Friday 12 December 2008

On Satan, cigarettes, and Leonard Cohen

They’ve let Leonard Cohen out of his tower for a while, so he’ll be touring Australia in February – and I’ll be going to see him at his Brisbane show! As far as I can tell, he’s someone who only gets better the older and bleaker he gets. He might complain: “Well my friends are gone, my hair is grey, I ache in the places where I used to play” – but our response is to hope that he just keeps on aching: pain this beautiful ought to go on and on. (Kurt Cobain was right to notice this: “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally.”)

Anyway, the prospect of seeing Leonard Cohen reminds me of something I was reading recently: Glen Duncan’s deliciously funny and perverse novel, I, Lucifer (Grove Press, 2002). In the novel, Satan is given the chance to re-enter heaven if he can live a well-behaved life in a human body for one month. He enjoys the experience of fleshiness, and he promptly gives himself up to all manner of debauchery. At one point, he also takes up smoking cigarettes: “I started smoking, too. I’m looking forward to stopping, obviously, since the real pleasure is starting again, but in the meantime I’ve found my rhythm at about fifty a day” (pp. 67-68).

It’s a splendid piece of Satanic reasoning: to start smoking for the sake of quitting, simply so that you’ll be able to enjoy the rasping rabid pleasure of starting again!

In the same way, Leonard Cohen makes you want to find religion just so you can undergo the exquisite pain of losing it again. Or if you’ve already got religion, perhaps he can help you to lose it just a little, so that you can find it again one day “by the rivers dark,
in a wounded dawn.”

        I did my best, it wasn’t much
        I couldn’t feel so I learned to touch
        I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
        And even though it all went wrong
        I’ll stand before the Lord of song
        With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.


Anonymous said...

Continuing where I left off below ...

Adapting what Blake said of Milton, that he was "a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it," so one could say of Ben Myers that he "is a true Theologian and of the Devil's party - and doesn't he just know it!"

Unknown said...

Ahhh the size of the voice that comes out the size of that man's frame is truly a wonder.


Anonymous said...

OK I give up trying to dissuade you all. If Cohen, Waits, Cobain et al are invited into the cyberspace Inklings, then we need to welcome the great Merle Travis to the party. Merle..?

Now I'm a fellow with a heart of gold
And the ways of a gentleman I've been told
Kind-of-a-guy that wouldn't even harm a flea
But if me and a certain character met
The guy that invented that cigarette
I'd murder that son-of-a gun in the first degree
It ain't cuz I don't smoke 'em myself
and i don't reckon that it'll hinder your health
I smoked 'em all my life and I ain't dead yet
But nicotine slaves are all the same
at a pettin' party or a poker game
Everything gotta stop while they have a cigarette
Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff until you smoke yourself to death.
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
That you hate to make him wait,
But you just gotta have another cigarette.

In a game of chance the other night
Old dame fortune was good and right
The kings and queens they kept on comin' around
Aw, I was hittin' em good and bettin' 'em high
But my bluff didn't work on a certain guy
He kept callin' and layin' his money down
See, he'd raise me then I'd raise him
and I'd say to him buddy ya gotta sink or swim
Finally called me but didn't raise the bet!
--Hmmph! I said Aces Full Pal -- I got you!
He said, "I'll pay up in a minute or two
But right now, i just gotta have another cigarette."
Now the other night I had a date
with the cutest little gal in any state
A high-bred, uptown, fancy little dame
She said she loved me and it seemd to me
That things were sorta like they oughtta be
So hand in hand we strolled down lovers lane
She was a long way from a chunk of ice
And our pettin' party was goin' real nice
And I got an idea I might have been there yet
So I give her a kiss and a little squeeze
Then she said, "Travis, Excuse me Please
But I just gotta have a cigarette."

Anonymous said...

Leonard Cohen song “the future” has always seemed to be one of the most frightening and prophetic popular songs ever conceived.

Here is a great cover of it by Richard and Linda Thompson’s son Teddy (Richard himself would make an excellent addition to your future Faith and Theology mix CD)

God Bless

Steve in Toronto

PS. If it was up to me I would have deleted the line about Saint Paul

Sally D said...

Thank you for this, and for the link.

I've spent a happy hour or two discovering the song "By the rivers dark" which is profoundly moving, and listening to a couple of versions of Hallelujah on YouTube. Apparently it's set to be No 1 in the UK this Christmas, due to the X Factor show - which is more than a bit ironic - talk about 'tied to the kitchen chair'...!

Then I happened across a brilliantly quixotic quote:

"This morning I woke up again/ I thank my Lord for that/ The world is such a pigpen/ That I have to wear a hat".

Hat tip to Mr Cohen. Long may you growl!

thegreatswalmi said...

i promise i'll read the rest of the post once i overcome my intense envy of your ticket to cohen. i'm listening to the tower of song right now and the church has never felt more like home :)


Ben Myers said...

Hey Steve, you really don't like the line about St Paul? I've always thought it was one of the best parts of the song — what could be more terrifyingly apocalyptic than this:

"Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima"

Sally D said...

It's a good line, but what does he have against St Paul? It's Matthew he should be after, if it's the "blood libel" he has in mind. Difficult to rhyme though :)

David Williamson said...

You'll have an amazing time! I saw in Birmingham a few weeks ago and it was three hours of delightful magic. It is as if he has truly resolved the question of whether he is first a poet or a musician. His voice has never sounded as confident or his demeanour as joyful. But the overwhelming memory of the night was his utter graciousness, his appreciation of his fellow musicians and his gratitude to an (adoring) audience.

JKnott said...

@ Roger Flyer--

Good one...but my favorite cigarette song--excuse me, "cigareete" song--is the one sung by Peter Sellers on the Muppet Show:

Anonymous said...

J Knott-Briliant!

Us trailer trash have now officially bullied our way into faith and theology space! While our brothers and sisters contemplate the dark side through the minstrel songs of Waits and Cohen, we will rejoice together in the light--with cigareetes and whiskey and wild wild women!

...and wasn't it Therese of Lisieux who said: If you can serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then for Jesus you shall be a pleasant place of shelter...

So glad to know I am not the only one around here who doesn't think Last Tango in Paris was a love story.

JKnott said...

I don't know about Last Tango in Paris, and I'll have you know that I'm only HALF trailer trash.

Anonymous said...

The whiskey lovin' half or the cigareete lovin' half?

Sorry if I insulted you, but you asked for it with your Muppet impression of Tom Waits.

JKnott said...

Insulted because someone overestimated my trailer trash blood? Nah. But don't diss my 1/128th Cherokee heritage!

::aaron g:: said...

I just picked up Duncan’s novel from the Ashgrove library. Maybe I'll take it with me to Hell pizza and read it over lunch.

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