for the Holocaust on the West and on the Soviet Union. Although Lithuanians collaborated in killing over ninety per cent of their own Jewish population, they never acknowledged any responsibility. For 75 years and three generations they said nothing, learned nothing and changed not at all.

Then, last August, the Jewish community organized a march to commemorate the massacre in Moletai, just outside of Vilnius. There, in the summer of 1941, the Lithuanian police rounded up all the Jews of the village, locked them in a synagogue without food or water, then forced them to march to their deaths. They shot over 3,400 Jews into a pit – an atrocity followed by 75 years of silence. … [To read the full article and watch the video of Leonard Cohen singing Dance Me to the End of Love, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Searching for Leonard Cohen
Frances Brent
Tablet, Dec. 11, 2019

“Tell us more about the gypsy pancake” has continued to be the refrain when I recount the story of finding Leonard Cohen in Vilnius, or rather, finding the recently completed life-size sculpture of Leonard Cohen standing under shoots of climbing vines in the cobblestoned courtyard of a Lithuanian restaurant in the old city quarter. The menu there includes selections with evocative names like “peasant’s dream”—a concoction of smoked sausage, potatoes, pickled vegetables, and ajika (an impossible-to-describe spicy sauce)—or “zeppelins,” blimp-shaped dumplings made with savory ground meat wrapped in pockets of shredded potatoes. We ordered the “gypsy pancake,” a plate-size potato pancake topped with sausages, sauerkraut, and a dollop of sour cream. It was a great success.

My husband is director of the YIVO Institute, which was headquartered in Vilnius before the war, and he travels there a few times a year for work. When I learned we would be going to Vilnius in the fall, I did some Googling. I was hoping on this trip to find something new for us to do together. The restored town center is a small architectural gem with neoclassical and Baroque buildings, towers, spires, and red tile roofs interspersed against patches of greenery.

Pastel-colored buildings are painted in sugary yellows, pinks, and blues with brick and stucco as well as some palazzo-styled facades. But the charm is overlaid with lingering reminiscences of the Soviet period and, further back, the German occupation, the Vilna ghetto and the massacre at Ponary, where approximately 100,000 Polish and Lithuanian Jews were shot in the killing pits in the magnificent pine forest. During the last few years my husband’s work has involved directing conservation, digitization, and ultimately curation of an enormous collection of books and documents smuggled out of the original YIVO building by Jewish slave laborers in defiance of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Many of the materials are prized by bibliophiles, like the unbound Midrash Tilim, published in Constantinople in 1512 (the oldest catalogued so far), while some of the archival materials are cursory, sketches or doodles on lined paper, jottings from random meetings that might have happened sometime in the middle of WWI. Taken together, they carry the fingerprints of much beauty and many horrors. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Leonard Cohen, Epic and Enigmatic Songwriter, Is Dead at 82
Larry Rohter
New York Times, Nov. 10, 2016

Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and novelist who abandoned a promising literary career to become one of the foremost songwriters of the contemporary era, died on Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 82.

Mr. Cohen’s record label, Sony Music, confirmed the death on Thursday night but provided no details on the cause.

Adam Cohen, his son and producer, said Mr. Cohen had died “with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records.” His final studio album, “You Want It Darker,” was released in October. “He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor,” his son said.

Over a musical career that spanned nearly five decades, Mr. Cohen wrote songs that addressed — in spare language that could be both oblique and telling — themes of love and faith, despair and exaltation, solitude and connection, war and politics. More than 2,000 recordings of his songs have been made, initially by the folk-pop singers who were his first champions, like Judy Collins and Tim Hardin, and later by performers from across the spectrum of popular music, among them U2, Aretha Franklin, R.E.M., Jeff Buckley, Trisha Yearwood and Elton John.

Mr. Cohen’s best-known song may well be “Hallelujah,” a majestic, meditative ballad infused with both religiosity and earthiness. It was written for a 1984 album that his record company rejected as insufficiently commercial; it was popularized a decade later by Jeff Buckley.

Since then, some 200 artists, from Bob Dylan to Justin Timberlake, have sung or recorded it. A book has been written about it, and it has been featured on the soundtracks of movies and television shows and sung at the Olympics and other public events. At the 2016 Emmy Awards, Tori Kelly sang “Hallelujah” for the annual “In Memoriam” segment recognizing recent deaths.

Asceticism, Not Excess

Mr. Cohen was an unlikely and reluctant pop star, if in fact he ever was one. He was 33 when his first record was released in 1967. He sang in an increasingly gravelly baritone. He played simple chords on acoustic guitar or a cheap keyboard. And he maintained a private, sometime ascetic image at odds with the Dionysian excesses associated with rock.

