"When suddenly, at midnight, you hear/an invisible procession going by/with exquisite music, voices/don't mourn your luck that's failing now/work gone wrong, your plans/all proving deceptive- don't mourn them uselessly"
-Constantine P. Cavafy
Regular readers of the newsletter (all three of you) and people who stay up really really late probably already know that if you were ever to describe me you would wanna use an awful lot of words that end with the suffix "niac." Part of that is a lifelong affliction that has grown worse over the past few weeks. Let's just say that there's a whole lotta sheep being counted these days and we haven't even begun to worry about all these mysterious piles of powdery white substances (remember the days when it used to be fun to receive a letter?) piling up and the hysteria that surrounds them.
One lesson learned after countless sleepless nights in the past is that I usually don't listen to music while lying in bed. This is especially true for music with words since I usually end up staring at the ceiling pondering (and often times envying) the meaning of it all. I broke the rule last week after purchasing Leonard Cohen's new CD, Ten New Songs, at our friendly reopened neighborhood Cheapo. Actually I discovered that Cohen was coming out with new music by accident. I've been on a poetry reading kick of late, God knows why, and I knew one of my friends had a book of Cohen poems (a definite plus on her side) and I asked to borrow it. She loaned it to me mere days after I had an 11 year old cloud lifted from inside my noggin and she appropriately bent back the page of a very special Cohen poem titled, "True Love Leaves No Traces" with references that literally brought tears to my eyes. If she only knew...
"As the mist leaves no scar/On the dark green hill/So my body leaves no scar/On you and never will"
I was looking up information on the poem when I read the news that a new CD had recently been released. I bought the disc along with two others so I didn't have the chance to listen to it before bedtime. I was anxious to hear it however since Cohen is an artist that usually has some pretty intriguing stuff to say and this is certainly a time where that is even more appreciated than ever. So I put it on before settling in under the layers of covers. Understand when I buy the CD of a gifted lyricist the routine has always been to look closely at the packaging, from the cover art to the lyrics and liner notes, not wanting to miss a clue as to what the whole thing is about. This time around I didn't do that however; I was just too damn tired. So I didn't know quite what to expect.
My first impression was one of slight disappointment. Cohen's music has always been a tad dour and downbeat (he once joked his CDs were the only ones sold along with razor blades) but it usually has this ethereal spookiness to it that is hard to ignore. The first few new songs while masterfully crafted all kinda of blended together into an amalgamated collage of goo. Not only did nothing jump out upon first listen nothing even stood out.
I was actually beginning to doze off when track number seven started to play. I thought I was dreaming or at least wasn't listening straight because I kept hearing the words, "Alexandra leaving... Alexandra lost..." The name itself has personal implications but that wasn't what got me paying attention. The song spins a hypnotic if not a bit cryptic tale that is Cohen at his mystical best.
"Alexandra Leaving" I later learned is a song based on the great Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy's rather disturbing death poem, "The God abandons Antony." Cavafy who was born and died in Alexandria, Egypt casts a stark look into the blackness of night. The poem almost has a religious comforting tone to it but the title gives it away. This isn't about being reassured about what comes next it is about facing the moment with clear vision and appreciating the place you now are.
"As one long prepared, and graced with courage/say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving/Above all, don't fool yourself, don't say/it was a dream, your ears deceived you/don't degrade yourself with empty hopes like these"
Cohen's song isn't so much about the death of a life as it is the death of a love. "Even though she sleeps upon your satin/Even though she wakes you with a kiss/Do not say the moment was imagined/Do not stoop to strategies like this"
And while there is nothing specific about the song that I can directly relate to my (current) life the song really touched me deeply. After comparing it to Cavafy's wonderful poem I was inspired by how Cohen was able to take a tautly spun tale and turn it not only into something of his own, but something near but completely different from the original words. It's a connection with a writer but it extends beyond that to what truly seems to matter, that wondrous once in a while connection with another.