05 February 2008

'Like a drunk in a midnight choir*

Inside The Loft, maybe a month ago, the woman on stage begins singing a slow, pretty song:

"I heard that there's a secret chord/That David played, and it pleased the Lord..."

A friend approaches me with purpose. "Who's the guy who sang this?" she asks. It's Leonard Cohen, I tell her. "No," she insists. "The guy. You know."

"Jeff Buckley," I sighed. His cover is the version that "The O.C." generation knows. And it's beautiful and all. Most folks say it was the career pinnacle of the young man with the swooning voice. But I was weaned on the warm tenor of the guy what wrote it. (k.d. lang performed a version on "Good Morning America" this morning. It might be the second-best rendition. Certainly third.)

So who owns a song? Is it the penman who first performed it, or the artist who made it famous. Ask Jimi Hendrix, I guess, who basically planted his flag on every cover he performed, be it Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," or The Leaves' "Hey Joe."

Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. And when that was announced, a lot of people scratched their heads, never having heard his name. "Is he one of those behind-the-scenes producers?" asked one fellow, who's probably hummed the Neville Brothers' version of Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" before. In a sense, he is. He produces -- by which I mean writes -- fantastic songs.

*... I have tried in my way to be free." That's from "Bird on a Wire," and one of the best lines ever written.


TybeeDawg said...

Who owns a song? That's a very good question. I was always one to read liner notes to see who wrote a song, then tried to track down the original versions.

Country artists are more prone to do songs by other artists, while rock and folk musicians tend to perform their own songs, so it depends on how you look at it.

I've played several "original" songs for a co-w&rker, like JJ Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" or Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," enough where he's convinced no one writes their own stuff anymore.

Anonymous said...

dance me to the end of love...


if it be your will...

rank up there with

bird on a wire.

kudos for cohen and the

power of the pen.