Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas

Sometimes I lay in bed at night, restless and fatigued. I close my eyes and think of a lullaby to unshackle my worried mind and settle my subconscious. For some reason, my internal narration always takes on the voice of Leonard Cohen. I can imagine him sitting next to my bed, slightly slumped close to my pillow on a rickety chair, breathing hot words of consolation. Each sentence curling off his tongue with articulated precision hiding in the soft curls lining my pillow. Leonard Cohen’s “Old Ideas” rekindled my affection for his wisdom and sultry sound.

Typically, Leonard Cohen is synonymous with “depressing” songs. Although I can see how that perception is valid, based on his spoken word style and slow delivery, I would counter that his music is more reflective than depressing. He touches on various topics, including depression, however I feel his retrospectives are reassuring and relatively uplifting. Cohen always finds a balance between two conflicting emotions and marries them into one cohesive recollection of his experiences.

The first track “Going Home” seamlessly stitches the themes of new beginnings and enlightenment of accepting the intrusion of death with a peaceful demeanor. The violin accompaniments sound strikingly similar to traditional graduation melodies suggesting both youth and progression. The third person perspective seems like an out of body or near-death experience where every memory and conversation that you’ve ever been apart of floods your mind. Fleeting encounters are elucidated with wisdom and reflection. Everything makes sense and each burden is eradicated. Cohen imagines death as a form of happiness where you no longer have to wear your personas and costumes. He is at peace with the freedom death provides from shallow vanities and pain. Even Cohen’s venture into the taboo topic of accepting death somehow advocates individual harmony and happiness.

One of the best examples of Cohen’s feelings of ambivalence is captured in “Crazy to Love You.” It is a cross between sorrow and humour. The contrast is between losing love and reflecting upon this experience from an older and refined perspective and yet still holding onto an adolescent infatuation with the girl with an undone blouse and braids. There is also a humour in the notion of holding onto a miss-matched relationship and “souvenir heartaches” because those hardships in youth will make for good stories in senility.

The synthesized organ in “Different Sides” is the essential background interlude from an 80’s melodrama. Throughout the song, there is discord within a romantic relationship mainly based on a disjunction between the personality of a free spirited beatnik and an uptight conventionalist. Although it is suggested these differences break the relationship apart, the song’s structure highlights how differences can also be complementary. Cohen’s raspy words are softened by the background singer’s supple and iridescent echoes. The song’s explicit story of conflicting notions of love becomes optimistic when you notice the subtle suggestions that difference joins people.

I already have a waiting list of people who want to borrow this album. If you don’t want to wait in line I suggest you drop by your local record store. It’s worth every penny.

Connie Bio

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