LGS's Cultural Tour 1 : Leonard Cohen's "Villanelle for Our Time"

on Sunday, October 22, 2006

Squirrels dance and make noises all the time. On those tissue-thin credentials, the Lone Grey Squirrel bases his right to give a tour of the cultural world and to throw in his views and comments. Critics nit-pick while squirrels nut-pick. Close enough.

Today, I am in a funk (funk n. a state of severe depression). I really cannot tell you if that I am in this funk because I have been listening to my new CD, "Dear Heather" by Leonard Cohen or that I was already in the funk which is why I went to buy a Leonard Cohen CD. Anyway, I have decided that a good funk and a Leonard Cohen CD were made for each other.

I generally enjoy Canadian artists. I find most of them refreshingly uncompromising about not selling out their art to commercialisation, at least that is the impression I get. I have enjoyed the "angry" young women like Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavine. I have actually seen the former in a street concert in Ottawa just before she became an international star. I have enjoyed the social crusaders like Bruce Cockburn as well as the fun-loving but strange bands like Crash Test Dummies and Barenaked Ladies (the latter, I was disappointed to learn is an all male group). There are many more and I will revisit them again.

For me though, two giants stand out because of their soul-baring lyrics. When you hear them, you feel as they have given you the most intimate of glimpses into their inner sanctum. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen was born and bred in Montreal. The singer, songwriter, poet and novelist is now in his seventies but has been one of the most influential song writers of the 20th century.

The lyrics of his songs are often emotionally as well as lyrically complex and seem to carry a message at several different levels. Many of the songs deal with the mysteries and complications of women and relationships. Some seem to be almost too painfully real and very potent in their ability to provoke an emotive response.

"Villanelle for Our Time" is a song that seems to appeal for all of us to search ourselves in the hopes that we begin to understand that people are more important than our differences whether they are petty or imagined to be big and is also more important than transient, personal gains. Truly a meassage for a fragmenting world, driven by unbridled capitalism. Enjoy the lyrics below, go out and get your own copy so that you can feel the impact of his complementarily, evocative music. Finally, join me in a long good funk.

words by Frank Scott (1899-1985)
music by Leonard Cohen

From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.

This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.

We loved the easy and the smart,
But now, with keener hand and brain,
We rise to play a greater part.

The lesser loyalties depart,
And neither race nor creed remain
From bitter searching of the heart.

Not Steering by the venal chart
That tricked the mass for private gain,
We rise to play a greater part.

Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.

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