Reviewed by John Cowan
If you have not listened to Len Cohen’s music this is as good a place as any to start.
You may have heard his famous “Alleluia” in his gravel voice, like no other singer anywhere, or other singers singing it in the way he does not, which I do not like, but he himself enjoys. Or you may have heard Suzanne who took him down to the waters and fed him tea and oranges, (actually Constant Comment but who is checking,) or Mary Ann to whom he is singing “So long, Mary Ann.” Or the mystery woman at the hotel (I know who it was.) who was performing a less than normal sex act on him while the limousine was waiting. Or somewhere where he says that he is amused that he is known as a ladies’ man after ten thousand lonely nights.
Did I mention he was a Zen monk? Even a priest, although you can get that designation just so you can take care of the Roshi. (Head Honcho.) And he did that job five years so they made him a priest! (Not high in the hierarchy.) In a weird way all of this sensuality is very spiritual. In the middle of a song that is going some disjointed direction he pops into the following song-poem sung tightly, unlike what had been happening:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That is how the light gets in.
(The first spiritual step is freedom.) Before that first line I did not know there were any bells to be rung and I did not know that some of them no longer could ring and I did not know somebody was stewing about and refusing to do what he should be doing because it would not be perfect. And I did not know that imperfection allows the light in.
BUT IT DOES! IMPERFECTION ALLOWS THE LIGHT IN! And Len is imperfect. Some of the poems in the book are even poor. But still on the whole he is wise.
Ask Alexa or Sirius to play his “Famous Blue Raincoat,” in which you only find out at the end his passionate love for his friend and his deep hatred of him probably for altering the singer’s wife so now “She is nobody’s wife.” (“My brother, my enemy” I had that relationship once.) Or if you have the time, ask Alexa or Sirius to shuffle songs by Len Cohen
His poetry is as unlikely as his living and as his songs. Maybe put in an on-demand call to your TV for “I am Your Man.” That will get you the hour and a half of songs, and several of the great singers. On one song, with Len as the lead, the back-up singer is a guy named “Sting.” He is pretty good! His lyric is, if memory serves, “Nah,na ya da na na.” (Repeated several times.) Great execution! He leans into the job
Like a bird on a wire,
Like a drunk at a midnight choir
I have tried in my own way to be free.
I have. Haven’t you? You might like him. He is seriously crazy! Right on! Go, baby, go! Oops! He’s dead.