"This image of 'the unforgettable fire' applied not only to the nuclear winterscape of 'A Sort of Homecoming,' but also the unforgettable fire of a man like Martin Luther King, or the consuming fire which is heroin."
Leonard Cohen: U2 Connections
Bono wants to be Leonard Cohen. I'm quite sure of it. Moreover, he never can be, and that's a good thing. One Leonard Cohen in the world is quite enough.
Leonard Cohen is a poet, a singer, a novelist, a ladies' man, and until last year, he was working for a Japanese monk in a Zen Buddhist retreat house in California. His voice is earthquake-deep and his songs are very sacred and very profane, often at the same time, with imagery drawn from his Jewish background as well as the predominant Catholic culture of his birth home, Montreal.
I first heard him, gosh, it must've been about the time his album "The Future" came out in '92, which would have made me 17...that's strange, I would've thought I was younger than that. But I was very young when I was 17, naive, with a belief that the world was fundamentally pure and beautiful. My older brother Paul played a bit of "The Future" for me in the car. "Waiting for the Miracle."
His voice scared me. The sound of the song scared me. The words scared me. It was a song one could drown in, and it felt fundamentally dark, like the shadowed corners of a low-lit room. I told Paul I hated it. I was too young.
Needless to say I love him now. The whole album "The Future," the Jewish mystic sense of the holy in the broken in "Anthem":
Earlier songs I learned from an "Austin City Limits" performance of his, songs like "Joan of Arc," where she is romanced by fire:
Other songs of his I only discovered after I heard other people sing them. "Sisters of Mercy" (and yes, the group took their name from this song), done a cappella by Cris Williamson and later by Sting and the Chieftains:
"Ballad of A Runaway Horse" (originally "Ballad of the Absent Mare") sung by Emmylou Harris (remember her? <g>):
Or "Suzanne," which I didn't even hear of until I found out my favorite R.E.M. song on "Up," "Hope," owed a great deal of its structure to this first song on Cohen's first album, released in 1968:
But here's why I think Bono has much in common with Cohen -- descriptions like this one:
Or, even more so: one of his backup singers says, "He'll give the same attention to the president of the country and to someone who has just walked up to him on the street." The first time I ever saw Bono in person, that was the sense that came off him; he was willing to treat everyone with equal respect. That's one of the best traits to have, really.
Or how about their similar tendency to place women on pedestals? A few lines from "Light as the Breeze" should prove my point here:
For a direct link, of course there's Bono's extraordinary version of "Hallelujah" on "Tower of Song," one of several tribute albums to Cohen. I could spend years talking about this song and (again) its Jewish-mystic feel; the references to the secret name of God ("You say I took the Name in vain/I don't even know the Name" -- the line that made Bono laugh in "U2 at the End of the World"), and the power/sacredness of words ("There's a blaze of light in every word/it doesn't matter which you heard/the holy or the broken hallelujah"). I love its music theory puns ("The minor fall, the major lift"), the references to David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah ("You saw her bathing on the roof...she broke your throne, she cut your hair"). I love Jeff Buckley's version, which I've heard Bono commenting on as well, mostly in jealousy of Buckley's ability to stretch a note to its limit. I love Bono's version because of the way he speak-sings it, in a husky lover voice that gives it a very fitting intimate feel, and the way he sings in falsetto on the choruses chills the blood in my veins. Yeah, he's got a pretty good falsetto... ;)
I wonder if this song had anything to do with "Hallelujah" being Bono's Word of the Day for the last few years, I mean, the tag at the end of the ZooTV "Running to Stand Still," the new tag on "One"...probably not, but it's interesting to speculate.
There are many different versions of this song. Here's all the lyrics I could find.
"All men delight you
"Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally" -- Kurt Cobain