Monday, February 26, 2007

And who shall I say is calling? 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI think my iPod's fucking with me. I’ve been experiencing a lot of eerie synchronicity with the music on my Ipod and the world outside. The other day I was listening to the song Southside on my way to Krav Maga. When I arrived at the studio, the instructor was blasting Southside on the sound system at almost the exact point of my iPod. While I was walking home after class a sign in my neighborhood's bookstore caught my eye. The sign was informing customers about the memorial services of one of the employees who had died unexpectedly. Leonard Cohen's Who by Fire was playing on my iPod at that moment, a morbidly appropriate sound track for the moment. Thank God I don’t smoke (a lot) of meth or have schizophrenia and am not obsessively trying to draw meaning about the significance of these odd coincidences.

Who by Fire
is such a searingly, hauntingly beautiful song, an exquisite memento mori. It sounds like an eerie incantation, a prayer, a dark but beautiful lullaby. Cohen modeled it on the Unetaneh-Tokef, liturgy recited on the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning...

I can just see the members of the congregation chanting the prayer while looking askance at those around them, imagining and pondering everyone's, including their own, fates.

Cohen's lyrics:

And who by fire, who by water,
who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
who in your merry merry month of may,
who by very slow decay,
and who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
and who by avalanche, who by powder,
who for his greed, who for his hunger,
and who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
who in solitude, who in this mirror,
who by his lady's command, who by his own hand,
who in mortal chains, who in power,
and who shall I say is calling?

One of my favorite songs of all time is Cohen's exquisitely depressing Bird on a Wire, which contains some of the what must be the most haunting lyrics ever written:

Like a baby stillborn, or a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out to me

As depressing as the song may be, it also contains some excellent advice.

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, you must not ask for so much.
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, hey, why not ask for more?

Hey indeed, why not ask for more? Why listen to the beggar?

Youtube.com is lousy with Cohen performances. Here is a good one of Who by Fire with a violin solo that will tear your heart out. In fact, if you feel like wallowing in melancholia a good rainy day activity is watching all of the different performances and covers of Cohen's music. (Warning: may cause clinical depression.)

I especially enjoy Rufus Wainwright's campy, Shirley Bassey-esque version of Everybody Knows.

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