Thanks for the Dance

Thanks for the Dance

Moved by the warm response to 2016’s You Want It Darker, released three weeks before his death, Leonard Cohen left his son with instructions to finish those songs they’d started together, using vocal recordings he was leaving behind. In an act of devotion—to his father, to song—Adam wrote and recorded arrangements for each, as he thought Leonard would have wanted to hear them. The result is Thanks for the Dance, a posthumous album of unreleased material that’s as loving and respectful as they come. “This was not meant to be about me,” Adam tells Apple Music. “I didn’t make choices that were a reflection of my taste—the exercise was to try to make choices that were a reflection of his. It’s this advantage that I have over much greater and more accomplished producers: They don’t know what he hates. I do.” Here, he tells us the story behind each track and highlights some of his favorite lines. Happens to the Heart “Anyone who knew Leonard Cohen at the end of his life knew that there was one song he was obsessively and compulsively writing and trying to perfect, and that was ‘Happens to the Heart.’ He was hell-bent—or heaven-bent—on completing it, and we just were unable to get a musical accompaniment that he was satisfied with. I think it's one in a long line of songs that have his essential thesis in life, which is the broken hallelujah: Everything cracks, and this is what happens to the heart. I had this incredible vocal that was so meaningful to him. It was a way to keep him with me, a way to sit with him—there's the emotional part, but more important to me than anything was just getting it right. The first task was to parse through all of the verses and assemble a vocal based on his last approved version of what the poem was going to be, and set that to chordal language that would make sense to a Leonard Cohen listener.” Moving On “His notion for the song was that he would repeat the same verse over and over and over again almost as a meditation. Every time we tried, it failed by his own estimation. So I had some very compelling vocals from him and the trick was to then go back to the essence, bring back the Eastern sound of the tremolo—in this case a concert mandolin player by the name of Avi Avital—and Javier Mas on his Spanish nylon string guitar, in my backyard in Los Angeles. ‘As if there ever was a you’ is the line that kills me. The whole thing feels like this nostalgic dream. When we were recording the vocal, he had just got news that Marianne [Ihlen] had passed away. And in recording the vocals I really did feel like he was channeling and correcting lyrics to have the song be a postscript to ‘So Long, Marianne.’ It's something that we had discussed while we were recording and it informed my wanting to exaggerate the Mediterranean romance of the song.” The Night of Santiago “‘Night of Santiago’ was always one of my favorite poems that my father had written, which is actually based on a Federico García Lorca poem that he adapted. I'd heard it under construction for years, on the front lawn or while we were having coffee or dinner, and I'd always begged him to attempt to write music to it. In a weakened state, he said, ‘Look, I'll just recite the poem to a certain tempo and you go ahead and you write the music and try to tell the story.’ And it was really, really fun to work with it. It has such voluptuous language. The song was mostly recorded in Spain, with Sílvia Pérez Cruz from Barcelona and Javier Mas and Carlos de Jacoba, to give it that flamenco twist—we very much tried to capture a kind of whimsy. When we got back to LA, Beck came over to put some Jew’s harp in the verses and laid the guitar down just to give it an extra layer of cinema.” Thanks for the Dance “He tried to get a version of it on Old Ideas and Popular Problems, and on You Want It Darker. He’d been even trying to figure out his way of doing that song for years, and I think that he would have been incredibly pleased with this particular version. It was meant to evoke things like 'Dance Me to the End of Love' and 'Hallelujah.' It has a certain strain of lightness and cheekiness that some of his work has: 'Stop at the surface, the surface is fine.' To have that kind of resignation but humor really does encapsulate where his mind was at the end. Jennifer Warnes, his longtime vocal partner, came to my backyard and sang on that. When we completed it, we knew we had the record. There was something about the invocation of that union, between the feminine voice and my father’s low baritone—it just touches a nerve and makes you feel like you've heard the song before. There was this sense that You Want It Darker had a kind of gravity and darkness, and this offering has a softer, flower-pushing-up quality and romance to it.” It’s Torn “‘Torn’ was started a decade ago with Sharon Robinson—with whom he had written many songs and with whom he toured—but it really took a hold in Berlin with concert pianist and composer Dustin O'Halloran. It has chord signatures borrowed from my father’s song from decades earlier ‘Avalanche.’ Again, it's this incredible thesis of brokenness that he has, this consistent message, this toying with the imperfection of life: ‘It's torn where there's beauty, it's torn where there's death/It's torn where there's mercy, but torn somewhat less,’ he says. ‘It's torn in the highest, from kingdom to crown/The messages fly but the network is down/Bruised at the shoulder and cut at the wrist/The sea rushes home to its thimble of mist/The opposites falter, the spirals reverse/And Eve must re-enter the sleep of her birth.’ I mean, this is pseudo-biblical. I’ve never heard that from any other songwriter, not even Dylan. It's just so composed. It’s like King David.” The Goal “‘The Goal’ might be my favorite piece on the album. The zinger is at the end: ‘No one to follow and nothing to teach/Except that the goal falls short of the reach.’ That's an incredible line to ponder, and it very much resembles the condition that he was in at the end, where he'd sit in his chair, look at life go by, and have and share these incredibly profound and generous thoughts. The music around his reading brings to life the humor and the emotion—the swelling and the sparseness of what I imagined to be his own emotional state. The most stirring thing that people say over and over after listening to these songs is how they feel Leonard Cohen is still among us, he's still alive. And this song has that quality in a powerful dose. The reading is almost thespian-like, it is so present. He was speaking from the other side for sure.” Puppets “Another poem that we discussed for years—or, at least, for years he heard my disappointment with the fact that it had never been turned into song. He would chuckle and say, ‘Well, write something that makes sense musically around it, and I'd consider it.’ There is a ferocious boldness to the lyric and to the position of the narrator. And there's a kind of steely, church-like quality to the arrangement. The lyric: ‘German puppets burned the Jews/Jewish puppets did not choose.’ To open a song that way is frighteningly bold, so the arrangement needed to be robust. And there's this otherworldliness going through the entire thing. We recorded this German choir in Berlin, and then funny enough we ended up going to Montreal, to get the Jewish men's choir that played such an important role on You Want It Darker. And so there's literally a choir of Germans and a choir of Jews on the song blending together. The trick was to create something with as much evocation without going into sentimentality.” The Hills “‘Triumphant’ is a wonderful word to describe it, in the narrator’s semi-comical declaration he can't make the hills, one of the wonderful paradoxes of all of our existences. There’s a sort of Secret Life of Walter Mitty quality to this one, and at the same time it's the voyage—it’s what you wanted versus what you got. There's something stark and resigned and yet not woeful about it, which allows for this grandiose, classic feeling while at the same time being fresh and modern. Patrick Watson, who's one of my favorite recording artists, lent a great deal of work with horns and vocal arrangements. It's the only song on the record that's co-produced by anybody.” Listen to the Hummingbird “The last thing we recorded. We were struggling at the time, because we had an eight-song record and it just felt shy—we knew we needed another one. We were in Berlin and Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was in the studio next door to ours, making these incredible, really emotional, stirring sounds. And there was something about the mood that was so captivating and inspiring that it reminded me of my father’s last press conference. It was the last time he ever spoke in public, a press junket for You Want It Darker. Unprompted, he said, ‘Do you want to hear a new poem?’ And he recited it, into this cheap microphone in a conference room. I asked Sony for the audio, recuperated it, set it to be metronomically correct, and composed this piece of music with those atmospheric sounds from Bon Iver coming through our shared wall in Berlin. That's how we got it.”

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