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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 101
Fri. May 10, 2013

“I Can’t Forget”
The Pixies; Leonard Cohen

1988

“♫ I
can’t forget/
and I don’t
remember
what?
♫”

Leonard Cohen said this, regarding this now classic cut from 1988’s I’m Your Man, “This is a song about what I can’t forget.” According to her book, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, Sylvie Simmons wrote, ““I Can’t Forget,” which started life as a song about the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, has Leonard moving on once again but unable to remember his motive, having spent so long living in the myth of himself.”

Sylvie’s is so right; it was Leonard living inside his own myth which inspired one of his most influential albums of the eighties. So influential that a legion of alternative bands like R.E.M.; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and James honored Leonard Cohen on the tribute album I’m Your Fan. Frank Black Francis, lead singer and songwriter of Pixies actually became a Cohen fan because of 1988’s I’m Your Man, as he explained to Uncut Magazine UK, “Yeah, I think that listening to some of his records in recent years, there’s a thing, an attitude that he has going on that I really, really like. He can be dark and down but it’s very humorous and it’s very smart and witty. He’s very cool. It’s almost like a Bryan Ferry stance, with the whole wrinkled suit and the cigarette. It’s a little bit like, “I can handle myself. Yes, I was destroyed, but let me tell you about it…” For a lot of people my age, I’m Your Man was the record that got you into Leonard Cohen. I heard that record round about 1989 on a Pixies tour and became obsessed with it. It all clicked and I got who he was. Now I can go back to his earlier records and listen to them, no problem. I think my mother’s in love with him. She’s got this Austin City Limits performance by him that we always watch together when I visit her.”

Cohen’s voice is like an eternal flame that you’ll always remember and never want to forget. Francis homage to Cohen with his version of “I Can’t Forget” has Pixies lighting a fire on Leonard’s legacy. It’s invigorating to hear Cohen’s words unleashed with such angst-like fury. Frank took a different route connecting with the literal anger seething underneath. It feels like Francis even though he refuses to forgive her—he still just can’t let go. You feel this electric dichotomy in Pixies version of “I Can’t Forget.”

1988 was when I was first introduced to Leonard Cohen. Even though I have loved and lost, along the way Cohen’s song have been a lyrical reflection of the all that could have been. When I hear Pixies homage to Leonard Cohen it makes me think that, sometimes you just have to move on— it’s not that you refuse her, most times you remember everything…you want to but just can’t forget. Sometimes forgiveness and forgetting are just enough. That’s why we have Leonard Cohen songs and Pixies to help to remind me of all the rhymes, I love to remember and… “I Can’t Forget.”

and here’s the original:

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