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So Long, Marianne

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Leonard Cohen was in Toronto recently to accept the Glenn Gould Prize, and I heard his son, Adam, talking on CBC Radio about the event, where he’d also performed a couple of songs in his father’s honor, including this Cohen classic, “So Long, Marianne.”

Though there’s a bit of that insider clubbiness evident in the interview, and an inane comment by host Jian Ghomeshi about the “sexy” nature of Cohen’s songs, there are some wonderful comments about Cohen and his priorities, and Adam Cohen is articulate about some aspects of his father’s artistry. He also does a great job playing his own version of “So Long, Marianne” and one of his own recent songs, “Like a Man.” Beautiful stuff. (Ghomeshi himself is smarter here in his brief introductory essay about Cohen’s receipt of the award and the value of poetry.)

Here’s the entire twenty-six-minute interview with Adam Cohen, and below a few comments that seem especially relevant to my themes here.

On why Cohen doesn’t usually accept awards (he declined the Governor General’s Award, but accepted this one out of respect for Glenn Gould):

“This is a guy who is not interested in self-congratulation, certainly not publicly.”

“Outside of true and genuine humility, not some act, not some artifice, not some social device, outside of an aversion to the self-congratualtory aspect of awards, his interest is art. His focus, his devotion, his life… I mean, what distinguishes him and delineates him from so many others is precisely his commitment to the work and not the vanity, not the social status.”

On Leonard Cohen’s “most unlikely and delicious, triumphant come-back,”… “this return to the public eye in the highest of forms” and the fact that he is “more pertinent than he’s ever been before”:

“We’re living in what is, for the first time, collectively what is regarded as an impoverished time for the arts. I think that there has been a staggering collapse in the social value of what we think of as the arts. My Volvo was broken into, and they didn’t take the twenty-five CDs that were in the front seat. They took my car seat, my kid’s car seat. And what was more upsetting to me was that they didn’t take all these fantastic CDs, and it was such an emblem of the lack of esteem for music and the arts. It’s not downloading; downloading, pirating, has always happened. When I was a kid and you were a kid, we taped stuff off the radio on a cassette. So that’s not the problem. The problem is a dip in the cultural value of music and of the arts. And my father is part of a group in this incredibly splintered culture that we’re in—where there is no more consensus, there is no more Ed Sullivan, there is no more Tower Records. There is just this fractured civilization, everyone looking in their hopeless little screens. And what my father represents is a person standing in this one category that is unanimously regarded as the golden era, the people that produced Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, my father, and several others, and there he is standing on the heap of his work in this sort of apocalyptic, cynical time, and he’s like this bastion of truth. He’s weathered the storm. And I think it’s because of the poverty of the land.”

I don’t accept these last comments completely at face value, and I will take up this issue of fragmentation and its threats and opportunities in another post soon. But today, the melancholy strains of Leonard Cohen (and Adam) seem right to simply honor and celebrate.

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