Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker

A poet consumed only honey and cigarettes, and after some years, he found a singing voice, raspy and Vegas-velvety smooth, a new medium to continue his teaching about love and religion, death and life.  Even more hoarse and silky at age 82, Leonard Cohen gave us You Want it Darker last year.  The title track opens:

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker

We kill the flame

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

[I looked it up so my dear readers wouldn’t have to – the word ‘Hineni’ means ‘Here I am’ in a spiritual sense, what Abraham says to God to indicate his readiness in Genesis 22:1. (thanks, Wikipedia!)  We’re a full-service organization at CommunityNoise.blog.]

I’ve been wanting to write this piece about the forever-last albums that each David Bowie and Leonard Cohen gave to us before their deaths last year.  I wanted the timing to be apart from the events and the anniversaries; too much competition, too many empty accolades.  When I sat down last December to write, I involuntarily started cataloguing the deaths in my life, little vignettes about the sweet girl in high school, my dad, an aunt, my grandmother, my college comrade, John Lennon, a colleague’s suicide, cousin Herbie.  I once attended a funeral in New York, on vacation, for a man I never met.  Cathartic, maybe, but useless for this assignment.

The complexities of death are interesting, painful, full of life.  I’ve always leaned more towards Dylan Thomas’ way of thinking:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If you say “I’m ready” I’ll hope that you had a wonderful long life:  Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night.  If you’re unhappy, seek the wonders, not the pills.

Listening to Darker, I very nearly weep.  It’s beautiful, sorrowful, soulful, sexy.  Only Cohen could make pending death sound sexy, it isn’t, but that voice, my goodness.  I’m so happy to have this one last gift.

And I think that’s it.  He didn’t die in haste, anger, or fear; he was old and sick and had time to think this through.  He was at peace, offering one last gift to whoever was out there.  I think that’s the game: be at peace.

Writing up the Bowie album will have to wait.


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The Opposite Algorithm

What Brian Eno really wants is an “opposite algorithm” I think he called it, which says, I paraphrase, “if you liked that, this thing is completely different and perhaps you’d enjoy giving that a try.”

On New Year’s Day,  6 Music concocted a brilliant interview with Eno in the BBC studios.  Maybe a couple of hours long, they would play a track, they’d talk; Eno has an incredible knowledge of contemporary music and current music technology.  I wish I could find the interview somewhere to re-listen to it, but it’s gone, I guess, into the ether.

One thing he talked about, really sticking with me now, is how tiring the, “other people that liked this also liked this other…” buttons game that Internet sites play.  There’s nothing benevolent going on; it’s all about getting you to buy more, click-click-click stay on a website longer, or click there so somebody gets an advertising dollar.  (Plus, as a mathematician, I can tell you that these are stupid-simple algorithms, so that’s angering.)

Today’s article is dedicated to trying something else.  I’ve curated a small handful of things that I’ve come across; each has nothing to do with another.  I hope at least one of these is new-to-you and outside your normal.  It’s good for your diet.

  1. John Kessler, on our local Blues show (www.knkx.org) plays this from time to time, and one night last summer, I was suddenly still, stunned by beauty.  There’s no better way to be stopped.  It’s the Dixie Cups – ­­­ “Iko Iko”
  2.  Rocking the Tigger jammies  You may actually have ­­seen this.  It hit me on FB, I don’t remember how, when B.B. King was in the hospital.  He did not get better.
  3. As long as we’re on the subject of kids freaking me out, one of my scarier friends posted this recently.  Angelina Jordan has a number of offerings on YT, here’s  “I Put A Spell On You”
  4. From the 2-CD tribute, A Chance Operation-The John Cage Tribute, John Cale and Yoko Ono team up for this,  “Georgia Stone”.  Remember not to have nightmares, that’s my recommendation.
  5. And finally, The Jackson 5.  One of my things when I go to the public library, after I’m done shopping for everything I wanted, I pick something up at pseudo-random.  “Jackson 5?  This is going to suck, but I can’t remember what they sound like. I’ll take this home.”  I’m agog — seriously cool stuff.  I’ve selected for you,  “Mamma I Gotta Brand New Thing”.

