I have been listening to this song more and more recently, and with a growing intensity -perhaps even a touch of reverence. The song is beautiful, and the phrases seem to fall away in their sadness. I have heard the original studio version many times, on the album Various Positions, and I heard the song in concert three times during Leonard Cohen’s last series of tours before ill-health began to conquer him. And even so, I still prefer the 1993 recorded version from the album simply titled ‘Cohen Live’ from that period. And I have been meditating as to why I prefer it. I think it suits the melancholy, it suits the singer, it suits the ravaged, breaking European melodies – that the singer comes across as tired, as smoked out (literally, for Cohen was a heavy smoker and this affected his voice) as being semi-washed up, performing at the end with a last vestige of discipline and acknowledgement. All this I imagine, and find something special thereby.
But I don’t think this is entirely make-believe. Isn’t there something poetic in an old singer, with an old melody, with a ravaged voice, trying one last time to sell his songs with life’s truths ingrained – wherever they may be? I think so. And each time I wander into that song, I feel it over and over again. Its like a kind of solace, but also a kind of half-glimpsing magic, too.