A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Welcome to our new series highlighting the music we have here at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Each week of 2013 we will discuss one of our favorite songs from the collection. Classical or Country, Hip-Hop or Heavy Metal, we’ll be blogging for every taste.
Yup, this is my favorite Leonard Cohen song. Now before you go throwing your hands up saying “What! This is your favorite song by the man who wrote ‘Hallelujah’, and ‘Chelsea Hotel no.6’, and ‘Bird on a Wire’, and ‘Tower of Song’, and…” let me carefully lay out a few of my reasons: 1.) Unlike “Hallelujah” and myriad other Cohen songs, his own recording of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” is the definitive version. He’s not merely the great songwriter here, but the great performer as well. 2.) On “Hey…” the usual mellow voice and sleepy arrangement doesn’t dim the catchiness of the melody, and in my book catchiness is actually one of Cohen’s strong points. 3.) The lyrical content is typical Cohen in a condensed, straightforward form. It’s like a quick summing up of his usual themes.
You see, it’s about loss, impermanence, and love, and you can say that about most of the songs on this album, and his next album, and the one after that too. But in “Hey…” he doesn’t have to stretch for any of the elaborate (and beautiful) analogies of those others. Instead it’s just a straightforward we-loved-we’re-parting-but-that’s-life-song, and the beauty of it seems to just come naturally:
I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm
Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm
Yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new
In city and in forest, they smiled like me and you
But now it’s come to distances and both of us must try
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
In fact, nature might be a bit of a leitmotif. Not to push the point—especially since I just said there were no elaborate analogies—but there’s the golden storm and the forest of the first verse and the wonderful line from the second “It’s just the way it changes like the shoreline and the sea.”
But my favorite element of the song is simply the way the arrangement, and the interplay between Cohen’s voice and his backup singers in particular, creates a hypnotic rhythm which the melody seems to kind of shine through. It makes the song lively, cheery, and catchy. It’s the only Leonard Cohen song—off the top of my head, anyway—that I can imagine tagging with all three of those adjectives.
Review by Matthew