Ok. Maybe you believe this. Maybe you believe this because Leonard Cohen published his first book of poems before he released his debut album. He wrote out this song like the difference between first and second degree murder. Premeditated. You believe this because the first verse of this song are some of the least ambiguous lyrics Cohen had penned up to this point in his career.
Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past.
We swore to each other then that our love would surely last.
You kept right on loving, I went on a fast,
now I am too thin and your love is too vast.
But perhaps you believe the wrong thing. How much do you believe Cohen when he sings, “for a while?” Do you take him at his word? You might, and that might be the fault of that stupid Jew’s Harp that zips around your eardrums as you listen to Cohen spill his guts. It makes the song seem somehow like a joke. It’s a deflator, that stupid Jew’a Harp. It also could be that Cohen doesn’t attack the song. He sings it like he’s Leonard Cohen, like he’s speaking low because there’s a memorial service next door for someone he wishes he could be mourning, and so you might be prone to believe him when sings, “Tonight will be fine, will be fine, will be fine
for a while.”
I love it when Leonard Cohen goes off-book. It only happens rarely, and even when he does, when his bricks move slightly so you can see a beating heart behind them, he does it on his own terms. Cohen’s first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, is wonderful, but it is also stoic for forty of its forty-one minutes. Then, on the last minute of the album’s last song, “One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong,” he lets everything out. Cohen wails, maybe hammered out of his head, but certainly out of his element, and the album ends with his tantruming gyre. It’s a magnificent, breathtaking shift.
The story goes that they woke Cohen up at 3 AM after Hendrix had just driven the audience into a death spiral and asked him, the Stoic Canadian Poet, to get on up stage (in his pajamas!) to calm them down. Cohen acquiesced, but he changed first and did a sound check. By the time Cohen got on stage after 4 AM, there was something tense in the breathing air, the story goes. And while the Stoic Canadian Poet did not light his electric guitar on fire or yell or scream, while he may have calmed the audience, he made no qualms or promises concerning reassurance. His voice sounds worried, as if he looked out at his crowd of 600,00 people, a metropolis of shifting youth, and had no easy answer. He sounds fatigued and groggy and tired, but at the same time, absolutely comfortable with this song and what it means. What he’s saying here, which the album version doesn’t, is No. No it won’t.
Or see this, which is roughly the same.