Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash Grow Old

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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22 Responses

  1. Dhex says:

    Cash’s rendition of “i see a darkness” is given an entirely different focus simply due to the age and weight of his voice against the lyrics. It manages to be less dark, more accepting.Report

  2. James Hanley says:

    I have a new perspective on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road now. His greatest books, Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy, were all written in the ’90s. No Country for Old Men, written in ’07 (I think), is a good read (and a good film), but doesn’t have the depth and richness of those other works. And The Road, also published around that time, is dreck. (OK, he won the Pulitzer for it, but it’s just not good; no depth of characterization, no depth of story, and sadly predictable, and I’m not the only McCarthy buff who feels this way).

    So I’ve been hoping for redemption with a new McCarthy novel, and now I feel a deep pessimism. Thanks, J.L. 😉Report

    • Dhex in reply to James Hanley says:

      I really do like his westerns but the road is great. I’ll never read it again – not a good choice when your wife is pregnant with a boy – but completely within the scope of his obsession with inescapable doom. The only hook is that there is no hook, no hope, just struggle and death.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Dhex says:

        I was profoundly unimpressed with The Road, but that could be a function of overwhelming hype coming in + the fact that I consumed a *lot* of supremely depressing hopeless post-apocalyptic sci-fi as a kid, so there was nothing really new in it to me. My reaction was largely the same as James’.

        But he’s respected enough (and I liked the film of ‘No Country’) that I want to give him at least one more try, so what McCarthy should I try next? Blood Meridian, or Pretty Horses?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Dhex says:

        Tastes are subjective, of course. But the first review here sums up my thoughts. And love the book or hate it, it’s the most brilliant amazon.com review ever.Report

        • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

          That review is pretty terrific. And the stylistic choices (missing punctuation) did in fact bug.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Glyph says:

            The funny thing is that his stylistic choices in that vein were very similar to his other novels. I’m not a huge fan of the choice, but I became accustomed to it and am not bothered by it. I just don’t think The Road stands up to his other works, which really delve into the psyches of the heros?

            If you want an easier read, go with No Country, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s not as rich as some of his other work, but it’s a much more straightforward story. But if you want to dive into the richer, more complex, works, there’s an important choice between the Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian. The Border Trilogy is awesome, but it’s not light reading. Blood Meridian stands by itself, perhaps McCarthy’s true magnum opus. It’s brilliant, but it’s just relentlessly brutal, delving into the evilness of man in a way that goes far beyond any of his other works.

            I really think a person should read the Border Trilogy first, but given that it’s style and pacing could turn people away (especially the second book, The Crossing, which I only really started to love on third reading), I think I’d suggest Blood Meridian first. I think it’s a great American novel on the level of Huck Finn and Grapes of Wratch.Report

            • J.L. Wall in reply to James Hanley says:

              I read All the Pretty Horses first, and didn’t come back to the Border Trilogy for about a year or so. In between, I read Blood Meridian. If one can get through the first 50-60 pages, you can finish it. Not that those pages are bad — they’re just bloody and harsh and difficult and if they were the first 50 I read of McCarthy, I don’t think I would have read another 50.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Dhex says:

        I heard reading “The Road” made watching it unfathomable to many people. Did you guys end up seeing the film?Report

        • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

          I didn’t see the movie and probably won’t. Seems like it’d be a slog. There’s plenty of better post-apocalyptic depressing stuff to watch – it’s almost time for a Road Warrior* re-watch! And I am cautiously optimistic about the Cloud Atlas movie (the book was awesome) which has some post-apocalyptic sequences.

          * So a couple years ago, I got Road Warrior from Netflix b/c my wife had never seen it and we needed to rectify that, stat. I had seen the movie a zillion times as a kid, but it was a censored version VHS-taped off network TV. I had subsequently seen the original cut, in college, never on a decent home theater setup.

          So while we were watching it, I caught a line I had never heard before – offscreen, when you hear Lord Humungus rallying his troops for the assault on the ‘fort’, you can hear him addressing one group as the ‘Gayboy Beserkers’. I had to rewind it to make sure I had heard correctly.

          Why there has not been a punk band with this name I will never know.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:


          After reading the book, I refused to see the movie. I have a Cormac McCarthy section on my bookshelf. It’s a place of privilege, the top shelf, along with the Master and Commander series, A River Runs Through It, Canoeing with the Cree, The Searchers, and True Grit. The Road didn’t make it to the shelf; I literally threw it into the trash.

          I truly find it amazing that it received such acclaim and several awards. A few years ago I was having drinks with a Marine Lieutenant who had been an English major in college, and discovered he was also a McCarthy fan. And he agreed with me, saying he felt cheated by The Road. So there’s a part of me that wonders if the hating/liking it is a function of having/having-not read and liked McCarthy’s other books.Report

          • J.L. Wall in reply to James Hanley says:

            I haven’t read The Road yet. (I think I’m still waiting on finding a sufficiently cheap used copy.) But it IS possible that critics wanted to throw him an award more than the book. It’s happened before, I feel. (Steinbeck won the Pulitzer for THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT — and don’t get me wrong, I love that a third of the book is narrated to the dry goods in a grocery store , but it isn’t a great book by any means.)

            I had a McCarthy kick a few years back (I guess it ended about 18 months ago, when I finally finished off the Border Trilogy). I keep trying to pick up No Country for Old Men but find I can’t. It’s not the book itself, or the brutality of its prose, but the expectation of what’s coming. McCarthy’s tricky. I didn’t realize how exhausting it can be to read him until I put him down for a while. But I’ll get back to him in a bit. The Border Trilogy is one of those things that deserves a second go-through after some years have passed.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              McCarthy’s tricky. I didn’t realize how exhausting it can be to read him until I put him down for a while

              Good way to put it. The advantage of No Country is that it’s over much quicker, so less exhausting.

              Agreed on re-reading Border Trilogy. I’ve read Horses multiple times–it stands great on its own–The Crossing thrice, and I’m planning to soon return to Cities of the Plain for a third reading. The ending kills me, though. I find it much bleaker than The Road because it’s so much more realistic.

              Have any of you read his earlier novels? Suttree, The Orchard Keeper, etc? I’ve wanted to tackle them, but have been hesitant to.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              Faulkner won his Pulitzers for A Fable and The Town. Sane effect.Report

    • RJ in reply to James Hanley says:

      Blood Meridian was not written in the ’90s.Report

  3. Michelle says:

    I have mixed feelings about Cohen’s latest album. Some of the songs are quite touching, but it has much less heft than much of Cohen’s earlier work. It seems, as you said, that Cohen has decided to take himself (and life in general) a lot less seriously.

    For albums dealing with death and mortality, Warren Zevon’s last two releases, when it became clear his cancer was terminal, are among the most touching for me. From the humorous “Life’ll Kill Ya” to his brooding version of Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” Zevon’s covers all the emotions involved in coming to terms with his impending death without resorting to the maudlin or trite. Brilliant.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Michelle says:

      How could I have forgotten to talk about Zevon’s last albums in this post? Ugh. You’re absolutely right about it. I remember the first time I heard him singing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” — the song itself suddenly opened up for me.Report

  4. dhex says:

    when it comes to ending on a dramatic note, i think yukio mishima stands out – he finishes his tetralogy and then kills himself in a meaningless grand gesture.Report

  5. Tiffany says:

    There’s new Johnny Cash documentary on the internet called My Father and The Man In Black, has anyone else heard of it or seen it? It talks about a side of Johnny Cash’s story that many of us don’t know about. Anyway, the article above reminded me of the film, I thought it was pretty cool and I can’t wait to see it! Heres the link to the trailer: