RECKONING / LEONARD COHEN
Reckoning is a rare thing. It’s a song that came to me to when I needed one. It was written, or at least it found its feet as a commision for the crowdfunding campaign of my last LP, Second. (Thank you Rita)
Structurally I guess it’s the most traditional song on the LP and there was a period where I almost abandoned it because it didn’t seem to fit. It was only when I recorded the bowed drones and backing vocals that I felt it began to speak to the ambient environment of the rest of the record. I had an idea for the piano part in the refrain that I thought was dumb, but then I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I asked Dorian to play it. He fleshed out the rest of the parts at the eleventh hour with his usual subtlety and calm.
I see it as a song held in a kind of strange purgatory between mourning and celebration - it's a reflection on time and aging and what it means to continue regardless of all impediments or reasons not to. Like many of the pieces on Air Itself (and elsewhere in the Mute Swimmer back catalog) it’s also a song about a song - the joy of singing and a sense of communion in (sung) self-forgetting.
Reckoning wasn’t intended as the track from the LP to share with you first but after the news of Leonard Cohen's death last Friday I felt it ought to be. A large part of my desire to write a song at all, I owe to him and, even though he’ll always remain several ‘hundred floors above me’, I think this song in particular owes him a special debt.
As a seven year old going through my parents record collection I recall the impact of his face first. It was the out staring face of a singing convict with a shaved head smoking a cigarette in a prison toilet cubicle. I had fabricated this story based on the LP cover of Leonard Cohen’s Live Songs (1972). I looked in equal parts fascination and terror. I remember thinking that I wasn’t ready for it, for ‘him’ - I wasn’t sure what this man was going to tell me - if it was ‘age appropriate’. (I self censored and opted for the less intimidating Fate for Breakfast by Art Garfunkel instead).
I don’t know what happened during the following year, but as an eight year old I must have felt somehow ready and when I placed the needle on the record the voice that spoke to me was one of profound doubt and fear and questioning - it was also a voice I trusted implicitly, a cracked voice full of struggle, compassion and wisdom. I never recovered from that voice and I never wanted to.
‘I’ve been listening to all the dissentions,
I’ve been listening to all the pain
And I feel that no matter what I do for you
It’s gonna come back again
But I think that I can heal it
I think that I can heal it
I’m a fool but I think that I can heal it
With this song’.
(Minute Prologue, Live Songs, London, 1972)
If anyone taught me that a song could be somehow unfathomably, intrinsically important - that music could speak your life back to you, reach you in a way that nothing or no-one else could - it was Leonard Cohen. I’ve found so much solace, humility and wisdom in his work I can’t find anything approaching the adequate words right now. Suffice to say the only relationship I had with him was through his work (and as an amazing orator I feel that I must include his speeches and interviews in that) and the great joy of art I suppose is that that relationship is fundamentally unaffected by (his) death, it doesn’t end. His songs and poetry will continue to act as a some kind of ultimate measure to me as a writer - and the rich, (dis)honourable life he appeared to live, an example I find difficult to locate in anyone else I’ve never actually known. RIP.EVERY WEEK OVER THE COURSE OF THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN I'LL BE POSTING SOME THOUGHTS ON EACH SONG THAT FEATURES ON THE RECORD AND HOW IT WAS MADE
IT WOULD BE MASSIVELY APPRECIATED IF YOU SHARED THIS SONG AND SUPPORTED THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IT INTO A BEAUTIFUL 'REAL' THING OF THE WORLD (ie: a packaged LP/CD)