A lot happened in early November 2016. The main headline news, of course, was that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, against all predictions, polls, the Washington establishment’s expectations and, frankly, the hopes and dreams of most of the rest of the world. Including, frankly, me. I don’t suppose that comes as a massive surprise to anyone that even half knows me.
Another significant event for me in that period, though, was the death of Leonard Cohen. Somewhat oddly, his passing was announced on November 10th, a day after it became clear that Trump had won the election, so that, briefly, I entertained the idea that Leonard, hearing the news of who had won the Presidency, had simply turned his head to the wall and left us. The truth was more prosaic: he’d died in his sleep, following a fall, three days before.
I’ve posted before about Leonard Cohen, about why I came to him late, and took great pleasure in hearing his late flowering period albums Old Ideas, Popular Problems, and You Want It Darker. The last of these, released three weeks before his death, is truly dark. Listening to it in full for the first time, driving into Edinburgh one night in March, I own that there were tears in my eyes as I heard the final track, ‘String Reprise/Treaty,’ which took the theme from an earlier track about the singer wishing he could conclude a treaty ‘between your love and mine,’ and embellished it with the saddest strings ever. It’s an album that isn’t easy listening, but more than worthy of your attention nevertheless.
It was like Leonard’s last words to us. In the weeks and months that followed, however, the little orange notebook I keep for lyrical and other ideas began to fill with lines that were, in spirit if not in quality, decidedly Cohenesque. Some of these were translated into ‘Song for Leonard,’ which might yet gain traction as a Venus Carmichael song. However, the lines kept coming.
Which is by way of explaining ‘Final Days,’ which might well be the first completed track of my as-yet-untitled second solo album, to follow Songs in a Scottish Accent. I finished the first draft of it in February or March this year, but certain other commitments, not least the day job, meant it took until this month to record it.
Releasing it now, I’m a bit conflicted, because I’m concerned people might feel it’s some sort of facile reflection on the most recent awful events to hit us here in the UK. Politics aside, we’ve had terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London (twice) as well as the awful sight of a tower block full of (mainly immigrant) families go up in a ball of flame, all in a matter of weeks.
All of the above, especially the last of them, might make you feel that this song is meant to be contemporary. It is, in the sense that Trump’s election might well mean that we’re now living in the final days. On the other hand, there will always be wars and rumours of wars, and the song’s black humour consciously references the type of songs that Leonard Cohen was writing in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In other words, it’s written with current events in mind, but not exclusively so. Nor is it meant to be some sort of pastiche: it’s Cohenesque, I can’t hide that, but the words and sentiments are my own as much as my accent. Consider it an affectionate tribute.
Like Songs in a Scottish Accent, I’ve made the track free to download. However, if you do, please consider giving a donation to some sort of refugee charity, or one of the ones that’s been set up to look after the survivors of the Glenfell flats fire.
Update: the track’s now been updated with some subtle, doom-laden electric guitar from the most excellent Norman Lamont. Peace, blessings and universal critical acclaim be upon him!