At some points, he was anything but prolific. He struggled for years to write some of his most celebrated songs, and he recorded just 14 studio albums. Only the first qualified as a gold record in the United States for sales of 500,000 copies.

But Mr. Cohen’s sophisticated, magnificently succinct lyrics, with their meditations on love sacred and profane, were widely admired by other artists and gave him a reputation as, to use the phrase his record company concocted for an advertising campaign in the early 1970s, “the master of erotic despair.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK  Ed.]

Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness
Mikal Gilmore
Rolling Stone, Nov. 30, 2016

Leonard Cohen was the poet of brokenness. The knowledge haunted the first song that drew attention to him, “Suzanne”: “Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water/And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower . . .  /But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open/Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.”

That brokenness was always there. It proved central to his music and to his body of poetry and literature (nobody else ever mastered all three disciplines as well as Cohen), and it marked “Hallelujah,” his most famous vision of transcendence: “It’s not a cry that you hear at night/It’s not somebody who’s seen the light/It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” It followed Cohen into a Zen monastery, where years of contemplation and prayer were sometimes as agonizing as the horror that had driven him there. It even appeared among the final lines of the final song on his final record, released weeks before he died: “It’s over now, the water and the wine/We were broken then, but now we’re borderline.”

But Cohen – who died on November 7th at age 82 – never submitted to the darkness. In a 1992 song, “Anthem,” he sang, “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” “Depression has often been the general background of my daily life,” Cohen told me. “My feeling is that whatever I did was in spite of that, not because of it. It wasn’t the depression that was the engine of my work. . . .  That was just the sea I swam in.”

The work wasn’t always dour. Cohen had a wry humor that made its way into conversation and into the way he sometimes juxtaposed his tombstone voice with arch music. In “Tower of Song,” he sang, “I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”

But the combination of his voice and his songs’ dark themes kept some at a distance. Label head Walter Yetnikoff, explaining why he wouldn’t release 1984’s Various Positions (the album with “Hallelujah”) in America, reportedly said, “Leonard, we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” Others did, though. For nearly 50 years, artists who followed Cohen – Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain among them – found a brave nerve and sympathetic mind. (In “Pennyroyal Tea,” Cobain sang, “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/So I can sigh eternally.”) “There are very, very few people who occupy the ground that Leonard Cohen walks on,” Bono said. “This is our Shelley, this is our Byron.”

Many more sang his music – particularly “Hallelujah,” the song Columbia once wouldn’t release. It took Cohen five years to write, and he pared down dozens of verses to four. The song might have languished in obscurity, had not John Cale recorded it for a 1991 Cohen tribute album. That recording found its way to Jeff Buckley, who reworked the song into the incandescent version that would be used, over and over, in movies, TV shows, 9/11 tributes. There are more than 300 versions, including a famous one by Rufus Wainwright (who fathered one of Cohen’s grandchildren) – so many that even Cohen complained about its ubiquity. “I think it’s a good song,” he said in 2009. “But I think too many people sing it.”… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Leonard Cohen’s Son Releases Posthumous Album of Legendary Singer’s Unfinished Work:  Shiryn Ghermezian, Algemeiner, Nov. 22, 2019 –– The son of the late legendary Jewish singer Leonard Cohen released on Friday a posthumously-completed album of music left unfinished by his father.


How Leonard Cohen Met Janis Joplin: Inside Legendary Chelsea Hotel Encounter Jordan Runtagh, Rolling Stone, Nov. 14, 2016 — In the spring of 1968, the Chelsea Hotel was far more famous than its occupant in Room 424. Leonard Cohen had forsaken his life as an established novelist and poet in Canada for a place in New York City’s flourishing folk singer-songwriter scene, and so far the gamble hadn’t paid off.

Leonard Cohen: 10 of his Best Songs:  Ben Hewitt, Guardian, May 6, 2015 — 1 Suzanne – Too clever for his own good, and certainly far too clever for anybody else’s: that was the sniffy verdict on Leonard Cohen’s brief stint as a highfalutin novelist.


The Super Bowl of Jewish Learning:  Adam Kirsch, WSJ, Jan. 3, 2020 — On the first day of 2020, some 90,000 Orthodox Jews gathered at New Jersey’s MetLife stadium for a celebration more than seven years in the making.


Do Jews Have White Privilege?:  Philip Carl Salzman, Isranet, Jan. 1, 2020 —  In our current “woke” culture, predominant in schools and universities, and on the coasts and in the largest cities, the world is seen as bifurcated, occupied on the one hand by privileged classes, races, and genders, and on the other oppressed classes, races, and genders, all victims of the privileged.

This week’s French-language briefing is titled: Communique: Ce que l’élimination de Soleimani implique pour Israël – (Janvier 10,2020)

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