It's You My Love, You Who Are the Stranger

I am going to open this post on a controversial opinion: Leonard Cohen is the greatest lyricist in the history of modern music. Not "one of the greatest." Not "up there with Dylan." The greatest, end of story.

I used to be a Dylanite, to be sure. As I alluded to in my last post, I was raised that way. In ninth grade, I wrote a paper about "It's Alright Ma" as an embodiment of the spirit of the 1960s. But while Dylan was readily accessible, Cohen took me a long time to get into and an even longer time to fully appreciate.

I probably first heard Cohen's music by way of Judy Collins's cover of "Suzanne," although I was too young to appreciate it at the time. Like most people of my generation, what got me interested in Cohen was Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah," which I first remember hearing at about seven years ago.

From there, it was another four years until I took it upon myself to look deeper into Cohen as an artist, starting with the excellent "Famous Blue Raincoat." I think the inspiration was David Bazan and TW Walsh's constant interview and stage talk about him that finally did it. Gradually I came to understand a basic fact: you simply cannot top Cohen's lyrics. Despite each song's incredible complexity and often considerable length, almost every one holds the listener's attention. Pure poetry, and unlike Dylan, especially post- Another Side Dylan, you actually get the impression that Cohen understands everything he's writing.

The song appended to this post, "Stranger Song," from Cohen's first album, is a personal favorite. In some ways, it's a common, almost archetypal theme: a girl won over by a man's false promises who ends up heartbroken. Cohen manages to make it his own, however, with a recurring gambling metaphor and stunning imagery. Lyrics are here, if you are interested, and you should be. I will note that this version comes from an unreleased BBC session, and except for the slightly lower audio quality, I think it's actually much better than the studio version.

Leonard Cohen - Stranger Song (live at the BBC)

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