Leonard Cohen (1934- ) is a Montreal-born writer, poet and musician. Around the time of the release of his record, The Future (1992), Cohen was likened to an Old Testament prophet by a Canadian reviewer. And this might not be too far off. Cohen’s lyrics and retrospective asides seem to dance around the idea that he’s a mouthpiece for the Divine as well as a humble guy, just like anyone else.¹
Along these lines, Cohen seems content with his combination of Jewish and Buddhist beliefs.
Cohen lost his father when he was nine years old. But he was left with a modest trust fund so didn’t have to worry about money in his younger days.
He bought a house and spent his formative years in Greece, this influence discernible in much of his music. A former ladies man, he openly tells of forays into drink, religion and whatever else might have sustained him. He once held the unconventional notion that the Nazis were defeated by music. And he speaks of a creative spark that apparently those “who are there” know about and those “who are not there” do not.
The following lyrics from “Bird on the Wire” (1969) speak for themselves:
Like bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way
To be free.
And from Susanne (1967):
And Jesus was a sailor… Only drowning men could see him.
In “The Tower of Song” (1988) he sings:
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.
And in The Future (1992) he takes an even darker route:
I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.
However, The Future also contains some humorous and hopeful elements.
Apparently bilked out of his fortune in 2005 by former manager, Kelley Lynch, Cohen filed a suit and was also sued. Still standing, his comeback tour, cds and verse have proved that he’s a survivor. His latest album, Old Ideas, has received 4 and 5 star reviews from critics and fans around the world. Not bad for a guy nearing 80 yrs.
¹ See for example, “Going Home” from his latest cd, Old Ideas » http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2012/01/23/120123po_poem_cohen
- Canada: Leonard Cohen: The Future (jobblog2011.wordpress.com)
- Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah (towriteistowrite.wordpress.com)
- Review: Leonard Cohen (mercurynews.com)
- Sasha Frere-Jones: Leonard Cohen, at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center. (newyorker.com)
- Famous Blue Raincoat and Black Hat (brandsandfilms.com)
- Leonard Cohen: Paying rent in the tower of song sounds divine (theglobeandmail.com)
- storyboard: On the Road with Leonard Cohen Once “the proverbial… (shortformblog.com)
- Leonard Cohen Returns To Nokia Theatre (thescenestar.typepad.com)
- Leonard Cohen Concert All Access Pass New Beacon Theatre 2009 (ephemera.typepad.com)
- How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Became Everybody’s ‘Hallelujah’ (theatlantic.com)
Bruce Cockburn (1945 – ) is a Canadian, Ottawa-born folk and rock musician. He sang about Christianity through natural metaphors well before it was considered cool to do so. Despite this, Cockburn managed to survive and even thrive in the Canadian record industry.
In one interview¹, he said that it’s fine to sing about God, but if the music’s not happening, then the message doesn’t really connect. This was probably an oblique reference to the contemporary Christian pop of the time, so much of it being formulaic and arguably not too original, musically speaking.
At cockburnproject.net he’s quoted as saying:
I am a Christian songwriter. I just don’t fit the Christian music scene.
As the years went by, Cockburn became increasingly critical of what he saw as hypocritical political and religious practices. In “The Gospel of Bondage” (1988) he denounces the selective use of Biblical quotations to justify questionable acts:
God won’t be reduced to an ideology…God must be on the side of right, not the side that justifies itself in terms of might.
Perhaps due to music’s unique ability to move the body and arouse passion, his “Rocket Launcher” (1984) single was sharply criticized:
If I had a rocket launcher… Some son of a bitch would die.
Cockburn responded to his critics by saying there’s a difference between (a) the artistic representation of anger and (b) advocating angry practices (see sublimation).
With regard to “Rocket Launcher” he claimed to merely represent his outrage in response to the bloodshed of innocents in South America.
Signing with the SONY label, Cockburn’s sound became bigger but he never really cracked the American market as, perhaps, anticipated.
Back with his former True North label, however, his electronically enhanced acoustic sound has returned, along with some noteworthy retro-style experimentation.
