Hey, folks. I just wanted to let my steady readers know that Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, which was the first of my Counting Down books and was released on hardcover back in 2013, is going to be available in paperback starting December 6. It’s the first of my books to go that route, so I’m really excited. What that means is that, hopefully, you’ll be able to pick it up in a bookstore near you. Barring that, you can order it online at a much reduced price from the hard cover. The Kindle price also came way down as well if you have a reader.
In honor of the paperback, I’ll be doing a few Dylan-related posts in the upcoming days, so look for that. Then I’ll get back to the Paul McCartney Retro Review series.
The link to the paperback is below. Thanks, and have a good one, everybody.
I thought I’d throw this out to my blog readers, who have been wonderful since the very beginning about supporting my writing. I’ve recently begun gathering a few clients who have employed me for editing and ghostwriting services. While my own writing will always be a main part of my own work life, I’d like to expand these services moving forward. So if you, or someone you know, might be in need of editing, ghostwriting, or some other service related to the written word, please keep me in mind. And this can relate to anything from a novel to a college essay to a dating profile to important work e-mails. Please contact me at my personal e-mail address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much, and keep reading.
It’s sad, yet somehow apropos, that the death of Leonard Cohen will be buried somewhat in the news cycle by the post-election tumult. After all, his music was largely unknown to the casual music fan. Some might have heard Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” (or even John Cale’s take of the song on Shrek), but most of the hauntingly eloquent work Cohen produced from the past half-century remains mostly obscure to the wider world.
Which matters not a whit, because the impact his music had on those who knew and loved it is incalculable. It usually only takes hearing a few songs of Cohen’s before one can understand that he was operating largely on a different level. And it’s not just the literary background, although there’s that too. (Listen to the mercurial, mesmerizing flow of the words of “Alexandra Leaving” for a good example of how he brought those talents to bear in his music.) It’s the way he could make connections between love and sex and spirituality and politics and psychology and mortality that then seemed self-evident to us once he illuminated them in his lyrics.
But it’s more than that still. In David Remnick’s recent profile of Cohen in the New Yorker, the famously media-shy Bob Dylan came forth to praise the melodies of Leonard’s songs. I think even Cohen himself gave them short shrift for a while after his brilliant 1967 debut album Songs Of Leonard Cohen, making the next few releases seem impressive but somewhat cold. That’s why I think his collaboration with Phil Spector on 1977’s Death Of A Ladies Man, often derided by critics as bombastic, actually marked a positive turning point in his career, because thenceforth soulful, heartfelt hooks always grounded his brilliant insights.
And then there is that final trilogy of albums, forced on Cohen because of financial straits that were no fault of his own, yet now essential listening for a complete appreciation of his legacy. His low notes now well below Hell’s cellar, he sounds on these albums like an oracle roused from his cave, with a twinkle in his eye and wounds in his heart so long unhealed they’ve become his closest companions. On “Going Home,” a typically witty, moving entry from this era, he speaks of wanting to write “a love song/An anthem of forgiving/A manual for living/With defeat.” False modesty this, because you could fill four or five playlists with Cohen songs that fill those qualifications without having to repeat a track.
Speaking of false modesty, Cohen wrote in “Tower Of Song” about residing a hundred floors below Hank Williams in that exalted edifice. After this annus horribilis for music fans, that tower seems to be getting more and more crowded with legends gone too soon. But Leonard warned us way back on his very first release that loves and lives are fleeting, so it’s best to take it in stride:
“You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me
It’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea
But let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye”
Good advice. But for those of us who knew Leonard Cohen’s music well, composing ourselves may take a while.
My initial thought upon hearing of David Bowie’s death was “How did he do that?” As in, how, in this day and age of intense media scrutiny and social media ubiquity did he manage to keep the secret of his illness for eighteen months so that he could shuffle off with his dignity intact?
Then again, “How did he do that?” is a question that I, and clearly many others based on the outpouring of emotion unleashed all over the media and internet today, asked many times throughout his career. How did he manage to make what were essentially singer-songwriter albums in the early 70’s sound so unusual and otherworldly? How, when other artists of his generation were tripping over the disco era at the end of the decade and releasing music that today sounds sadly dated, did he record three albums which would seem forward-looking even if they were released tomorrow? How, in the early 80’s as so many of his classic rock brethren stumbled through the MTV airwaves like clumsy dinosaurs, did he dance away to number one with such effortless grace?
