The Friday Morning Listen: Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (2012)

Are there any positive aspects to a 90-minute commute? Usually … not. Though yesterday morning I encountered some surprise entertainment. The first part of the ride was very smooth, mostly owing to my late start. I left at around 8:20AM and reached the highway 40 minutes later. At the overpass a quick glance over the railing confirmed a traffic jam, with cars extending out to the horizon in both directions. Lovely. So I continued on, taking a known surface road over to the next entrance.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of other desperate drivers had the same idea. So what would normally be a five-minute drive took more like 20. By this time, The Velvet Underground & Nico had finished, so I picked Leonard Cohen‘s latest album Old Ideas. Right around the time Cohen was singing “He’s a lazy bastard/Living in a suit” and “Going home/To where it’s better/Than before” (fragments of a verse and chorus from “Going Home”), I look up to discover that I’m in the middle of a construction zone. There are enormous piles of dirt and rocks on either side of the road, ongoing work (I learned later) for a strip mall. When I heard that last line, I happened to be stopped right next to an old wooden single-car garage. It had been left standing even as the ground on all sides of it had been completely torn up. This is progress, I guess.

Even though I ended up listening the the rest of the album, it was those two lines that stuck with me. The combination of the words — heard in that particular listening context — generated some extreme resonance.

Later in the evening, I came across an article about the artist Robert Montgomery, who has gained some notoriety recently by installing his poetry billboards over existing advertisements. When I read “There are wooden houses on land in far-away places that don’t cost much money, And strings of lights that make paths to them gently and do not turn off the stars,” that one fragment about the lights again stuck with me. It felt like the words lifted themselves off of the page. Now here was a collision: words that evoke the sparseness of the out of doors, but surrounded by an urban environment. More extreme resonance.

When I read the Montgomery piece, it brought to mind my oft-repeated (and often scorned) admission that words in music are not particularly important to me. And even when I do pay attention to them (for whatever mysterious reason), I often hear them in fragments.

I’m not sure there’s much of a conclusion to be drawn from any of this. It was just another day.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Mark, you’re too hip for the room! There are no conclusions other than: Yeah, it’s another day. The old wooden garage that you stopped next to — Every fiber of wood in it had more stories of tears, heartbreak & laughter. If one only could hear them/feel them, and thus know them. “Going home”? You know, the cat said that you can’t do that again — and if you could, the same people don’t live there any more. And this Robert Montgomery fellow seems to be another Christo wanna be — until Christo’s 485-lb yellow umbrella fell and crushed that poor woman. (Imagine her reading her Chinese fortune cookie, saying: ‘You will be crushed and killed by a yellow umbrella!’) I’m sure those business people that paid mucho $$ to advertise their businesses were thrilled to see the dude’s heart-felt message painted over their ads. Let’s face it: It’s all about eating, isn’t it? Happy trails,

    MORT WEISS

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Parting shot on Christo: His real name is Vladimirov Javcheff. The dude had to change it because it wouldn’t fit on his passport. I **** you not. Ahh, back in the day, people would say: That Mort guy is really smart. Now, they say: Yeah, he looked that up on that there Wicked Pedia. (Hey, a good name for a post-punk band!) Some days, I don’t get no respect! I wonder if Aretha still has the same problem?

    MORT WEISS — OUT!