Fausta's blog

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The official blog of Fausta's Blog Talk Radio show.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday afternoon Leonard Cohen: First we take Manhattan


Jeremayakovka has a tribute to Leonard Cohen, who we both like.

There are a lot of Leonard Cohen's videos on YouTube which can not be embedded. I particularly like First We Take Manhattan with its upbeat tempo. Here are the lyrics:
(Radio announcer's voice)
Was die Attentäter betrifft, die in Berlin den Anschlag auf die Deutsch-Arabische Gesellschaft verübt haben, ist die Polizei einen Schritt weiter gekommen. Die jetzt nach dem Anschlag...

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin
I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I'd really like to live beside you, baby
I love your body and your spirit and your clothes
But you see that line there moving through the station?
I told you, I told you, told you, I was one of those

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win
You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline
How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I don't like your fashion business mister
And I don't like these drugs that keep you thin
I don't like what happened to my sister
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I'd really like to live beside you, baby ...

And I thank you for those items that you sent me
The monkey and the plywood violin
I practiced every night, now I'm ready
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I am guided

Ah remember me, I used to live for music
Remember me, I brought your groceries in
Well it's Father's Day and everybody's wounded
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
What does it mean?

The upbeat tempo belies the threatening words.

But I don't even know what the German words at the beginning mean.

Unlike most pop songs, Cohen's lyrics always have meaning.

Do the lyrics mean that the man singing the song is a killer who went to prison the first time for an attempted act of violence and is now coming back to try again? Why all the references to family, i.e., "I don't like what happened to my sister", "Well it's Father's Day and everybody's wounded"? Who is the "mister" from the fashion business?

Go read Jeremayakovka's post - he's created some verses inspired by LC. While you do that I'll ponder the lyrics of First We Take Manhattan.

Here's two other versions, one by REM, another one by Joe Cocker

I bothered a few people canvassed a few friends and EuropeNews kindly explained that
There was an assassination at the Deutsch-Arabische Gesellschaft Berlin 29. March 1986.
in front of the Deutsch-Arabischen Gesellschaft office in Berlin-Kreuzberg detonated on march 29 an explosive charge. eleven persons were hurt
A terririst attack, twenty-one years ago.

The song was copyrighted on 1987, so it appears that yes, the song refers to an assasin who left prison and is now back on the prowl. Terrorism in our times.


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At 1:29 AM, Blogger Jeremayakovka said...

Leonard Cohen doesn't do literal, agit-prop commentary. Being a solitary dreamer, the "sentenced me to 20 years of boredom" is him speaking in metaphor only.

Manhattan before Berlin: a Montreal- (or Brooklyn-) born Jew's inferiority issues. That's all.

The parts about his sister, the plywood violin, the wounded children ... it's just his sardonic distancing from "the real world" -- all to sustain Leonard's world -- a world we don't just live in -- a world from which we only catch the occasional tune & lyric.

(Since you asked.)

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Fausta said...

Yes, song (or poetry put to music, in Cohen's case) is metaphor, but the lyrics have an underlying theme of revenge that can't be dismissed - metaphorical weapons and wounds included.

Or am I projecting?

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Jeremayakovka said...

The revenge, I think, has more to do with negotiating or rejecting romantic attention that was less than nourishing.

Overtly political lyrics or attitudes chez Leonard are uncommon to rare. He did write (and/or perform) something related to 9/11, and there's the image I scanned about "after America" -- so he recognizes that he lives in the real world. Recognizes better than many "artists."

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Fausta said...

The revenge, I think, has more to do with negotiating or rejecting romantic attention that was less than nourishing.
So the "twenty years of boredom" is about a failed marriage, then?

At the same time, if there is no political subtext, why the German news bit?

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Jeremayakovka said...

You're right: "boredom" and "system" can't be about marriage, more to do with negotiating fame, becoming an "item," etc. The Sex Pistols had an iconic image: two passenger buses with destinations marked "Boredom" and "Nowhere." Leonard never accommodated punk, not as a movement or a fad, but my hunch he was sensitive to it, and - consciously or possibly less so - he included the "boredom" reference to this 80s track.

I only know the CD recording which makes no mention of a terrorist attack.


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