by Judith Fitzgerald

* * *

To BIG-Dick (a.k.a. Richard Straub),
Dennis, and GNR (a.k.a. Geoffrey B. Gompers)

* * *

"I like to sing a song which is called the 'Master Song' and it's about the Trinity. Leave that for the scholars: It's about three people." -- Leonard Cohen, The BBC Sessions, 1968

I believe that you heard your master sing
when I was sick in bed
I suppose that he told you everything
that I keep locked away in my head
Your master took you travelling
well at least that's what you said
And now do you come back to bring
your prisoner wine and bread
If the master is part of the trinity of self, it stands to reason the master equally represents its inverse since, by the conclusion of the tune, the master has become the prisoner of (or slave to) longing. The contours of the energy of slaves dominate. And, the second point in the trinity, the prisoner or slave, likewise becomes the master. Between the pair stands the woman; she completes the trinity of "three people."

Leonard Cohen borrows recognisable touches from the Eucharist; but, he borrows as only genius borrows, fusing and refashioning "wine and bread" in the carnal glow of an imagination tempered by the heartbreaking devastation of inescapable isolation.

You met him at some temple, where
they take your clothes at the door
He was just a numberless man in a chair
who'd just come back from the war
And you wrap up his tired face in your hair
and he hands you the apple core
Then he touches your lips now so suddenly bare
of all the kisses we put on some time before
Mary Magdalen proves to be one of the three points of the equidistant triangle. She dries Jesus's feet with her hair.
And he gave you a German Shepherd to walk
with a collar of leather and nails
and he never once made you explain or talk
about all of the little details
such as who had a word and who had a rock
and who had you through the mails
Now your love is a secret all over the block
and it never stops not even when your master fails
The tune -- incorporating possessiveness, isolation, and extreme compromise -- downshifts on the uspswing and reaches its destination examining the dynamics of power while one of its secondary themes reveals the writer's direction, that is, SOUTH. In context, the word, "German," reverberates with echoes of The Holocaust, the genocide of several million European Jews among others by the Nazis during World War II. Juxtaposed with the word, "shepherd," of course, the idea of Christ (and King David) may bear futher scrutiny in this context, particularly since Christ was nailed to the Cross with spikes.
And he took you up in his aeroplane
which he flew without any hands
and you cruised above the ribbons of rain
that drove the crowd from the stands
Then he killed the lights in a lonely Lane
and an ape with angel glands
erased the final wisps of pain
with the music of rubber bands
It is said during the twenties a popular medical procedure involved seeking the fountain of youth and discovering it might well exist in the form of an extract made from monkey glands. Here, the master, the one who apes the prisoner, becomes "the ape."
And now I hear your master sing
you kneel for him to come
His body is a golden string
that your body is hanging from
His body is a golden string
my body has grown numb
Oh now you hear your master sing
your shirt is all undone
One item worth noting is the golden string echoing the sword of Damocles.
And will you kneel beside this bed
that we polished so long ago
before your master chose instead
to make my bed of snow
Your eyes are wild and your knuckles are red
and you're speaking far too low
No I can't make out what your master said
before he made you go

Then I think you're playing far too rough
for a lady who's been to the moon
I've lain by this window long enough
to get used to an empty room
And your love is some dust in an old man's cough
who is tapping his foot to a tune
and your thighs are a ruin, you want too much
let's say you came back some time too soon
It comes as no surprise "reaching the moon" infers orgasm; the woman's ruined thighs refer not to the fact they're ruined for her; rather, they're forever ruined for the prisoner who's become "used to a lonely room." Additionally, it may prove useful to ask who ruined Her thighs and, again, for whom are they ruined?
I loved your master perfectly
I taught him all that he knew
He was starving in some deep mystery
like a man who is sure what is true
And I sent you to him with my guarantee
I could teach him something new
and I taught him how you would long for me
no matter what he said no matter what you'd do

I believe that you heard your master sing
while I was sick in bed
I'm sure that he told you everything
I must keep locked away in my head
Your master took you travelling
well at least that's what you said
And now do you come back to bring
your prisoner wine and bread
In other words, it's about the entangling triangle, the ins and outings so often associated with the way in which masters become slaves and slaves become masters, as tangible as wounds, as exhilarating and terrible as any power relationship. You. Me. Her. But, who is she and, more precisely, how has this Master undone her so discourteously? He's nothing but "a numberless man in a chair . . . just come back from the war." Significantly, he bestows a German shepherd upon Her, a dog -- Cohen is a Dog, by the way, in Chinese astrology -- complete with "a collar of leather and nails" while killing "the lights in a lonely lane." But, the feminine, the so-called Her? Might she be that famous blue muse the Master allegedly used and cheapened immeasurably? Perhaps. Images of combat and conflict strengthen a concurrent set of images involving sickness as well as an almost autistic isolation. Master. Prisoner. Holy Ghost. The Trinity of which Cohen speaks. A trio of voices at Cross purposes.

Forced by circumstance to abandon his own true calling, the Prisoner shuns Her perfectly. Traditionally, the troubadour, at career's close, is said to renounce love and recant love poetry before taking up residence in a monastery. Retroactive food for thought, courtesy of your humble scribe who feels in some way duty-bound to quote the following lines LC puts in the mouth of one of the angels in his seminal musical Night Magic:

. . . But now I make my confession
Before all the mirrors of history
This power was given to me
It must have been given to me
For something more
Than a star on the door
And a foot in this shabby profession . . .
Judith Fitzgerald 26 April 2002

Suggested reading: Notes Towards A Definition Of A Masterpiece: Ten New Songs From Sharon Robinson And Leonard Cohen, with introduction to Judith Fitzgerald and her work

© 2002 The Leonard Cohen Files (Electronic Edition)
© 2002 Judith Fitzgerald (Print Edition)

All Rights Reserved. Duplication in whole or in part in any medium without the express written permission of the copyright holders is forbidden.

Lyrics cited by written permission.
© 1968-2002 Leonard Cohen, Stranger Music Inc. (BMI)
All Rights Reserved.