Want to find a rut? Continue on down a path of everything similar. Not just music, that’s sound advice for life.

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Happy Birthday John Cale

John Davies Cale turns 75 today.

Besides co-founding the Velvet Underground, he’s had an extensive solo career, moving around in classical, the avant-garde, and rock ‘n roll.  The drone that he gave VU with his electric viola is particularly contagious.

I was recently given the task of providing some sort of primer, an introduction, to his vast catalogue.  It’ll be a daunting task, but I’m up to it.  It’s going to take me some time, though.   I counted 23 albums that I own, and from his discography, I counted 36 studio albums, plus live albums, film scores, and collaborations.  He has produced at least that many records.  From his collected works, I’ll select 5-10 songs that help to describe his canon.  Until then, there’s this, John Cale – Paris 1919 (Live with orchestra).

The Patti Smith Primer

I was asked recently to provide an introduction to Patti Smith, some sort of a primer.  I was happy to oblige.  I’m expanding the text this morning to provide the same content to needy people at large.

I think a person could pick up any of Patti’s records, listen to them, study them, and find great enjoyment.  However, I recommend that Patti’s first 4 albums are the important part of her catalogue, and really, a person could live on just her first 3.  For your edification, I’ve selected one indicative song from each of those first 4 albums.

A brief bio, from my memory, might be useful to the listener.  Patti was an artist, generally, in her early days in NYC, living with Robert Mapplethorpe.  She started presenting original poetry at readings around the Village, and soon asked Lenny Kaye to accompany her on guitar.  Eventually she ended a show, I paraphrase, ‘we’re looking for a drummer to join us.  You know who you are.’  When Jay Dee Daugherty introduced himself, a band started to form.

When listening to Patti Smith, you can feel that sort of background and genesis:  she’s a poet first.  Many of the songs are spoken word or sing-song (I’ll point that out to you).  The music is not mere accompaniment, but is built to work around her voice and around the structure of the words.  To really groc the Patti Smith Group, I think it’s important for you, eventually, to discover this in your listening.  (Some records are credited to ‘Patti Smith’ and some are attributed to ‘The Patti Smith Group’; forgive me, I use the two interchangeably here, because she has had many of the same musicians with her since the start.)

After she reached stardom, she married Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith from MC5 fame, and they moved to Detroit to raise a family.  After some deaths in her life, she moved back to New York and we’ve seen a re-emergence in her work.

OK, here’s your primer.

“Redondo Beach”  (from Horses, 1975)

She tells a really sweet story about this song in one of her books.  After a nasty/silly fight with her younger sister, she went for a walk looking for her.  There were crowds around at the beach after a young woman did not return from the waves.  Fearing the worst, Patti wrote this poem, and then her sister walked into the apartment.  Dig the reggae guitar.

“Poppies”  (from Radio Ethiopia, 1976)

This is essential Patti Smith Group, spoken-word-singing, story-telling, poetry, guitar playing around her voice, cool parts, overlays, slow-spooky, sexy rhythm.

“Because the Night”  (seminal track from Easter, 1978)

“Love is an angel disguised as lust”


This is the song that broke her through.  This song was the moment that she and Robert were waiting for; they both thought they were both destined for greatness.  Robert would soon have his moments, too, with blunt, scary, fascinating black and white photography.

“Dancing Barefoot”  (from Wave, 1979)

Almost another lifetime ago, it seems, at Seattle’s arts festival, Bumbershoot, I went to the “secret stage” and out walked Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye.  They flew in from Berlin just to play this half-hour set.  Warm, sunny, beautiful weather, and everyone dancing barefoot.  I’ve listened to this record the least of her important first-four, but there is some stuff on it.

In addition to her music, I love her books – memoirs, poems, photographic essays – she’s a well-rounded and, I think, wonderful artist.  Warm, welcoming, and heartful; she’s a human, a superstar, and a shaman.  Check her out.


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Jesca Hoop

A few weeks ago, over beers, I was talking with a friend about music that we liked.  I talked about how lyrics, generally, are a hurdle for me, and I need something else to pull me into a song; something else about a song has to make me want to listen to and understand the lyrics.

