A Greater Appreciation

leonard

Unfortunately, my introduction to Leonard Cohen was through his music.
  Grade 11 photography class, a black + white time exposure assignment, I spent days planning. I was going to shoot a tone arm travelling across a record. There was a tiny orange light above the stylus that would illuminate the smooth arc and provide the desired effect.
  I had to calculate how much time the shutter would remain open and how little light I needed to let in; a delicate balance, but I remember is was to be 21 minutes, about the length of one side of an LP record.
  The room where I was shooting would be in absolute darkness.
  I set up the 4 x 5 view camera, adjusted the composition, and selected a record from the school library. I picked a Cohen album because it had a red label, a colour that would provide enough of a contrast from the shiny vinyl, but would not become the focus of attention.
  It didn’t matter to me, then, what the record was; this was all about the visual.
I went back to the room, loaded the film, and sealed myself in with a jacket silencing any light trying to seep in under the door.
  After dropping the needle on the disc, I flicked off the light switch and clicked the shutter release. The only light in the room was the tone arm, a small off/on light I cropped out of the photo, and an alarm clock with a glowing dark face.
  And I waited.
  I don’t remember which album it was, but I’d never heard it before. It was an acoustic guitar and Cohen’s deep dark voice. I didn’t really bother trying to get into it, as this was all about the image I was trying to capture. I remember thinking I should have selected another album. I was 16. I liked rock and roll. This record was anything but.
  When the alarm sounded, I closed the shutter and clicked on the lights, then proceeded to the darkroom where I processed the negative. The results were okay, but not exactly what I wanted. I decided to adjust the aperture and add another few minutes.
  I returned to the room, made the adjustments, and again listened to Leonard Cohen for 23 minutes. At some point during that time, I discovered in processing, I must have inadvertently nudged the tripod. The image suffered from camera shake.
  Another reshoot, another 23 minutes of the same record (I never thought to turn off the volume), but this time I had forgotten to block off the light from under the door.
  One more time, more Leonard Cohen. Another 23 minutes. The result was exactly what I wanted. I produced a portfolio-worthy photograph, and for that I was pleased.
  Thing is, I had to listen to the same songs on the same side of the same Leonard Cohen album, over and over. And to a teenager who would have rather been listening to Pink Floyd, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, or anything with a pulse, Leonard Cohen wasn’t doing it for me.
  Think about it: hours in a pitch dark room, me; by myself, listening to nothing but Leonard Cohen. Over and over, and over. I think you might get the picture.
  I love music, most kinds of music (some more than others), but Leonard Cohen was never on my favorites list (not even close) and I have never bothered trying to get any closer to his music. I’d heard enough.
  That’s not to say I don’t admire his words. The poetry of Leonard Cohen is heartfelt, honest, and inspiring. I have read him, quite a bit, and always felt what was on the page was far stronger than what was on the record. I know all about the singer/songwriter thing, and I pretty much put Bob Dylan into the same category.
  I feel it was not his voice, nor his melodies, than made Cohen, but his words were wonders, and they will live on.
  A poet died this week.
  Because of his death we will read a little more from Cohen’s past. Those who have read him before will find a little more comfort in his work. Those who have not yet read his talent will be blessed.
  We will have greater appreciation now for the poetry of Leonard Cohen, it always seems there is more power found in a dead poet’s words.

Leave a Reply