I’ve always thought that Bowie’s career decline from the mid-80’s on came because the music scene had become too fragmented; how can you “push their backs against the grain”, as he stated in one of the songs from his recently-released swan song Blackstar, if the grain just keeps giving way and revealing infinite wastelands behind it? His occasional releases from that point on had their moments, but the standard set by his incredible run of about fifteen years of brilliance just wouldn’t capitulate and cease towering so that the newer music could get a fair shake.
Like so many of my other favorite artists did, albeit with less whiplash gusto and fearlessness, Bowie refused to settle into any kind of rut for too long, pushing his audiences into new musical territories even if they weren’t ready to make the move. That Blackstar, with its uncompromising lyrics and restless soundscapes, continued that trend makes it a fitting farewell.
Like many of you, I will be pulling out the old albums, digging up forgotten tracks on YouTube and Spotify (there’s a link to “Absolute Beginners” below as an example), and even finding clips of some of his fun late-period acting appearances (as the ultimate fashion arbiter in Zoolander, taking the piss out of Ricky Gervais in Extras, exuding irresistible strangeness as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige.) There will be a lot of memorial articles that will concentrate heavily on the different personas and identities that he inhabited throughout his career; to me, these are fun ephemera attached to a music catalog that’s second to none.
Ultimately David Bowie was too elusive for tributes and such; the guy put a lot of effort into obscuring his true self, and he won that game by a rout in the end. My groping words in this post only prove this point. Best to keep it simple, as his record company did in an e-mail they sent out to journalists this morning: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of David Bowie. It was an honor and a privilege to release his music to the world.” It’s an ongoing honor and privilege to hear it as well.
Sorry, CK fans, but some deadlines and work on the Stones book (coming Summer 2015 if you’re wondering) caught up with me next week. That’s the reason there were no Tuesday Touts of Wednesday Weeper of the Week, and there won’t be a Retro Review today. The plan is to catch up and get back on schedule next week, so I apologize for the delay, and I’ll talk to you in a few.
While I’ve caught up on just about everything, I still have a ton of new music piling up that I haven’t listened to yet. So I need a bit more time to get a good bunch of touts for you. But stay tuned tomorrow as we kick off a new feature: The Wednesday Weeper of the Week. Come back and see what it’s all about and I think you’ll enjoy it. Until then, have a good one.
Hello all. I know it’s been a while, but I have a good excuse, better than just flat-out laziness. After getting married in July, my wife and I have been renovating our house and tried to do it all before a family party that we had at the house last weekend. As anyone who’s done this kind of thing knows, it’s mass chaos, and the fact that we squeezed most of it into a small window made it even more of a circus. So anything other than my assigned writing was put on the back burner for the most part.
The good news is that I’m coming out of it now and should have time to rev the blog back up again, which I’m going to try and do on Monday with the start of another Retro Review series. That should be fun. I’m also going to get the Tuesday Touts up and going again and I have a fun idea for some posts on Wednesdays that you guys and gals will enjoy. So most weeks we could be talking about four posts per week, which is my way of thanking you folks that have stuck with me since the beginning.
In other news, I am participating in a really special event this weekend which maybe some of you in the Jersey area can check out. It’s called the Fifty Years Forum and it’s being presented by the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, which is a mass assemblage of Springsteen memorabilia. The forum, which takes place at Wilson Hall on the campus of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, will feature panel discussions on various aspects of Springsteen’s work. Yours truly is a panelist for a 10 AM ET panel on Springsteen’s finest songs (can’t imagine why they chose me for that one.) The thing runs from about 9:30AM to 3:30 PM and seats are still available for those who want to walk up. It should be a lot of fun.
I’d also like to thank those of you who have purchased my books and e-books; much appreciated. If you have the time and inclination and want to go the extra mile to help me out, a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the site of your choosing would be really helpful.
So I hope to talk to you all again next week. Thanks for populating the site in the meantime even when no new content was forthcoming. I promise that will all be changing soon.