The evening that I write this piece, I find myself reading Jesca Hoop lyrics trying to figure out why I like her new album so much.  It’s pretty much all love songs, I guess.  I have a heart, I like love, but, you know, maybe there’s more ground to cover.  It makes me think of David Byrne’s discussion of “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”; he concedes it is a love song, though a topic he generally avoids, because it is “kinda big” and he likes to write songs about other things.  (Thus we have More Songs About Buildings and Food.)

I really love Jesca’s new offering, Memories Are Now offering, and I think what draws me in is her craftsmanship, and the craftsmanship of her co-conspirators, to put songs together.

Late last year, Jesca teased us by playing one track in the 6 Music studios, “Pegasi”, with promise of a February album release.  I’ve shared this track previously.

The BBC offering was my introduction to her.  I bought the album the weekend it was released.  I know now that she had 4 LPs and 3 EPs released prior to the February release.

Sometimes I’m slow to catch on.

I’ve been listening to this track over and over for 3 months, and I’ve been listening to the album for a couple of weeks.  Why am I so drawn to it?  It’s pretty simple, really.  First, beautiful voice with easy range, and the backing vocals have their say.  Second, two interesting guitar parts – not rock god, hot-riff kind of guitar parts – but skilled and pleasing; parts that stand out only to augment the voice-as-instrument and work around the nooks and crannies of Jesca’s voice.  Third, not many love songs invoke the imagery of a supernova.  Hot stuff.

And I think that’s the secret.  The singer-songwriter needs something else.  Simon and Garfunkel got away with generally-simple guitar accompaniment, because their voices worked so well together.  Bob Dylan, as great as he is, wouldn’t get away with solo-acoustic shows anymore; he came of age at a time when folk music was it and his words had great meaning for that era.  But Jesca is demonstrating a craftsmanship in song building – instrumental themes that work with lyrics, and lyrics that fit around the song’s structure and rhythm.  Lyrics and sound that mesh.  Nothing forced, Jesca seems to put everything together to sound natural.  Beautiful.  Here’s another track for you, “Simon Says”.

Memories are Now has a place on my playlist.


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For the Love of Music: Please, Do Not Bend

I joined a record-of-the-month club last summer.  That’s right, vinyl records in the mail, every month, gate-fold covers complete with inserts, liner notes and stuff. It’s really cool.  The club obtains rights to release their own pressings and packaging – it’s not from the warehouse.  High-quality stuff, generally colored vinyl and sometimes multi-color designs.

(This blog’s primary interest is endorsing the artists and the music that I am appreciating, and I encourage readers to seek them out for themselves.  I will, occasionally, divulge the names of services that I use, if I think they are worthy.)

I joined Vinyl Me Please on a little bit of a whim.  Desperate to find new music, and excited about the renewed interest vinyl records, I happened to overhear something on the radio and immediately found the website and pulled out my credit card.

Besides the great ‘do not bend’ plea to postal workers on the packaging, each album features a recommended cocktail recipe to drink while listening.  That’s full-feature service.  (Trouble is, I don’t typically have all the liquor ingredients laying around.  Just wine.)

After I joined Vinyl Me Please in August, I discovered a few other similar services, and based on descriptions, I did good.  I’m six months in.  Here’s a summary of my VMP experience.

№ 45 — September 2016
Glass Animals How To Be A Human Being (original release: 2016)
I’d never heard of these guys and I gotta tell you, I think they’re really cool.  I’ve tried to fit them into a playlist, but they’re very different for me.  (Weeks into this I figured it out – I’ve never been much for Hip Hop.)  They incorporate a lot of different styles of music and a lot of stuff and a lot of noises.  It was hard to work them into a playlist (I tried, see playlist #1 on Community Noise); I’m not sure what to do with them, and I find that very exciting!

I need help!  Does anybody have a Hip Hop primer?  A top 10 list?  A beginner’s guide?

