Mike Opitz: lead vocal, guitar, digitally assisted production and final mix
Caitlin Brutger: keyboard, harmony vocals, production and mixing
Brian Heilman: guitar, harmony vocals, production, mixing and final mastering
Tom Daddesio: bass
The strange events of last fall’ s election season mixed with the falling leaves and seemed to conjure up nostalgic feelings in me. In July of 2016, The Karma Refugees re-recorded one of my first reggae songs, “Karma Refugee.” Thinking about that song and writing about it caused me to remember how I had been introduced to the concept of “karma.” When I was in college, I heard Gary Snyder read his poetry and loved the metaphoric connections between Native American and Zen world views. Consequently, I read Alan Watts because of his connection to the “beat generation.” He had provided my first glimpse into Buddhist thought in “Beat Zen Square Zen,” and I had found it compelling. Last fall while writing about “Karma Refugee,” I discovered a wealth of Alan Watts’ material on YouTube. I spent hours listening to these lectures and heard his famous voice for the first time. I had been busy escaping during the inflammatory and disheartening election campaign by listening to Alan Watts lectures while mixing the tracks of “Karma Refugee” for the website. I started by listening to Watts’s lectures on “karma,” and then branched out to many other topics. I was listening to a clever animated overview of Watts’ work last November when I learned of Leonard Cohen’s death.
The news of Cohen’s death sent me on a journey into the depth of his work. I had been a fan of Leonard Cohen since I started playing guitar as a teenager. Songs like “Suzanne,” or “Bird on the Wire” were among the first songs I learned. I remember the moody tone Cohen’s “The Stranger Song” set for Robert Altman’s film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I admired the poetry of songs like “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and “Joan of Arc.” All the phases of Cohen’s career also illustrate the integration of women’s voices into his work. I knew many versions of “Halleluiah” as the song became integrated into movie soundtracks and my daughter told me that it was a Cohen song. Of course! But I had lost track of Cohen’s work by the end of the 1980s. I did not know, for example, that he had spent seven years as a Zen monk. I learned this from Mikal Gilmore’s article in Rolling Stone –one of the many thoughtful eulogies that came out after Cohen’s death.
My nostalgia peaked in the late fall along with my need to escape. I dove into the music and career of Leonard Cohen. I found the expected darkness, but I also found disciplined and sharp lines of poetry. For example, measured eight line stanzas make up the dialog between Joan of Arc and Fire.
Leonard Cohen, “Joan of Arc.”
“Famous Blue Raincoat” is a wonderful song written in the form of a letter featuring spare, ironic imagery about a complex of relationships.
Leonard Cohen, “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
I discovered deep humor runs through Cohen’s work. For example, the song “Closing Time” links closing time in a Country Western bar with the end of the world.
Leonard Cohen, “Closing Time.”
The singer clues us in with these lines: “We’re drinkin’ and we’re dancin’ but nothin’s really happenin’/ And the place is dead as heaven on a Saturday night.”
I’ve found occasion to quote that line a few times!
As I was studying Cohen’s work, I wanted to record one of his songs. There are so many choices and I’m still drawn to many of his songs. But I identified with the geriatric humor of “Tower of Song;” I’m only a few years younger than Leonard Cohen; it made me laugh the first time I heard it and I identified more deeply after learning to sing it, I appreciate how the ironic lines can be applied to me. It made me nostalgic for myself: “My friends are gone and my hair is grey/ I ache in the places where I used to play.” I wanted to say. “My hair is gone and my friends are grey,” but the picture certainly looks a lot like me.