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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 308
Sun, Nov 18, 2012

“The Guests”
Leonard Cohen

1979

“♫ One by
one The Guests
arrive/ The open—
hearted many/
The broken—
hearted few/ and
no one knows
where the night
is going
♫”

I love listening to Leonard Cohen songs with new ears after midnight, last night I rediscovered the very mysterious “The Guests;” the opening track from 1979’s Recent Songs. “The Guests” Leonard is singing about are the songbirds of inspiration who are floating around trying to get Cohen’s attention so she can some to life as lyrical songs. I love the image of Leonard’s songs and poems being guests. Most artists hear their songs as their own children, Cohen knows better, the songs are visitors who haunt their stay inside waiting for Leonard to glimpse their magic turn them from darkness into light.

The first thing you’ll notice along with the vivacious violin soaring with Leonard’s tender vocal. “The Guests” was the first song since his tumultuous Death of a Ladies Man sessions with legendary infamous record producer Phil Spector. You can tell that Cohen has excised any traces of Spector notorious Wall of Sound atmosphere that overshadowed Leonard’s poetics throughout the overproduced chaos that was Ladies Man.

That lovely violin was a tribute to Cohen’s mother who died before Recent Songs was released. Sylvie Simmons recounted this in her brilliant biography Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man when she wrote, “When he played her his last album Death of a Ladies Man, she had asked why he didn’t make songs like the ones they used to sing together around the house, many of these being old Russian and Jewish songs, whose sentimental melodies were often played on violin. So Leonard did.

The Guests is one of Cohen’s most unheralded works from the late 1970’s. On many levels, “The Guests” transcends the traditional dinner party analogy for a more literary feel. as Cohen discovered when hearing the opening lyrics from Recent Songs, “One by one, he guests arrive…the broken-hearted few,” Leonard himself said this about “The Guests,” “I think that kind of imagery can be discovered all through the literature. The Persian poet Rumi uses the idea of the guests a lot, the festival, the feast and the guests. It’s almost impossible to talk about that seed moment of when a song begins. It could be the soul comes into world. There is some notion the soul has that there is a feast, that there is a festival, that there is a banquet. It strives to experience the hospitality of the world. It doesn’t achieve it. It feels lonely, this is everybody’s experience. It feels lost. It stumbles around on the outskirts of the party. Although no one knows where the night is going, no one knows why the wine is flowing. No one actually understand the mechanics of this grace except that we experience it from time to time.”

Who are “The Guests” in Leonard Cohen songs? Are they friends, lovers, ghosts, songs, poems…maybe all or none of the above? That’s what I love about rediscovering Cohen’s songs it’s like a literal mystery of trying to unearth the meaning of Leonard’s lyrical clues. Not only the perfect song for the next dinner party, “The Guests” is best heard alone, right before the moment you’re fingers hit the keyboard, canvas or guitar. When you let the inspirational songbirds in, these guests always seem to leave you riches, igniting the way to next creative emotion. You have a standing invitation inside Leonard Cohen’s “Guests,” bring your imagination and your true voice will follow.

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