A gathering of late work by the poet, singer, and chronicler of life’s more difficult moments.
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) wrote hundreds of songs, all of which began as poems, as well as the novel Beautiful Losers (1966). If his fame dropped nearly to the point of disappearance in the 1980s, it was no accident: He withdrew from the world to become a Zen monk, and he remained so even during the years when, bilked by a manager, he returned to the stage to sing his way back to solvency. This gathering of poems, lyrics from his last four albums, sketches, and notebook jottings is emphatically for the Cohen completist, who will be fascinated by the process of how those random notes morphed into poems and then into such memorable songs as “You Want It Darker”: “A million candles burning / For the love that never came / You want it darker / We kill the flame.” In some instances, Cohen reiterates a Jewish piety that never quite left him; in others, as his editors note, he works themes and symbols that remained present in his work throughout his career, notably the fire that gives this volume its name. The volume, peppered with sketches and notes in the author’s distinctive hand, closes with a speech given on the occasion of receiving a prize from the Spanish government, in which he connects his work to that nation by means of his early devotion to flamenco guitar and in which he protests that the award may be misplaced to some extent, since “poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers….In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often." That he managed to find that place so often, though, is abundantly clear in these pages.
Cohen’s fans will be delighted, and students of poetic and lyrical composition have much to learn here as well.
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)