Is this What You Wanted - Leonard Cohen
What I call "fair weather" music listeners always disturb me. When John Lennon died, his album "Double Fantasy, celebrating his reunion with Yoko Ono and their family unit had only just been released three weeks before and many many people who would never even have listened to the record before, rushed out and bought it. And became dedicated Lennon fans which is fine, but those same people would never go anywhere near his finest album by far - his first: John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band. It seems to me, that in order to truly appreciate - shall we say - the smooth of an artist, you have also got to listen to the rough. It's no good just listening to "Hold On" by Tom Waits, you have also got to have a stab at "Anywhere I lay my Head" to really get what he's singing about. Or to love Joni Mitchell's "Blue" you should digest "The Hissing of the Summer Lawns". True romance only exists in opposition to, and with knowledge of, the dark alley of reality. I know many people who appreciate the white walled, minimalist representation of the Leonard Cohen's time on the island of Hydra as represented in Nick Broomfield's incisive film "Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love" who listen only to Cohen's "big three" songs: namely "Suzanne", "So long Marianne" and "Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye"; sometimes, in their wildest moments, they get as far as "Hallelujah", presumably sighing wistfully as they sing along. Not that they shouldn't if that's the limit of their risk-free and creative curiosity. But as Cohen himself sings in "Anthem":
"Forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in".
"Hallelujah" was released on Cohen's 1984 album, but didn't become the resounding success it now is until it was featured in the 2001 cartoon film "Shrek" in a version recorded in 1991 by John Cale - ex of Velvet Underground, a band most of whose output is endearingly too "difficult" for "nice" people to adopt.
No matter how profound you might think "Shrek" is, there is a banal irony that says a lot about our modern society in the fact that people found the song so moving in a mainstream cartoon movie.
So here's an antidote from the wonderful album "New Skin for Old Ceremony" which, like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, sees opposites and battlefields as metaphors for love and lust. "Is this what you wanted" begins with each line contrasting a romantic sugar-coated image with a darker version of the same thing from:
"You were the promise at dawn I was the morning after"
"You were k.y. jelly I was vaseline"
and going from the different ways of seeing the same thing to the differences in what lovers want from the same thing.:
"You said you could never love me
I undid your gown.....
is this what you wanted
to live in a house that is haunted
by the ghost of you and me?"
Put that on your fairweather shortlist and now we're talking.