Election week was a bit rough. Not only did we end up electing in, well, you know who, but we lost Leonard Cohen. A guy that I never truly explored but felt his reverberations through Jeff Buckley and his breathtaking cover of “Hallelujah”. Of course, I loved “Everybody Knows”, “If It Be Your Will”, “Suzanne”, and I’ve especially loved his last album, You Want It Darker. Hitting up his albums last week in remembrance I was pretty stunned by the heaviness in his work. Musically he seemed to mix a lot of eastern European influences, as well as Brill Building pop. As a matter of fact, Cohen reminded me a bit of Bachrach, had Bachrach gone the path of the dark poet. Because no matter how you sliced it, Leonard Cohen was a poet of the highest order. This Canadian was goth before goth was a thing, and he stayed that way till the day he bid this world a fond adieu.
I’m leaving the table/I’m out of the game/I don’t know the people/In your picture frame -Leonard Cohen, from “Leaving The Table”
Then just as I was attempting to put a period at the end of the expletive-filled sentence known as election week, yesterday it was announced that Leon Russell passed away at the age of 74 years old. Russell was one of those musical characters that lingered behind the curtains and allowed others to bask in his musical genius. There have been so many people that scored number ones with Russell-written tunes that I won’t waste the time to mention them here. I will say that Ray Charles, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, The Carpenters, Peggy Lee, Helen Reddy, and Christina Aguilera, to name just a few, have all covered Russell’s “A Song For You”. That’s kind of an impressive list. Russell also was a big part of the George Harrison-curated Concert For Bangladesh, as well as performing on the track “Beware Of Darkness”. He also played piano on one of my favorite Badfinger tracks, the timeless “Day After Day”.
I guess I have a little more history with Leon Russell than I do with Mr. Cohen, but that’s not the fault of Cohen. It’s just how things turned out. Way back in 1995 my wife(then girlfriend) and I moved into an apartment together. Yep, living in sin folks. That’s how we rolled. Anyways, this was our first taste of living on our own. Freedom to a couple newbie 21 year olds and it was fantastic. We worked different shifts. I worked days and she worked 2nd shift. On the weekends we liked to head to Fort Wayne and hang out at Borders Book store on Coldwater Road. I think this was really where I got my taste for browsing for music. I loved going in there and having the aroma of books and coffee in my nostrils as I walked the vast aisles of CDs in search of something good to pick up. By this time our town had lost its only remaining music store so this was it for me. And for what it was worth, Borders had a pretty amazing selection of music. I bought quite a few of my Blue Note CDs there. Listening stations were great, too. Picked up Of Montreal, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Doves, Elbow, and so many more because of Borders(RIP.)
Anyways, one day listening to the radio I’d heard a song called “Tightrope”. I had no idea who it was but I was blown away. A mix of jaunty rhythm, old time-y piano, and a voice that was totally unique.
“I’m up on the tightrope/one side’s hate and one is hope/but the tophat on my head is all you see/And the wire seems to be/the only place for me/a comedy of errors/and I’m falling
Well somehow I figured out it was Leon Russell singing a song from his album Carney. On one of our Borders jaunts I found Best Of Leon by Mr. Russell and quickly bought it. I found myself getting lost in many of the songs in the evenings while my girl was at work. I’d wondered if I should’ve bought the album Carney, but now in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t of gotten the pleasure of hearing great songs like “Stranger In A Strange Land”, “Roll Away The Stone”, “Delta Lady”, and “Lady Blue” to name a few. I remember sitting on the second story balcony with the stereo playing Best Of Leon as I enjoyed a beer and a cheap cigar as the sun sunk into the horizon. I’d always thought that “Stranger In A Strange Land” sounded so familiar to me, like it had been in a movie when I was a kid. To this day I’m not sure why it seemed so familiar, but it remains one of my favorite songs of his.
So 2016, you have not been very kind to us. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, and now Leon Russell. And Trump. Man, I hope 2017 has some unicorns and rainbows waiting for us. I really do.