The trouble with covering the dead is that their songs can start to crystalize. Every instrument and vocal line feels like a small eulogy, and it can be difficult—and risky—to interpret that. That's especially true of the recently deceased, whose presence is still viscerally felt. It's a shame; reinvention keeps those songs alive.
All of this is to say that Leslie Feist's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye," released this morning, is perfectly faithful to the original. Her voice is gentle and sultry where Cohen's was yearning and slightly out-of-range, but everything else stays roughly in place, including the shimmering choral backing. It's a replica of Feist's performance of the song at the Juno Awards in April.
And part of me wishes that it was less faithful, that Feist had even spun it into something as fried as her latest LP, Pleasure, with all of its frazzled anguish. She used to do this cover of Cohen's "Closing Time" live, which you can still listen to, and it was great: fresh and exuberant, still recognizably Cohen's, but still recognizably living.
But the rest of me realizes that Leonard Cohen died almost exactly one year ago to the day—November 7, 2016—and that this pushes all the right buttons. It might not be something that we'll all return to a year from now, or even three days from now, but it's done with care and love and there's nothing cynical about it—God knows other people have been with Cohen's songs in the past. If nothing else, it's a reminder to go back and listen to Leonard Cohen today.
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