Like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morisette, Celine Dione, Glenn Gould and Justin Bieber, Cockburn is something of a culture hero in a country that is finally growing out of its national identify crisis.²
The following tune, “Wondering Where the Lions Are” is a reference to the Old Testament story of Daniel in the Lions Den and, according to Wikipedia, is his most popular single to date on the US but not the Canadian charts.³
¹ From a magazine article. Source cannot be located. Probably somewhere between the late 80s and the new millennium. In recent decades, Christian pop has undergone a serious reboot, some of which is arguably just as “cool” or “good” as anything else out there.
² This was especially prevalent in the 1980s, when entire university departments in the Humanities spent countless hours (and taxpayers dollars) looking at how Canada differed from the US and beyond.
- Michael Buble, Deadmau5 And Bruce Cockburn Honoured For Songwriting (contactmusic.com)
- Ottawa’s Bruce Cockburn to receive SOCAN lifetime achievement award (o.canada.com)
- Bruce Cockburn…a creativity to help us see (thewearypilgrim.typepad.com)
- Ottawa’s Bruce Cockburn to receive SOCAN lifetime achievement award (vancouversun.com)
- Mary Had A Baby by Bruce Cockburn – Christmas Songs 2012 Day 21 (garyware.me)
- Bruce Cockburn, deadmau5 feted at SOCAN gala (cbc.ca)
- “People see through you” Bruce Cockburn (jeffrozier.wordpress.com)
The Doors were a 1960s and early 70s rock band from Los Angeles, California, consisting of Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and lead man Jim Morrison.
Morrison was one of the bad boys of rock who also had poetic substance, charisma and exceptional singing ability. The group charted several classic tunes. Light my Fire, Hello I love you, L.A. Woman, Riders on the Storm and recorded other songs with lasting influence, such as Break on Through, Love Street, The Spy, The End, Soul Kitchen and the live epic Celebration of the Lizard.
Morrison is also a recognized poet, and his song lyrics advocate an inner journey to the psychological underworld, urging fans to “break on through to the other side.”
Morrison apparently had a photographic memory. Biographers Danny Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins say that Morrison would ask his friends to open up and tell him the page number of any book in his library. Morrison would then apparently recite from memory all the words on that particular page.¹ If this story is true, it’s conceivable that Morrison was remote viewing and not necessarily reading from memory.
Like his sometimes melancholic (and depressing?) contemporary Jimi Hendrix, Morrison’s drug induced mysticism ended up in tragedy. He died at age 27 in his Paris apartment bathtub, surrounded by rumors of ongoing substance abuse. Despite his bad end, his music, personal philosophy and raw energy still inspires young and older fans to this day.
¹ Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive, New York: Warner Books, 1980.
- Authors We Love, Part 25: The Lizard King (alifeamongthepages.wordpress.com)
- WZLX Ticket Stash: The Doors Play Boston Common Without Jim Morrison (wzlx.cbslocal.com)
- 8-23-12 Down (quotidianhudsonriver.com)
- The Strange Death of Jim Morrison (poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com)
- Jim Morrison: Sexy or Not Sexy? (fabsugar.com)
- “Jim’s last walk” by Alain Ronay (jimmorrisonsparis.com)
- THE DOORS – Live At The Bowl ’68 On DVD, Blu-Ray In October (bravewords.com)
- July, The Doors history in microcosm (examiner.com)
- Gratitude #10 (Hacking Myself) (charlesthrasher.wordpress.com)
- The Doors – Greatest Hits 2CD (2008) FLAC vtwin88cube (extratorrent.com)
The Eurythmics are a British pop duo formed in 1980, consisting of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. Although the pair has formally disbanded, they have occasionally reunited.
Eurythmics’ pulsating electronic rhythms and haunting melodies helped to set a standard for 1980s synth pop. The lyrics depict themes of alienation and the spiritual quest, often from a much needed woman’s perspective. Because the music relies heavily on synthesizers, Eurythmics took some criticism from old school musicians preferring ‘real instruments.’
