Friday, January 07, 2011

"I was born like this, I had no choice/Born with the gift of a golden voice..."

The Song: "Tower of Song," Robert Forster. Words & music by Leonard Cohen. Track 12 of I'm Your Fan, 1991.
How/when acquired: Purchased cassette, 1991.
Watch/listen here (that's Leonard Cohen singing with U2; I couldn't find a sample of the Robert Forster cover, which is what I'm listening to).

One of many things I love about Leonard Cohen is his sense of humor about himself. This line, sung by him, is an obvious joke; his voice has its own cracked beauty, but no objective listener would call it golden.

It's one reason so many artists have covered his songs. I own a few collections of Leonard Cohen covers; I'm Your Fan and Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat are my favorites. I bought I'm Your Fan as a new cassette, and it includes my favorite versions of "Chelsea Hotel" (Lloyd Cole's) and "I Can't Forget" (The Pixies) as well as this version of "Tower of Song."

This song was in my head this morning as I watched the latest of many news stories about Ted Williams, the homeless man with the amazing voice. In the past 72 hours, Mr. Williams has been taken off the street and given opportunities beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Yes, it's a magical story. I can't shake the feeling that it won't end well.

Mr. Williams, God help him, is an addict. Addicts can and do recover, sure. Look at Robert Downey, Jr., whose recovery is nothing short of miraculous. And yes, people become homeless for all kinds of reasons. But a certain percentage of homeless people are homeless because they've let everyone close to them down; because they've disappointed and alienated everyone who tried to help them; because they let every second, third and fourth chance slip through their fingers, or drowned them in a bottle, or shot them into a vein.

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep trying to help. Having been through this with an old friend over the past year, though, I'm skeptical about how long magical happy endings last.

Still, he really does have a golden voice. We'll be hearing a lot of it in the next few months. I just hope it doesn't become something that haunts us.

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