The United States’s strike on a Syrian airfield has generated confusion across the political spectrum, from President Trump’s far-right supporters’ anger at the move to the guarded approbation of usual Trump skeptics like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Perhaps the most confusing response, though, came from MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who, discussing the strike on his program “The 11th Hour,” first referred to images of Tomahawk missiles launching as “beautiful” — and then used a Leonard Cohen lyric to emphasize the point.
“I am guided by the beauty of our weapons,” Williams said, quoting Cohen’s song “First We Take Manhattan.”.
It was an odd choice for several reasons, not least of which was that Cohen described the song as an attempt to occupy the mindset of a terrorist.
Williams faced an immediate backlash for the comment. He has yet to respond to the criticism.
A 10-year-old girl from Northern Ireland just became an instant internet sensation after footage of her singing “Hallelujah” was posted online.
Kaylee Rodgers, who has autism and ADHD, led Killard House School’s choir with her goosebumps-inducing solo, which has already garnered close to one million views since it was uploaded to Facebook on Tuesday.
Rodgers is “very shy,” Colin Millar, her school’s principal, told ITV, and it was a big step for her to perform in front of a crowd.
“For a child who…wouldn’t really talk, wouldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing,” Millar said. “It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part.”
The school’s choir sang a version of Leonard Cohen’s song that had been adapted by the Christian rock band Cloverton. The band received backlash back in 2014 for turning “Hallelujah” into a Christmas song. Vocalist Lance Stafford later told JTA that he hadn’t realized Cohen was Jewish when they rewrote the lyrics and that the band meant “no disrespect.”
During an interview with ITV, Rodgers expressed how much she enjoys singing and that the buzz surrounding her performance was just a fun bonus.
“It was really amazing how many views I got,” she said. “I just loved doing it.”
Following Leonard Cohen’s death on November 7th, news of which spread this past Friday, artists, critics, and plain old fans have sprung forward to pay homage to the great singer-songwriter. Many have recalled Cohen’s famous lyric from “Anthem:” “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” Even as we mourn Cohen, the beauty of the tributes excerpted below provide some light, and help prove his point.
1) The Memphis Symphony Orchestra Chorus’s flashmob “Hallelujah”
A Tennessee grocery store is likely not a site where anyone expected they’d be brought to tears over Cohen, but the Memphis Symphony Orchestra Chorus had other plans. Surprising shoppers on November 10th, the day news of Cohen’s death broke, the Orchestra performed one of his most famous songs: “Hallelujah.” Watch the moving video below.
2) David Remnick’s last interview with Cohen
This past summer, New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick spent a few days with Leonard Cohen. (The ensuing profile, “Leonard Cohen Makes it Darker,” appeared in the magazine’s October 17th issue.) In light of Cohen’s death, Remnick revisited his interviews with Cohen, producing a special edition of “The New Yorker Radio Hour.” Much of the podcast revisits material from the profile, but hearing Cohen’s thoughts on the end of his life in his own words lends them a new depth and grace.
3) NPR’s retrieval of a 1993 interview with Cohen
So long as we’re chasing Cohen interviews, NPR’s revisiting of a backstage talk with Cohen in 1993 is a gem worth listening to. Early on, for instance, Cohen admits he has “5 or 8 notebooks” full of drafts of his song “Democracy,” a rare insight into the depth of his creative process.
4) Maria Popova’s close reading of “Democracy” in light of the election
Those 5 or 8 notebooks gave rise to a song dense with observation about the complications and insufficiencies of democracy. (For instance: “From the wars against disorder/From the sirens night and day/From the fires of the homeless/From the ashes of the gay/Democracy is coming to the USA.”)Popova, the mastermind behind Brain Pickings, breaks down the song’s timeliness, showing off the intricate wealth of Cohen’s lyric as she does.
5) Chris Martin of Coldplay covers “Suzanne”
Playing an encore at London’s Palladium on Friday, Chris Martin performed an acoustic cover of Cohen’s “Suzanne.” “Sending my love to Mr. Leonard Cohen for those amazing songs,” Martin said, according to EW. “You changed my life.”
LIVE: Chris Martin of Coldplay performs “Suzanne” in memory of the late great Leonard Cohen #AtlasOnTour #RIPLeonardCohen pic.twitter.com/BDzUTfzUmE— Atlas Project (@ColdplayAtlas) November 11, 2016
6) Leon Wieseltier’s paean to Cohen in the New York Times
Calling Cohen “the most beautiful man I have ever known,” Wieseltier writes about his decades-long friendship with Cohen in prose so poetic that it would have surely won its subject’s approval. “He lived in a weather of wisdom, which he created by seeking it rather than by finding it. He swam in beauty, because in its transience he aspired to discern a glimpse of eternity: There was always a trace of philosophy in his sensuality,” Wieseltier comments.
7) Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox’s eulogy in Pitchfork
Cox, who covered Cohen’s “It Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” in 2012, wrote in Pitchfork of Cohen’s enormous lyrical power. “Leonard Cohen wrote what I believe to be the single greatest lyric I have ever heard,” he wrote: “‘Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows.’ The first time I heard it I was young enough that it almost slipped by me but moments after hearing him sing it, plainly, without affect - I was picking my jaw up off the floor.”
8) Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton sings “Hallelujah”
Chalk this up as, surprisingly, perhaps the saddest of the bunch: Kate McKinnon opening Saturday Night Live, in character as Hillary Clinton, singing “Hallelujah.” There’s humor there — for those who thought Clinton cold, the lines “I couldn’t feel/So I tried to touch” will strike an amusing chord (ahem) — but the performance is suffused with grief. “I told the truth,” McKinnon sings, unusually subdued, “I didn’t come to fool you.” Whatever your thoughts on Clinton, that line certainly holds true for Cohen. His honest appraisal of humanity’s flawed beauty will be missed.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
The Berlin-based singer-songwriter and “punk-Klezmer” musician Daniel Kahn is one of the most innovative performers working with Yiddish today. A world-class singer of more traditional Yiddish fare and a brilliant songwriter in English in his own right Kahn’s unique genius lies in his self-described “tradaptations,” his translations and adaptations of songs across languages.
He, along with his friend and mentor the late Theo Bikel, is one of the few masters of creating singable English versions of Yiddish songs. Kahn is particularly adept at taking Yiddish songs from generations and even centuries past and getting them to sound like contemporary American songs. At the same time he remains loyal to his source material, always performing the original Yiddish lyrics interspersed with his new English versions.
Besides singing his own English translations of Yiddish and German songs Kahn also translates German and American songs into Yiddish. When I heard his Yiddish “tradaptation” of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at a party in honor of the Yiddish Studies journal “In Geveb” I immediately knew that it would have wide appeal. I invited him to record the song for the Yiddish Forward in our studio and he came by a few weeks later. My colleague Nukhim Koyfman recorded Kahn’s performance and prepared the video.
Due to the confines of rhyme and meter song translations always vary a bit in literal meaning from their source material. As such the English subtitles are a literal translation of Kahn’s version of the song rather than Leonard Cohen’s original text. As you will see the two vary in some ways but match entirely in spirit. The song’s text in Yiddish and in Yiddish in transliteration can be read here.
Jordan Kutzik is a staff writer at the Forverts. He can be followed on Twitter @thrownpeas.
Depending on where you are, it’s either fall or supposed to be. (New York has had a week of balmy temperatures, with turning leaves the only hint of autumn.) Oscar-contending films are being released, television shows are embarking on new seasons, and as evenings descend earlier, books are beckoning from the shelves. What better time to launch the Forward’s new weekly column on the best things to watch, read, and see? Every Wednesday, check this space; we’ll have new recommendations ready and waiting for you.
1)Watch the Season 2 Premiere of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
The CW’s hit musical comedy, brainchild of star Rachel Bloom, returns for what looks to be an extravagantly imaginative second season this Friday, October 21, at 9 pm EST. The trailer promises ping-pong, punches, and Bloom clad in a bedazzled full-body cactus suit – what more could you want?
2) Watch PBS’s “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You.”
Decades before Bloom first got noticed as a YouTube star, Norman Lear was creating one of the first great American sitcoms: “All in the Family.” Lear, who came from a Jewish Connecticut family, went on to create a number of other successful sitcoms, including “The Jeffersons,” “Maude,” and “Sanford and Son.” Tuesday, October 25th, the writer and producer becomes the subject of a PBS American Masters episode. The segment will air on PBS at 9 pm EST, and will be available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital HD the same day.
3) See “American Pastoral.”
Ewan MacGregor’s film adaptation of the acclaimed Philip Roth novel hits theaters on Friday. The novel, which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, tells the story of the downfall of a Jewish New Jersey businessman who, at one point, appears to be living the American dream.
4) Read David Remnick’s New Yorker Profile of Leonard Cohen at 82
In depicting the 82-year-old Cohen, whose dense lyrics and husky voice have been musical mainstays for half a century, Remnick begins with an evocative portrait of the singer as a young man. Barely scraping by as a poet in London, Remnick quotes a letter Cohen wrote his publisher about wishing to appeal to “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.” It’s quite the pitch, and quite the opening to a profile that lends quiet, deft insight into a complex cultural luminary.
5) Read Francine Prose’s “Mister Monkey.”
Prose’s “Mister Monkey” concerns a disastrous production of a disastrously bad musical called, you guessed it, “Mister Monkey.” The novel takes a compassionate look at the lives of people affiliated with the production, from the boy playing the titular monkey to a grandfather watching one of the show’s performances with his beloved grandson. Cathleen Schine, reviewing the book for The New York Times, called it “Chekhovian.” “It’s that good,” she wrote. “It’s that funny. It’s that sad. It’s that deceptive and deep.”
6) Read Armando Lucas Correa’s “The German Girl”
“The German Girl” is the first novel from Correa, a Cuban-born journalist. The author told the Miami Herald’s Ana Veciana-Suarez that the seeds for the novel, which he wrote in Spanish, were planted the day his grandmother told him about Cuba’s refusal to accept 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who, traveling on the SS St. Louis, attempted to enter the country in 1939. “The German Girl” takes place partly on that fateful voyage, and partly in New York and Cuba seven decades later. Veciana-Suarez called the book “a chilling, heartbreaking story about one of modern history’s most shameful moments.”
7) Check Out the East Coast Premiere of the Oldest LGBT Film, Newly Restored
Co-written by the Jewish German sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, “Different From the Others,” first released in 1919, is the oldest still-existing LGBT film. The film took a compassionate look at the difficulties of LGBT life in Germany under Paragraph 175, a law criminalizing homosexuality. Friday, October 21st, the newly restored film will screen at Manhattan’s SVA Theater with a live piano accompaniment as part of NewFest, New York’s LGBT Film Festival. A panel on the importance of “Different From the Others” in the canon of queer film will follow the screening.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
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