Today that type of criticism doesn’t hold up. Computer processors are just as much a part of ‘real instruments’ as any other kind of man-made component, be it the pickups of an electric guitar or the mechanisms within a Renaissance harpsichord.
Eurythmics used “real instruments” to great effect however later in their career, with such hits as Thorn in my side, and Missionary Man, our drummer Pete Phipps toured with them, and they could kick some a** with the best rock bands. » See in context
Lennox continued with a successful solo career in the 1990s, including the exceptional CD, Diva. The duo of Lennox and Stewart have periodically reunited in the new millennium for benefit concerts and albums but Eurythmics’ creative genius arguably peaked in the 80s.
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Peter Gabriel is a highly respected pop musician, composer and vocalist who left the progressive rock group Genesis¹ in 1975 to pursue a solo career.
Gabriel’s first four solo albums were simply entitled Peter Gabriel, and sold reasonably well with sleeper hits like “Solisbury Hill” and “Games Without Frontiers.”
The remainder of Genesis (with drummer Phil Collins talking up lead vocals) began to produce singles that were more accessible. But these tunes were regarded by many Gabriel fans as inferior to those released when Gabriel was still at the helm of Genesis.
Gabriel continued his solo career through the 1980′s with increased commercial success, recording hits like “Shock the Monkey” and “Sledgehammer.”
Gabriel refused to title any of his first four solo albums, which were all labelled Peter Gabriel using the same typeface, but which featured different cover designs (by Hipgnosis); these designs are also notable for the fact that Gabriel’s face is wholly or partially obscured in some way. They are usually differentiated by number in order of release (I, II, III, IV), or by sleeve design, with the first three solo albums often referred to as Car, Scratch and Melt respectively, in reference to their cover artwork. His fourth solo album, also called Peter Gabriel, was titled Security in the U.S. at the behest of Geffen Records.²
In October 2011 he released a new album called New Blood, which is an orchestral remix of popular songs from his glory days.
He was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
¹ The Hebrew word Genesis means “In the Beginning” and is the name of the first book of the Bible.
- Five Artists Influenced By Peter Gabriel (jack.radio.com)
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Mick Jagger (Sir Michael Phillip “Mick” Jagger 1943- ) is a British Granddad and former bad boy of Rock and Roll.
Together with Keith Richards, Jagger penned a string of hits for highly successful band, The Rolling Stones.
In the early 1960′s The Stones were seen as the tougher, grittier flip side to the Beatles’ cute and clean image and sound. Singles such as “Satisfaction,” “Ruby Tuedsay,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “The Last Time,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Woman” have earned The Stones a prominent place in pop music history.
Interestingly, Jagger once claimed to be androgynous. Since then he was knighted for Services to Music in 2003 by the Prince of Wales.
- Rolling Stones Pinball Machine Gets Mick Jagger’s Approval (spinner.com)
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- Knight (earthpages.wordpress.com)
Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) was an American entertainer whose international celebrity status lead to his being known as the King of Pop.
Originally a member of the successful soul group, The Jackson Five, in an early TV appearance Ed Sullivan noted how he (the “little fella”) shone above his sibling who were also part of the act.
Jackson’s solo career took off in 1982 with the release of the album, Thriller, selling over 35 million copies. Part of its appeal, aside from slick musical arrangements by veteran producer Quincy Jones, was Jackson’s pioneering use of dramatic video.
Subsequent albums and singles such as Bad and “Man in the Mirror” did very well but never equaled the near-hysterical intensity of Thriller.
Like the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and other performers with outstanding talent, Michael has received much bad press and harsh criticism, particularly in regard to his use of cosmetic surgery and an alleged interest in archeology.
The media attacks intensified with his arrest on November 25, 2003 and subsequent trial over allegations of child abuse at his Neverland ranch. However, Jackson was found not guilty by jury.
Jackson’s untimely death on June 25, 2009, in Los Angeles took the world by storm. The shocking news contributed to internet crashes from excessive traffic, and the media covered the story with the same zeal that Jackson had helped to generate in his lifetime. Also, his record sales were at an all time high for the remainder of that year.
