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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 158
Fri. June 15, 2012

“Sisters of Mercy”
Leonard Cohen
1967

“♫ Oh the Sisters of
Mercy/ they are not
departed or gone/ they
were waiting for
me/ when I thought
that I just can’t go
on/ and they brought
me their comfort / and
later they brought me
this song
[…] ♫”

One night at a French Quarter bar, during my bachelor days in New Orleans, I ran into two lovely northern ladies I dubbed The Sisters No-Mercy. After a plethora of drinks and a couple tabs we rolled Uptown, arm and arm laughing, inhaling lifted thoughts our conversations—lasted till sunup. We wrote lovely lines, such beautiful poetry and then I woke up alone with my turntable revolving and my ashtray emptying details of mysteries in my head like the end vinyl groove scratching memories with The Songs of Leonard Cohen.

I guess great poets think alike, Leonard and I may have had the same lacking seduction methods but seriously—we all agree Cohen’s poetry is far superior to mine. Leonard is the best. I long to emulate Cohen’s unwavering dedication to his craft. Just to have a glimpse of his calmness, the sweetness, the smoothness and the greatness with Leonard’s unique voice so powerful and unabashed— Cohen’s the laureate, all poets like me, all long to become.

But it is kind of funny that we had similar lacking experiences with our stranger like “Sisters.” I always thought of Leonard’s “Sisters” was about angels but apparently my story has more in common with Cohen’s description of how he wrote “Mercy”—when he said.

That’s the only song I wrote in one sitting. The melody I had worked on for some time. I didn’t really know what the song was. I remember that my mother had liked it.”

I bet Leonard’s mother didn’t realize the beautiful yet indecent moment that inspired her son to pen “Sisters of Mercy.” Cohen continued talking about the story behind “Mercy” when he explained to Song Talk in 1993—

Then I was in Edmonton, and I found myself in a vestibule with two young hitch-hiking women who didn’t have a place to stay. I invited them back to my little hotel room and there was a big double bed and they went to sleep in it immediately. They were exhausted by the storm and cold. And I sat in this stuffed chair inside the window beside the Saskatchewan River. And while they were sleeping I wrote the lyrics. And that never happened to me before.”

Whatever the intention, Cohen showed his inherit kindness by allowing those two ladies to sleep in his bed. Leonard subscribes to same Poets honor code that I follow. And the gift he received for his thoughtfulness, by the Poetry Gods, was “Sisters of Mercy.” Think about it, most men would have bed them for pleasure. Cohen honored and immortalized these two beauties with your timeless song.

Cohen waxed philosophical on his moment of intimacy when he said. “And I think it must be wonderful to be that kind of writer. It must be wonderful. Because I just wrote the lines with a few revisions and when they awakened I sang it to them. And it has never happened to me like that before. Or since.”

It’s what you do with moments like this, as writers, is what makes Leonard such a legendary poet. He wrote. Simple as that, instead of getting naked, Cohen exposed himself to this sisters on the page with his song. What would you have done? Any horny soul would have the cliché “ultimate” sexual experience— but Cohen inherently understood that instance was beyond lust; it was all about capturing the moment like a lyrical photographer and the best part was that he sung “Mercy” to the Sisters, as they woke up.

I was not that brave. It took me over ten years to compose the “Sisters” poem I wrote last night. Cohen penned his song in the room and then sung it to them. Now that’s a true poet—harnessing the inspiration in the room and creating something out such an intimate moment.

So many cover versions the one I want to showcase today is from the soundtrack to the film Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man is this lovely rendition of “Sisters of Mercy” by Beth Orton.

Thank You Leonard for the inspiration, you are the Poet, the way you composed “Sisters of Mercy” in that room in front of those wanting women shows how dedicated you are to the craft of your verse. Your voice is my Legend!

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