Dancing to Leonard Cohen and related pursuits

There are many ludicrous things about DRM: the belief that the internet was designed to be a distribution mechanism for film and music and nothing else; the belief that it is okay to treat everyone as a criminal; the willingness to chisel artists through patently unfair contracts, while making out that those self-same artists are victims of the general public, the “criminals”; the belief that the creation of artificial scarcities will not be met by artificial abundances. But that’s not what this post is about.

One of the most ludicrous things about DRM, however, is the benighted attempt to sustain a historical distribution model by time-separating geographies. In the past, both for films as well as for music, it was defensible while remaining unpalatable.

Let’s take film. In order to keep production costs down, each film would have a finite number of prints made, and these prints would have to be sent around the world. So, while I was growing up, by the time a new film made it to India, it was marked by scratches and cuts and noughts and crosses. The condition was not really germane, the real problem was the time. Films arrived in India a long time after they were released in the US or UK.

When it came to music, something similar happened. LPs and singles were stamped locally from masters, and there must have been a finite number of masters made. And as usual India had to wait for the masters to arrive before the records could be stamped and released. As a result, “western” music arrived in India some time after the US or UK release.

We had the Sixties, yes, but not at the same time as everyone else. With the advent of digital media, there is no reason to time-separate markets, no reason for India to see a film later than the US. The primary reason, the protection of historical distribution models, is an outrage. The oft-quoted primary reason, the need to stamp out piracy, is inane: piracy would drop substantially if release was same-time worldwide.

But that’s not the point of this post either.

The point of the post is this: In the Sixties and early Seventies, for all the reasons quoted above, western music arrived late to India. Which meant that, for example, someone like Leonard Cohen was very popular for most of the 1970s.

I was thirteen when the Seventies began. Now I like Leonard Cohen. A lot. I have a signed first edition of Beautiful Losers, I have every album he’s ever made, I count Famous Blue Raincoat as one of my top 25 songs ever. [There’s something haunting, something deeply satisfying, about the lilting cadence of and-then-Jane.Came.By-with-a-lock-of-your-hair. She-said.That-you-gave-it-to-her. The-night. That-you-planned-to-go-clear. Did you ever go clear?]

Yes, I like Leonard Cohen.

It feels strange to think that tonight, as the UK gears itself for that momentous occasion, the X Factor Finals, children born after Cohen’s children were born are going to sing along to songs written by him. Hallelujah has been chosen as the debut song for the contest’s winner.

Actually, this generation has it easy. My generation, we had to dance to Leonard Cohen, whisper sweet nothings to the girls we were courting while trying to figure out how to look “cool” while “dancing” to Cohen.

16 thoughts on “Dancing to Leonard Cohen and related pursuits”

  1. I was too young to wear shades :-) And “dancing” was probably a gross misrepresentation. I think “swaying gently and occasionally taking a steo while trying not to look too stupid” is closer to the truth.

  2. Yes, in small-town India in the mid 80s, the big names in the music stall at the bazaar were Abba and the Police … who had long since disbanded. So funny that having been years behind the times then, in fashion as well as music, now we make our living trying to be at the bleeding edge of our new webworld.

  3. There are some songs you shouldn’t cover. There are some songs you shouldn’t cover when the cover has been done better than the original. All Along the Watchtower immediately springs to mind as does Hallelujah as covered by Jeff Buckley. After that version it should be left alone. Let’s count the number of ways they get to ruin it :(

  4. Malc, I agree with you, but with one proviso. I assume you mean the Hendrix version and not the Joan Baez version…. BTW have you tried Deezer, and have you installed Songbird yet?

  5. Intriguing comment, Geoff. The “Marianne” in “So Long Marianne” used to live in Hydra, and may still live there, so your meeting Suzanne there is some coincidence.

    The question is, which Suzanne? Most people think the eponymous song is about Suzanne Elrod, who used to be married to him. But, since a 1994 interview with Cohen, the received wisdom is that “Suzanne” is actually Suzanne Verdal, the wife of Armand Vaillancourt.

    If you met the right Suzanne in Hydra, that would mean you *might* have been able to meet two different Leonard Cohen song inspirations on the same Greek island. Imagine that.

  6. If you think I meant anyone other than Hendrix well ….. :)

    Not sure about Songbird tbh .. not heard of Deezer but will give it a look. Have you seen Spotify .. looks good. Not sure what their licensing agreement is.

    Just back from a party and TLS have murdered Hallelujah.

  7. Just watching Alexandra. She can do the lot but she shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near that song after Jeff Buckley.

  8. Really not sure which one :-( but a local artist told ne thats Cohen’s Suzanne, my understanding his that he still owns a house their.
    btw The Bratsera is one of my favourite hotels can really recommend it if you want a peacful break!

  9. Malc, Myrto arranged for me to try out Spotify. Looked good. Advertising business model is the expectation. The reason I have stayed with Songbird is the open platform community effect a la Firefox and Netvibes and opensource in general.

    Viki I have no idea what you’re talking about :-) And I wistfully remember what a lung was.

    Geoff, thanks for the tip. Will make sure I try the Bratsera if for some reason I find myself in Hydra.

  10. I was horrified when I heard it was going to be the X factor single. BUT, I thought Alexandra (the deserved winner of said competition)did/does an ok version. Of course not as good as original or Buckley or Wainwright versions, but not as dreadful as I had initially feared. Also, as a guaranteed number one, should give LC a nice Xmas royalties bonus too.

  11. Y’know, John Cale did a pretty good take on this. Interesting that Dylan also followed Hendrix’s take on his song on Budokan (though not a particularly distinguished record overall.)

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