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Annie Lennox is a Scottish musician, recording artist and activist. She was the lead vocalist of successful pop band the Eurythmics and remains a solo artist. As a member of the Eurythmics she was, perhaps, the better songwriter of the duo, although Dave Stewart, the other band member, was a whiz at production.
The lyrics in her solo album Diva seem to depict a heroine’s quest, a gradual transformation from poverty to wealth, and a journey from mundane to spiritual awareness. This process is depicted in the song “Money Can’t Buy It”:
Kick down the door and throw away the key
Give up your needs…
Your poisoned seeds
Find yourself elected to a different kind of creed
And in “Why”:
I may be mad
I may be blind
I may be viciously unkind
But I can still read what you’re thinking
Does this suggest that Lennox believes that some can read others’ thoughts, or is this just artistic fantasy? We can’t know.
Reading another’s thoughts, assuming psi is possible, would not necessarily guarantee that a person uses that ability in an ethical manner. But the Eurythmics’ song “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)” suggests that Lennox is on a sincere spiritual path and not a ‘devil worshiper,’ as some religious fundamentalists might have it:
No-one on earth could feel like this
I’m thrown and overblown with bliss
There must be an angel
Playing with my heart
Although her personal and direct style tempts one to assume Lennox is singing about herself, again, we can’t be sure. And if one did make that mistake, it wouldn’t be the first time that artistic representation has been confused with the artist’s own sensibilities.
- Album: Annie Lennox, A Christmas Cornucopia (Island) (independent.co.uk)
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- WATCH: Annie Lennox Screws Up Live On Regis & Kelly! (huffingtonpost.com)
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- Annie Lennox Open to Collaborating With Antony and the Johnsons (spinner.com)
- Music Review: Annie Lennox – A Christmas Cornucopia (blogcritics.org)
- Annie Lennox: my Christmas songs (telegraph.co.uk)
- Music Review: Annie Lennox – A Christmas Cornucopia (seattlepi.com)
- Sing at least one carol for Annie Lennox | Jeanette Winterson (guardian.co.uk)
- Annie Lennox performs at Aids rally (bbc.co.uk)
After the Beatles’ breakup, Lennon pursued a respected musical career with hits and sleeper hits like Mind Games, Cold Turkey, Crippled Inside, Jealous Guy, Imagine, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, Happy Xmas (War Is Over), Give Peace a Chance, Woman, (Just Like) Starting Over and Watching the Wheels.
But not all of his post-Beatles tunes were polished chart toppers. The album Plastic Ono Band, for instance, chronicles a time of soul-searching, musical exploration and a fleshing out of ideas that would in later albums come together as hit singles. That album also includes the soulful ballad, Working Class Hero and the anthemic Power to the People.
It’s sadly ironic that Lennon was murdered on December 8th 1980 by a disturbed gunman at point-blank range in New York City, considering he and his wife Yoko Ono suggested we “Give Peace a Chance.”
Lennon collaborated with other pop luminaries like David Bowie and The Rolling Stones‘ Mick Jagger, and his influence within and without the Beatles on pop music has been profound. Respected rockers like Todd Rundgren (Deface the Music, with Utopia) and the band XTC (Skylarking) have produced Beatlesque albums and songs, and Oasis’ Liam Gallagher not only looks a bit but definitely sounds like Lennon, and has publicly acknowledged Lennon’s influence by naming his son Lennon Gallagher.
With the Beatles Lennon gained notoriety by claiming that the band was more popular than Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church recently came around to forgiving him for that statement.¹
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Just let me hear some of that
Rock and roll music,
Any old way you choose it;
It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it,
Any old time you use it.
It’s gotta be rock and roll music,
If you want to dance with me,
If you want to dance with me.
–Rock and Roll Music, Chuck Berry
Rock and Roll is a form of popular music originally emblematic of the freedoms, joys, challenges, heartaches and rebellion of youth.
