Now, it never ceases to amaze me how many times you can hear a song without having a clue as to what it’s blatantly about. Despite my absolute love of the craft, lyrics can often just float past my ears without my even noticing them as a whole. Sure, especially witty bits, great turns of phrase, lovely lines of mellifluous alliteration and the like will catch my ear, but for the most part I get caught up in the production and arrangements of songs first. The sounds. All the parts that contribute to the whole. And the vocal and the lyrics are parts of the whole in a lot of respects.
Of course this is a case by case thing. Some music places more stress on the lyrics and others on the music, and Cohen’s songs are most notable for their lyrics. See, he was a published novelist and poet before he became known for his songs. And his mastery of the written word quite possibly eclipses both Bob Dylan’s and Paul Simon’s.
Anyway, I was first struck by how direct Cohen is in addressing suicide in the song “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and then struck again that the subject matter went right over my head ’til reading that article and really listening to those lyrics. Chilling. I apparently need to spend more time with Songs of Love and Hate, an album I do own.
But if you’re not familiar with Leonard Cohen, though, try this one on for size. “Tower of Song” is a gorgeous tune, and you might even recognize his backing band. This is from the Leonard Cohen documentary “I’m Your Man,” which is excellent.