Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Dublin Detour around Mr.Cohen

And so to see Mr. Cohen in concert.
There’s a character in the second part of Lady G who lives in his own little room, insulated from the world by his record collection. I knew people like that.

Cohen’s songs I have known since at least 1975 and they have performed a kind of commentary/sound track to all the years in between. I never understood people who thought the songs sad or depressing. True he didn’t write the best jingles when it came to tunes. But I would have characterized his songs as private. One recent commentator called it “music of the solitary heart’.

The allusions in lady G are to Paul Simon and Bob Dylan but it could just as easily have been Cohen’s music.

It comes then as a familiar shock to find myself in a crowded venue, looking at all the ages and shapes milling round after closing time, thinking that for many of these people this was something far more personal than “just another concert”.

Lenny Bruce somewhere says there should be tv screens in hotel rooms so you could advertise your loneliness and find someone in the floors above or below who felt the same way. I wonder how many of the crowded audience had listened as adolescents to those songs, thinking they were alone, wondering what it would be like to find someone who understood, only to discover a hall full of people who had felt the same way.
As the man says: “My lust is not so rare a masterpiece.”

I was lucky to be in Dublin for the Planxty reunion gigs. Same feeling, like heading out of Tashkent in the early morning to Samarkand, genuine Christmas morning excitement balanced on the possibility of a terrible disappointment. And then these four scruffy looking Herberts ambled onto the stage at The Point and proceeded to open up a musical space most of us only dream about. When Liam O’flynn strikes up the pipes, it’s an invitation to something that is so old that it seems preverbal, beyond any kind of public or private distinction. Like the song lyrics and the structures the others add; this is an art that is approaching primary colours, like folk tales, like fairy tales, like the big songs Martin Carthy or Martin Simpson perform, something that allows for the most powerful of emotions to be made public: taken unflinchingly into a public arena where they can be understood and shared.
I saw a documentary where someone described Planxty as “playing chords in the soul” and while I’d usually flinch at such melodrama it strikes me as being a good description.

I’m not sure what this means, or where it’s going, but there are two different art forms here, coming from the same place, but moving out in very different ways. In one the song or the tune belongs to all of us. It’s our heritage, and we go to see the musicians to admire their skill, to enjoy their performance, revere their respect for the material. They make what is ours available to us again. A communal understanding is re circulated outward into community. There are variations on the tune but the tune is common to us all. The other is personal, it says “this is how I felt“ and offers the statement and invites you to acknowledge the familiar in the other. To move from I towards we. But the magic is how one person can do that. Can take responsibility for meaning so very much to so many different people.

The difference between Old English poetry and Frost at Midnight?

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