Rock and Roll developed in the 1950s as a synthesis of Country-Western and Blues music. Interestingly enough, the accent falls on the back beat which emphasizes the second and fourth beat (ta TA ta TA), the reverse of the military march, which accents the first and third beat (TA ta TA ta).
In the 1960s and 70s the target market of Rock expanded, as did the music. Dianna Ross and The Supremes helped to shape the Motown sound (music from a record company based in the automobile producing city of Detroit), while British groups like the Moody Blues and the perhaps unsurpassable Beatles made Rock accessible to kids from 2 to 102. Meanwhile, American groups like The Doors (with Jim Morrison) and soloists like Jimi Hendrix remained a threat to conservative parents throughout North America and beyond.
At this time Rock branched out into different styles and related marketing categories: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, Funk, Raggae, Soul, Easy Rock, Disco, Glam Rock, Pop Rock, Bubble Gum Rock, Folk Rock, etc.
Some of the major players in this period were Paul McCartney and Wings, The Rolling Stones, Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Pink Floyd, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, The Who, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Elton John, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Carole King and many more talented outfits. But things needed to change.
The late 1970s brought on reactionary trends such as Punk Rock and New Wave. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols are often credited with spearheading Punk Rock, while innovative groups with a stripped-down sound like Devo, The B-52s and The Talking Heads enjoyed success. The Talking Heads continued to make their mark into the 80s, their apparently postmodern approach being avidly discussed among ivory tower academics.
Rock in 1980s, however, was mostly characterized by increasingly slick studio productions, made possible by the advent of digital recording technology. Duran Duran is a good example of this new lush sound, whereas Depeche Mode used digital sampling to create a more industrial sound. Other important groups such as Soft Cell and The Eurythmics used technology to minimal effect while The Art of Noise used the new digital sampling technique in their own way, often emphasizing the orchestra hit–i.e. having a full-burst orchestral sound at the touch of a finger.
Madonna was a sensation in the 80s, as was Sting and The Police and, of course, Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, the New Age movement and ‘ambient music’ emerged. Ambient music is a diffuse style (some might say spacey) that was pioneered by the respected producer Brian Eno (Eno also made Rock and Roll albums) in the late 70s. Eno’s most important album is probably “Music For Airports” (1978), a soft and repetitive strain of analogue voice and piano loops. The idea and sound carried through into more accessible digital New Age productions with the likes of Enya, Windham Hill records and others. And stars like U2, David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Philip Glass periodically collaborated with Eno.
In 1980 John Lennon and Yoko Ono released the commercially successful album, Double Fantasy. Sadly, Lennon was murdered by a misguided fan in that same year.
The 90s saw increasingly lush studio production with the likes of Mariah Carey and Celine Dione. Others like the late Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and The Smashing Pumpkins kept it straight up and simple. And Radiohead came up with a sound reminiscent of the 70s band Jethro Tull.
Some veteran rockers continued to flourish in the 90s with top-selling albums, such as Elton John and David Bowie. Other stars like Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan released cds but seemed to lose touch with the pulse of the people.
Rap, Hiphop, Dance, Grunge and Techno (now a branch of Electronica) also took off in the 90s.
The new millennium has seen more powerful woman acts like Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, and it’s fitting that Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, who’ve billed themselves as the “longest running rock act,” continue to fill large stadiums.
There’s no easy summary of Rock’s meaning today. Some see it as a consumer-driven sellout; others, as a window to artistic and social possibilities.
Ironically, some rock stars are now seen as more socially responsible than many corporate and political leaders. The widely respected granddaddy of Grunge, Neil Young, for instance, has become a prominent spokesperson for the development of Green technologies. And figures like Bob Geldof, Bono and The Rolling Stones (who did a Toronto concert to help that city’s economy after a SARS scare while Billy Joel and Elton John canceled) have virtually inverted the rotten apple image that the moral majority originally imputed to rock stars.
Recently, however, critics have suggested that international simulcast benefit concerts are starting to look more like shallow publicity stunts than effective measures toward global betterment.
And the beat goes on…