№ 46 — October 2016
Beck Odelay (original release: 1996)
When Beck hit the scene in 1994, I had a real job and I was working hard, but most of my friends were slackers.  “Loser” hit an off-note for me.  When VMP sent this to me a few months ago, I didn’t have any Beck in my library, had never gotten into him, never gave him much notice.  I was delighted to receive this; it gave me a second chance.  It’s a really good record.  I guess I’d always liked “Devil’s Haircut” .

(Edification note: writing about Beck taught me a new word, mononymously.  MS-Word doesn’t think it’s a word, but Wikipedia knows better.)

№ 47 — November 2016
The Books The Lemon of Pink (original release: 2003)

This album is really fun to listen to.  Little melodies come and go, loops of sounds, voices, and notes.  Some drone here and there.  You have to be in the right mindset – you’re not going to be dancing or singing along, but, for example, the morning that I’m writing this passage, it is great music to have on whilst making breakfast, consuming same, and drinking coffee.

As I’ve had John Cage in my mind recently, I think Cage would be pleased with this; his “noise is music” ideas fit well here.  (Yoko Ono would enjoy this…)  There are songs on this album, sometimes, but really this album has ‘tracks’.  Here’s a taste (from the album, not the pancakes):  “The Lemon of Pink I” .  Also, quickly, there’s this, Exclamation Mark

№ 48 — December 2016 (original release: 1967)
Nina Simone Nina Simone Sings the Blues (original release: 1967)
Gatefold cover, baby blue vinyl, inserts, flats suitable for framing, little notes. It’s a beautiful object.

And, oh my goodness, can Nina sing.  “Do I Move You” .  I’ll give you a second sampling,  “Since I Fell For You” .  It’s agonizing; lyrics so miserable, voice so soothing.

I could not stop playing this the night I received it.  Just play side A, turn over to side B, play it, side A, play it, side B, play it, repeat.  Again.  Several more times.  Dream about it in my sleep.  Hear her voice over the din of traffic, the colleague’s monotony, the noise of life; nothing keeps up with her voice.  Nina kills!

VMP call themselves ‘curators’.  They curated their asses off with this selection.

№ 49 — January 2016
Panda Bear; Person Pitch (original release: 2007)

I can’t … where the fuck did this come from?  It sounds like Benedictine Monks and Martians found a beat and went nuts making a record together.  Fucking incredible.  (Yes, YES, I mean that as good.)

There is something familiar – like something familiar has been muffled, garbled, slurred, and blurred – but I can’t figure it out.  There’s something here that I’m acquainted with, but it’s just not right.  Damn this is good.  Give “Good Girl” a try.

№ 50 — February 2016
Main Source; Breaking Atoms (original release: 1991)
I’ve never been a rap guy.  The Club gives me an opt-out option, I think twice a year, where I can decline a month’s offering and request something else from their catalogue.  But I decided early on that I wanted to be challenged, and I wanted this experience to be trusting – I’m trusting the curators at VMP to kick ass and deliver great things to me every month.  My trust is paying off.  Having other people choose your music, even just occasionally, is a great way to expand your mind.  (Insert rant about the state of commercial radio in the US.)

I put this on as soon as I got it; I was working at home, and I was just ready to make lunch.  Really enjoyed having this on the stereo.  I have so much to learn.  Try this jolt, “Snake Eyes” .

Sometimes, but not always, you’ll get a secret code you so can download digital copies of everything — I think that is really cool.  Only one of the first 6 records that I’ve received is new; the rest are re-issues.  I can speak out of both sides of my mouth here … almost everything has been new-to-me, but finding brand new great stuff, for some reason, is more difficult than finding great old stuff.  However, I am delighted with this service.  I have some Nina Simone, but rarely listened to her before; I’ll say this, Sings the Blues is the album to have.  Go buy Nina Simone Sings the Blues.


n.b.  I noticed that Rough Trade is going to start a goodies club of their own.  They’re promising to send “something” every month.  They started up just this month for the U.K. and will be able to add memberships for the United States and the Rest of the World starting Mid-2017.   https://www.roughtrade.com/membership  I’ll be going with the CD option for this one, I think, rather than more vinyl.  As long as you’re checking out Rough Trade website, check out their current catalogue.  They’re killing it!

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