Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch/He called out to me, 'Don't ask for so much'..."

"...And a young man, leaning on his darkened door
He cried out to me, 'Baby, why not ask for more?'"

The Song: "Bird on a Wire," Jennifer Warnes. Words and music by Leonard Cohen. Track 2 of Famous Blue Raincoat, 1987.
How/when acquired: Purchased cassette, 1987.
Listen here.

Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen. He's 76 years old today, and still touring; he's on a short list of artists I've never seen live and would really, really like to.

At the risk of heresy, however, I'll say that Leonard Cohen is a better songwriter than singer, and is not always the best interpreter of his own songs. I own five different versions of this song, and this is my favorite.

I bought this cassette in the spring of 1987, at Olsson's Books & Music in Georgetown. It was an unjustifiable extravagance. I was working two jobs that paid just over minimum wage, and picking up as much extra babysitting as I could. I was living alone in a basement apartment, my student loans had come due, and I've always been terrible with money anyway. I never had any cash in my pocket, and am pretty sure I bought this cassette on impulse, just because I had a ten-dollar bill.

The cassette's still in my car. Remarkably, it still plays. I probably listened to it every day for the first four months I owned it, and it's been in heavy rotation, in one format or another, ever since.

Recently I saw a comment on a friend's Facebook page about how $250,000/year shouldn't be considered wealthy, especially for people with mortgages to pay and children to send to college. The median household income in the United States was $52,059 in 2008; in Maine, it was $46,419. I don't make that much, but I'm just one person, and I don't need to (see previous comment about being bad with money).

It would baffle me, if Leonard Cohen hadn't explained it all so elegantly. As birds on the wire, we shouldn't ask for so much — but why not ask for more?


Thomas at My Porch said...

I only discovered LC about 3 years ago. And what a revelation it was. He is brilliant. Have you heard the soundtrack for the film "I'm Your Man"? It has Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Perla Battala, and a bunch of others. It is really, really good.

The $250K (or $400k or $500K) a year thing is being pushed heavily by the Republicans right now trying desapartely to keep the Bush tax cuts. And the Dems appear to be weakening. And then the Tea Partiers, who incomes I am guessing are closer to the median are more likely to support Republican policies that are quite contrary to their own self-preservation. It is "What's the Matter with Kansas" writ large.

Chip said...

Well, considering that Republicans have slightly LOWER average income that Democrats, your assumption that TEA Party members are near the median is probably correct. But note also that conservatives give more time, money, and blood than liberals do. It is not selfish interests that drive them.

I, for one, believe that conservative policies are better for the country as a whole. I have many friends whose parents escaped the socialist countries of eastern Europe.

Do you remember Chris Alexander, Claire? She was a few years behind in school. Her parents escaped Romania without her, because they were not permitted to take her on the trip because the government was afraid they would defect. They defected anyway, and found a way to bring Chris over a few years later. They were willing to take the risk of never seeing their child again, so that those born to them later would not have to suffer such "equality."

Kieran Shea said...

Murdering the middle class, it's hard to believe how short-sighted it all is. God damn...and all those sheep savaged by policy turn around and SUPPORT hucksters on flim-flam dogma-and "I Can Make It Right" con men, right and left. Shut up. We're all struggling to just hang on to that wire, and that wire? It's on an bi-plane wing plummeting into the mountain. Here's a tip: whenever someone gets in my grill on the right-left dance, I look them straight in the eye and tell them all politicians suck including theirs. Truth is dead, people. Jeeze Louise...I'm just hanging out waiting for the class war as the cycle of history proves this scenario out eventually. Yeah, it may take a while...unless the populace is dumbed down through ruined educational system, pretty distractions, a censored and nearly obliterated 4th estate, fear, compromised leadership leaning toward fasci--what's that? Oh. Fuck. Pour me some wine and get my deck chair, I'm fortifying my Tower of Song. Do-dum-dum-dum-de-do-dum-dum...

See you in Cali, my dear.