by Teresa Quayle

Title Smudging the Air: The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen
Author Teresa Quayle
Country & Year UK 2016
Publisher CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
(Indie book)
Pages 336 pages. Paperback.
Notes ISBN 9781541167001
Summary Author's description:
This book contains a comprehensive description of the lyrics of Leonard Cohen. All of the lyrics of the songs released on the studio albums, comprising 117 lyrics, recorded on 13 albums from 1967 to 2016, have been analysed. Part 1 explains the themes which run through the work, with a discussion of the extent to which the lyrics have changed over time. Part 2 contains a description of each lyric. The aim is to explain why their language is so compelling – phrases like ‘tea and oranges all the way from China’ and ‘the monkey and the plywood violin’ have always seemed to be memorable in a very special way. The author has carried out close analysis of the lyrics, and has identified six main themes which occur continually throughout. These are: relationships, politics, belief, addictions, music and ageing. In addition, she has introduced a ‘free’ category for those lyrics in which meaning remains undefined. This book shows that these themes occur over and over again throughout the lyrics. The first part starts with analysis of why the lyrics are different from other popular lyrics, showing that the lyrics combine elements of conversational language with elements of poetry. The result is that the lyrics draw in the listeners on two levels - they feel that they are part of a private conversation at the same time as having to interpret more complex language to construct their own meaning.

The author goes on to address each theme in turn, describing how many lyrics contain that theme. In each case, samples of text are quoted to support that decision. The first part of the book also has chapters about other points of interest. These include the powerlessness of the narrators of the lyrics and Cohen’s portrayal of the characters of the lyrics, sometimes merging and confusing them. There is a final chapter about the way the lyrics have changed over time. The second part of the book contains a short description of each lyric, showing which of the six themes is included within it.

The book does not provide a definitive meaning for each lyric. Individual listeners want to decide what the meaning is for themselves and there is no intention of interfering with that process. The aim is to take an objective look at the lyrics and describe what is there in the language as written. The hope is that this book will help Cohen’s many fans understand why the lyrics appeal to them so strongly and perhaps suggest some alternative interpretations which they may not have yet considered. Further, this book shows that this is not an assorted collection of pop songs, but a coherent body of work, with the six main themes occurring continually throughout.

Thanks to Teresa Quayle for the book