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Photo: Gorupdebesanez.
The singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.  

I never knew much about poet/composer Leonard Cohen, but after hearing a radio interview with the producer of a new tribute album — and buying the album — I wanted to learn more.

First let me say a few words about an album in which an Iggy Pop version of a Leonard Cohen song is featured alongside songs sung by the likes of Norah Jones, James Taylor, and Mavis Staples. The way Sarah McLachlan’s voice cracks on “It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah” — oh, wow — gets me every time. There’s an uncharacteristically deep register for James Taylor on “Coming Back to You.” And who wouldn’t love the passionate, aging voice of Mavis Staples on “If it Be Your Will”?

“If it be your will
“That I speak no more
“And my voice be still
“As it was before
“I shall speak no more
“I shall abide until
“I am spoken for
“If it be your will”

I just can’t sing enough praise for this album. The instrumental accompaniments, usually led by guitarist Bill Frisell, are themselves worth the price of admission. I would love to know what instrument is making a sound like Bolivian panpipes. Haunting.

Longtime fans of Leonard Cohen may be as in the dark about the meaning of his lyrics as I am, but I’m sure they all know phrases that stun them without their knowing why. The album was produced by Larry Klein for Blue Note. I am still retro enough to have bought a CD, but if you stream any of the songs, please let me know your reactions.

Now for a bit of Wikipedia background on the artist. There’s even a Warhol connection. Who knew?

“Leonard Norman Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death, and romantic relationships. …

“Cohen pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and early 1960s, and did not begin a music career until 1967. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was followed by three more albums of folk musicSongs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). His 1977 record Death of a Ladies’ Man, co-written and produced by Phil Spector, was a move away from Cohen’s previous minimalist sound. …

“Leonard Norman Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Westmount, Quebec, on September 21, 1934. His Lithuanian mother, Marsha (‘Masha’) Klonitsky (1905–1978), emigrated to Canada in 1927 and was the daughter of Talmudic writer and rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline. His paternal grandfather, whose family had moved from Poland to Canada, was Canadian Jewish Congress founding president Lyon Cohen. His parents gave him the Jewish name Eliezer, which means ‘God helps.’ His father, clothing store owner Nathan Bernard Cohen (1891–1944), died when Cohen was nine years old. The family attended Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, to which Cohen retained connections for the rest of his life. On the topic of being a kohen, he said in 1967, ‘I had a very Messianic childhood. I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.’ …

“In 1967, disappointed with his lack of success as a writer, Cohen moved to the United States to pursue a career as a folk music singer–songwriter. During the 1960s, he was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol‘s ‘Factory’ crowd. Warhol speculated that Cohen had spent time listening to Nico in clubs and that this had influenced his musical style.

“His song ‘Suzanne‘ became a hit for Judy Collins (who subsequently recorded a number of Cohen’s other songs), and was for many years his most recorded song. Collins recalls that when she first met him, he said he could not sing or play the guitar, nor did he think ‘Suzanne’ was even a song:

‘And then he played me “Suzanne”  … I said, “Leonard, you must come with me to this big fundraiser I’m doing” … Jimi Hendrix was on it. He’d never sung [in front of a large audience] before then. He got out on stage and started singing. Everybody was going crazy—they loved it. And he stopped about halfway through and walked off the stage. Everybody went nuts. … They demanded that he come back. And I demanded; I said, “I’ll go out with you.” So we went out, and we sang it. And of course, that was the beginning.’

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My friend Bob says there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. So I headed out at lunch yesterday all bundled up to take some pictures.

The following is to be sung to the tune of “When You Walk through a Storm.”

When you walk in the cold
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid
You will freeze.

At the end of your walk
There’s a golden …

I think I’m stuck. Maybe songwriter Will McM will dig me out.

While I’m on the subject, here’s a 1980s attempt at a song about cold, to be sung to the tune of “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.” Suzanne’s elementary school music teacher actually used it in class.

What is the reason
That we’re all freezin’
And the birdbath is filled with ice?
Why does my Omni
Go sideways down the street?
Why do my children wear
Baggies on their feet?
What normal fellow
Whose brains aren’t Jello
Would keep fighting this cold war?
What is the reason
That we’re all freezin’
And what did we move here for?

Believe it or not, I kind of like the cold. And I love getting out and taking pictures. Yesterday I noticed a yellow Fort Point Arts sign on an old chain link fence. Then I noticed the butterflies.

Read about Claudia Ravaschiere and Mike Moss’s installation, Flutter, here.

butterfly-art-fort-point

public-art-fort-point

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The Israeli who was once a successful animator but turned to singing, Asaf Avidan, is playing at the Somerville Theatre tonight. James Reed wrote about him at the Boston Globe, and I was intrigued enough to check out his latest video. See the two little boys, below. Avidan is the one who gives them a large crystal when they are busking on toy instruments.

Reed writes,  “To fall in love merely with Asaf Avidan’s voice, which is easy to do, would be missing the bigger picture. … It’s the voice of resignation and resilience, beautiful but often brutal, and it just so happens that Avidan’s high timbre gives his performances an androgynous allure that leaves you hanging on every word.

“That much is true. But also at play is the fact that Avidan, a 32-year-old singer-songwriter with a substantial following in Europe and his native Israel, is particularly adept at deconstructing heartache in the most poetic of terms. That’s evident on ‘Different Pulses,’ his soulful latest album.”

The singer says, “The way I sing came from the reason I started singing. I was a successful animator up until about 2006, and because this reason to sing the blues [after a breakup] was so sudden in my life and so painful, I really needed for it to be physically difficult. I would find myself going higher on the scales, making it more difficult and screamy. I think that level of emotion brought me to these high scales, and that’s what people hear now. They hear the emotion.” More at the Globe.

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Someone who used to know her well alerted me to the story of the Mystery Grammy Nominee. At 51 and without a record label, she has managed to get a remarkable burst of attention for her music.

Writes Christopher Morris at Variety, “Linda Chorney used the Recording Academy’s Grammy 365 website to connect with voters.

“Armed only with a computer and some chutzpah, a longshot snuck through the back door and into the Grammy Awards competition this year.
The resourceful Linda Chorney secured a Grammy nomination in the category of Americana album for her self-produced, self-released ‘Emotional Jukebox’ by taking her mission directly to voters, employing the peer-to-peer function of the Recording Academy’s own site for members, Grammy 365.

“Many in the tight-knit Americana community have reacted quizzically, and sometimes vehemently, to Chorney’s nomination, which trumped several well-known artists in the genre. The virtually unknown Sea Bright, N.J.-based musician will face off on Feb. 12 against a field of nominees that has collectively garnered a total of 23 Grammys. And while some question her methods, her online campaign falls completely within the academy’s parameters for acceptable self-promotion.” Read more.

There are several videos on YouTube. What do you think? Leave a comment.

Follow us on twitter @LunaStellaBlog1.

Update: Chorney didn’t win a Grammy, but she has been invited to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park before an April 2012 Red Sox game, another item on her “bucket list.”

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