Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ill-ustrated Songs #36 Genya Ravan BIRD ON THE WIRE

Leonard Cohen is, of course, much too well known to be chronicled here on the Blog of Less Renown. He was an ill folkie, with an amusingly black sense of humor, but he was an international success. While not everyone is aware of "The Future," "Everybody Knows," "Tower of Song," or "Don't Leave Home With Your Hard-On," everybody sobs and nods to every horrible rhyme of "Hallelujah." 

Singers seem hell bent on making sure to make it sound like the songwriter was from Brooklyn and not Montreal: 

"You don't really care much for music, DO YA...her beauty and the moonlight over-THREW YA...I used to live alone before a KNEW YA...HAL A. LEWYA..."  

Arguably his second-most-covered-song among the Shaunas and Saskias of the world, is either "Suzanne" or "Bird on the Wire." The latter was startlingly covered by the great Genya Ravan when she got her first (and last) chance with major label Columbia (also Cohen's label). It was released in 1970. I'm frankly surprised my vinyl is still in good shape on this, 'cause I played this track and several others, over and over on late-night radio. 

Ravan (pronounced "Raven") sounded like a "black bird," and her version of "Bird" starts softly, with a beautiful gospel touch, before rising into a crescendo of emotion. I was proud to tell her that I thought she was the real deal, and that Janis Joplin was just a "high wind." Genya did not choose to agree or disagree. She was, to paraphrase Dylan being a "diplomat." She kept mum and stroked her siamese cat. No, really. She had it on her shoulder for a while.

If we can make something positive out of Cohen's passing, it came on a high note. What he intimated would be his last album, was deemed a brilliant "comeback" and received glowing reviews. Like Zevon, he was receiving renewed appreciation when the end came. Suffering from back pain and an increasingly frail body, Leonard died following a fall in his home, apparently not regaining consciousness or suffering any further pain from a futile trip to the hospital. 

One thing people sometimes say when a person dies is, "Oh, if only I had a chance to say how much I loved the music." Well, that chance still applies to Genya Ravan, who I've always believed to be one of the greatest female vocalists of all time. Just listen to what she does with that BIRD ON THE WIRE. 

Bird on the Wire - listen on line or download

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