leonard cohen

leonard cohen afterworld

when i was about fifteen, i fell for the line “give me a leonard cohen afterworld, so i can sigh eternally” in nirvana’s “pennyroyal tea“. i asked pa whether he had any leonard cohen albums – he said no but i did find a best of leonard cohen cassette tape in his shelves. and oh. i played it over and over. on a class trip i made my friends listen to it on a walkman. i used the line “we are ugly but we have the music” in an english exam in school. i made friends with so many lines in leonard cohen’s songs. so much so that when someone says “new york is cold”, i can’t help saying “but i like where i’m living“. i learned “hey, that’s no way to say goodbye” on the ukulele with one friend and have sung it with many others since. i read beautiful losers and book of longing, not always following but always inspired. and inspired by the places he went, too. turning from literature to music in his thirties, living in a monastry in his sixties, going on tour again in his seventies.

considering how long he’d been around for, i never thought i’d be able to see leonard cohen play anywhere. until i did. once on my own in stockholm in 2008. i cried and laughed, especially during “tower of song” (you’ll hear some of the wonderful audience giggles, as well as a leonard cohen secret, in this video). and shaking with excitement and surprise at hearing “suzanne” and “avalanche” and “take this waltz” and “the partisan” and “heart with no companion” and “famous blue raincoat” and basically almost every song that means the world to me (look, what a setlist!). leonard cohen also charmingly spoke of walking through stockholm earlier in the day and finding that everyone was taller and more handsome than himself. and in that moment, it was difficult to believe anyone could be. and then i saw him again, with my parents, in berlin in 2010, where he even sang “chelsea hotel” and “lover lover lover” and literally skipped across the stage with such delight that we were all love.

it is awfully sad to lose leonard cohen. 2016, you really have gone too far. but there is so much to remember, to read, to look at, and to listen to. like this lovely bittersweet two pints story on leonard cohen by roddy doyle, this picture of amanda palmer, and these words by first aid kit. like leonard cohen’s last album you want it darker, which is a fine companion for getting lost and finding cracks where light gets in.

we are lonely but we have the music ♥



dry the river : alarms in the heart

the second album, finally. and all our longing lights up and turns to smiles that blend into each other and grow teeth. alarms in the heart is so epic it makes you feel taller. even if you’re walking down to the commuter train in a yellow raincoat that is useless and silly because the rain stopped as soon as you left the house.


i found dry the river by accident. i went to the gig to see marques toliver (again) but that one line “we danced to the shipping forecast” was all they needed to win me over. and they have won other people over, too, long before their magnificent debut album shallow bed had even been released. shallow bed combines astronomy, greek myths, biblical imagery, animal metaphors, surreal places, folk and some hardcore and postpunk elements. or as their drummer jon warren once said to me, “dry the river is an old folk five-piece disaster from the uk.” they also do brilliant acoustic versions and surprising covers. as their violinist will harvey is pursuing other adventures, dry the river is now a four-piece (peter liddle, matt taylor, scott miller and jon warren) but still a wonderful disaster.

alarms in the heart is alive with complex and astonishing melodies, fiercer instruments,  excellent lyrics and nerve-wreckingly beautiful intonation. peter liddle still draws on religious imagery and creates fairytale wildernesses but darkness seems to approach through more everyday angles. like seeing someone around the neighbourhood and wondering how they are. and then suddenly “half the town are underground / and half are half way there.” or writing a letter to articulate thoughts and then this: “the garden’s overgrown! [. . .] and now it’s just a field behind the house / where the creepers kind of swallow the light. / where you wait for a talking snake, / for a calendar date‒/ something you can rely on.” and, look, peter liddle’s med school past crept in, as well, providing a intriguingly grim introduction for a library longing.

there is a lovely and effortless reference to leonard cohen that might make you cry, a naked moment at the end of “rollerskate” that might make you stop dead with a slow smile, childhood memories, alienation, faintly disappointed dresses, fights, the pixies, saint john of the cross, a hidden track with bed sheet ghosts in driveway snow and all those radiant lines. such as “like a moth goes sad and soft in the streetlight’s umbilical glow / it was love that laid us low” and “it’s peace i desire but i can’t put the fire out or i’d be in darkness again.” and more in “gethesmane” than i can reasonably quote here.

in short, the second album, like the first one, is a treat. and, if i’m reading the tarot cards on the album cover right, the unexpected losses of the past will, through sudden change of direction in the present, lead to a future where a new creative cycle begins ‒ in other words, from here on, treats galore. and, judging from past gigs, all that is left to say now is go see them live if you can. awoo!

a brave account of the failures and growth processes involved in making alarms in the heart (from contrived structures to singing into voice memoes to each other in london to the recording period in iceland).