Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen: Going Home

Even to talk about one's self at a time like this is a kind of unwholesome luxury. I don't think I've had a darkest hour compared to the dark hours that so many people are involved in right now. Large numbers of people are dodging bombs, having their nails pulled out in dungeons, facing starvation, disease. I mean large numbers of people. So I think we've got to be circumspect about how seriously we take our anxieties today," Leonard Cohen said in an interview published in July, 2009.

Well, he goes out as President-elect Donald Trump comes in. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said: Coincidence is God's way of remaining invisible.

Leonard Cohen will be remembered by the unreliable media as a lugubrious Spock-like troubadour of mournful love songs. Of all the songs that Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded the ones I like most are not, wirh the exception of Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat, love songs. Ever since David Marlow, a Jewish friend with whom I shared a basement flat in Hackney in the early 1970s, introduced me to his work I think I have always preferred the outward Cohen of Story of Isaac to the introspective Cohen of Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. I made my compilation last month after reading David Remnick's monumental interview with the man himself in The New Yorker. All of it is worth reading, twice; but here are the last two paragraphs, an apt post-script, Cohen signing off from the material world:- 

"I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not," Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to co-operate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.

“What I mean to say is that you hear the 'Bat Kol.' The divine voice. You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really."  

My top twenty Cohen songs are:- Sisters of Mercy: Suzanne: Story of Isaac: Joan of Arc: Famous Blue Raincoat: Hallelujah: Who By Fire: Song of the Partisan: Everybody Knows: Tower of Song: In My Secret Life: Here it Is: By the River's Dark: In the Land of Plenty: The Future: Democracy: Going Home: Show Me the Place: Darkness: You Want it Darker.

Pick any one and you’ll find apposite lines that resonate with the times, trials and tribulations of the reality in which you’re living. The tawdry Trump versus Clinton scrap for the sepulchre of the White House prompted me to nominate You Want it Darker, the title song of Cohen’s latest LP, as the soundtrack for this particular movie. Others might say, ‘Yes, but what about the more sardonic Democracy? Or the ironic but poignant last lines from In the Land of Plenty:- May the light in the land of plenty/ Shine on the truth some day 

But of all Leonard Cohen’s songs I have chosen Going Home to send him on his way. God bless, Mr Cohen.

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse 

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow

Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Saturday, 5 November 2016

One Law in Belfast, Another in Westminster?

In the aftermath of Thursday's High Court decision, that the Government had not made a water-tight case for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without a Parliamentary debate, I'd like to ask a question.

How come the Government failed so dismally in London, in spite of the efforts of Attorney General Jeremy Wright, when a similar attempt to scupper the Brexit process in Belfast was thrown out by a High Court judge?

The challenge was made by politicians from Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party. They said the UK government could not trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. The Brexit decision should be examined and voted on by parliament or, failing that, by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Central to their argument was that the peace process in Northern Ireland would be put at risk by pulling out of the European Union. In the June referendum a majority of voters in Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU.

According the BBC in Belfast, the judge ruled that prerogative power could still be used, arguing that triggering Article 50 is merely the start of a legislative process in which acts of parliament will be necessary. "While the wind of change may be about to blow, the precise direction in which it will blows cannot be determined," he said.

Unlike his three counterparts in the High Court in London, he concluded that discussing the use of prerogative power to enact the EU referendum result was not suitable for judicial review  It had also been argued that the Good Friday Agreement gave the power of sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland and that the Westminster government could not therefore make the region leave the EU.

But the judge rejected that argument as well, saying he could not see anything in the agreement or the relevant legislation that confirmed that view.

It's a strange equation to contemplate. England voted in favour of Brexit but can't have it unless Parliament says so whereas Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, can irrespective of both the Westminster Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

You may say that a bear of astonishingly little brain, such as I, should not paddle in the deep and treacherous waters of constitutional and legal matters, especially where differences between Belfast and Westminster are concerned. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that none of the media reports, indeed none of the bloggers I have read since Thursday, have seen any merit in taking up this dichotomy.

Is that strange too, or merely an oversight by commentators and pundits? Some are busy exonerating themselves for not anticipating the High Court reversal; others are saying the decision is in reality good news for Brexit because British sovereignty has been endorsed. Only Peter Hitchens appears to be saying that both sides are talking bollocks.

The judicial review was without doubt an attempt to block the process of Brexit by putting the referendum result ino the hands of the Parliament. Everyone knows that in both the House of Commons Commons and the House of Lords there is a majority against Britain leaving the EU. That's why the three High Court judges' decision delighted the Remainers and outraged some of the Brexiteers.

Parliament is paramount for democracy, we are told. Is it? Wasn't this the same institution that voted for the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, on the dubious evidence of a flawed intelligence report? Wasn't this the same hallowed institution many of whose members were caught fleecing British tax-payers six or seven years ago? Isn't this the same institution thought to be implicated in covering up or hindering investigations into a paedophile ring of the geat but not so good?

Oliver Cromwell was so disgusted by the carry-on in the House of Commons after the Civil War that  on April 20, 1653, he led an armed force into the Commons Chamber (as Charles I had done in January 1642) and forcibly dissolved the Rump, declaring: " You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... In the name of God, go!" 

Who hasn't felt like that in the past few years?  It was Parliament where the vote in favour of the 1972 European Communities Act was gerrymandered by the the major party whips. Why would any self-respecting sceptic believe that this institution, which so readily gave away British sovereignty to Brussels, is the best place to protect and defend it now?