New albums by Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s Grinderman, reviewed
There’s something sinister and sad and kind of ugly about the first seconds of Leonard Cohen’s latest live album. Songs from the Road opens with a recording made one year ago today at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv; the crowd applauds in 2/4 time as Cohen takes the stage to sing “Lover Lover Lover” from 1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony. The knee-jerk, gut-level reaction is that there’s something awfully gauche about clapping to a dirge whose refrain pleads, “Lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, come back to me.” It elevates the song to the status of arena rock standard, reducing this later-life Cohen to showman, to vendor of spectacle: a role which has been imposed upon him in the past five years.
It’s a part he’s played out of necessity and, one imagines, with great uneasiness. The elephant in the room is Cohen’s financial problem, the result of long-time business manager Kelley Lynch siphoning millions from his retirement account, leaving the usually reclusive poet/novelist/songwriter with little recourse but to churn out more work, and exhaustively tour the globe.
This air of obligation hangs heavy over most of his recent work, from the rushed-to-market feel of 2006’s Book of Longing, a compilation of poetry and illustrations that reads like the B-side to much of Cohen’s more accomplished writing, to the 2009 release of Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (also not very good), and now to this Songs from the Road — the second live album, following 2008’s Live in London, to survey his last two years of touring. But where the London release documented an entire, solitary concert, Songs from the Road stitches together various sets recorded in Tel Aviv, Helsinki, Glasgow, San Jose, England’s London, Ontario’s London, and elsewhere. It’s a best-of live album, padding out the catalogue of an artist whose output has been compiled into a bulk of best-of albums, including The Essential Leonard Cohen, The Best of Leonard Cohen, and the uninspiringly titled More Best of Leonard Cohen. (more…)
The question interrupts a jag of hacking coughs. “Who are you?” asks an exasperated male voice, and I feel reasonably sure I’ve got hold of the real Nick Cave. The famously caustic rocker-turned-writer’s second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, is a finely wrought and yet appropriately horrifying account of a philandering salesman’s last days on earth. Bunny chases tail, obsesses over Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne, and guides his young son through a carnival of lusty housewives, murderous cuckolds, and other lowlifes. On the phone from Ottawa, the leader of The Bad Seeds gruffly discusses the novel’s genesis and female reactions to its titular creep.
What was happening in your life when you wrote The Death of Bunny Munro?
The Bad Seeds were doing the Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! tour. I wrote the book basically on the tour bus, backstage, on the way to the airport, at the airport, in hotel rooms, and so forth. Under extremely chaotic conditions.
That’s amazing, because there’s so much detail in your prose. It doesn’t come across as distracted or hurried.
Well, it’s not distracted. I was able to escape from the mind-numbing rock and roll world.
In previous interviews, you’ve said the world of travelling salesmen is full of drinking, drug-taking, and womanizing. I read that and thought, well, that’s the rock world too, isn’t it?
So they say.
Is the rock scene different now than it was when you started out in the ’80s? Or is there still plenty of debauchery that goes on around you?
Do you stay out of it?
It’s difficult to stay out of it.
What is it about Avril Lavigne that you like?
Well, it’s not… She was the appropriate fantasy object for Bunny Munro because of… Because she comes across as kind of innocent.
Innocent, but with an edge.
Well, Bunny likes… Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to have to explain all of that, but the book explains why, more or less. Bunny likes her eyeliner; he thinks it’s crazy.
Have you noticed a difference in attitude between men and women who have read the book?
There are some women who like it and some women who don’t. A lot of women appreciate that I’ve invented a character who… uh… They appreciate Bunny’s character in that, within him there’s something that women have suspected lived inside the male psyche all along.
I see what you mean — that there’s a running dialogue about sex in men’s heads — but I wonder whether Bunny is an extreme portrayal. Do you think all men have a Bunny Munro in them?
Yeah, I do. On some level, we do. He is in extreme case, though, you’re right.
Most women would be appalled by Bunny if he existed in reality. What would you say about men who perhaps wouldn’t have that reaction?
Men who aren’t horrified by what he gets up to? Look, I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question. This world is made up of all different types of people. I’m not saying that every man in this world is like Bunny Munro, but I certainly recognize an aspect of myself within this character. Or I couldn’t have written it.
Is there much in the book that’s drawn from your personal experiences?
Quite a bit, in one form or another. Certainly the drawing of the child in the book is based very strongly on observing my own children.
You have twins, right? How old are they?
That’s right. They’re nine.
I’ve encountered nine year olds who have a mean streak, but the boy in the book doesn’t seem to have any of that in him. Gives you hope.
Yeah, well, my boys are very nice. [Mock Cockney accent] They’re little angels, they are.