‘Death of a Ladies’ Man; remains one of the most audacious attempts to look at that sobering mixture of longing and regret that makes up so much of life, not bitterly … or nostalgically … but candidly and, sometimes, humorously.
From Wall of Crazy by Liel Leibovitz (Tablet: Dec 11, 2012). While I disagree with some of the interpretations and conclusions set forth in this piece, it provides (1) a fact-filled, entertaining description of the weirdness that led to the Phil Spector-Leonard Cohen collaboration-collision that resulted in the Death Of A Ladies’ Man album and (2) a thoughtful, insightful, and provocative analysis of the cultural and spiritual significance of the album. I highly recommend reading this essay – carefully – in its entirety. An excerpt from its closing paragraphs follows:
In all of his other explorations of the flesh in song—and it’s hard to think of a contemporary artist who wrote about copulation more frequently or more eloquently than Cohen—the singer realized that the body is only worthy of art’s attentions if it exists in search of a soul. It’s a duality Cohen captured best, perhaps, in his most famous song: “And remember when I moved in you,” he stated, “The holy dove was moving too/ And every breath we drew was Hallelujah.” But Spector forced Cohen to abandon the spirit and record instead an album thick with profanities in which the singer’s main yearning is not to be saved but to get laid. For that reason alone, the album deserves our ire. But it also deserves our respect: 35 years after its release, Death of a Ladies’ Man remains one of the most audacious attempts to look at that sobering mixture of longing and regret that makes up so much of life, not bitterly (as Lou Reed, for example, had done in several of his albums) or nostalgically (like too many aging rockers to count) but candidly and, sometimes, humorously. To achieve that, you needed a Cohen and a Spector, a Yin and a Yang, the one translating his darkness into precious and overwhelming pop symphonies and the other expressing his essential faith in mankind in spare verses and with a grim guitar. The album, then, offers its listeners a strange existential litmus test of sorts: Whether you look upward to heaven or down at your crotch says everything about how you choose to approach adulthood. The clash is not only artistic; it is theological. And it makes for an album that is frequently terrible, deeply relevant, and not for one moment boring.
Liel Leibovitz’s thoughts on Leonard Cohen have frequently been featured on this site. See those posts at Liel Leibovitz.
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Dec 19, 2012.