Some music days are better than others and today there are two terrific songs that are making me nothing but happy. Leonard Cohen’s “Almost Like The Blues” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”. They both have huge similarities bigger than being released the same day; they are something like mirror images, Cohen reacts to political disasters, to there being no god in heaven and no Satan in hell by noting that things could, in fact, be worse. Rape, murder, terrorism and bad reviews, but it is also only almost like the blues. There are worse things -which, when you’re facing your own death makes perfect sense. Taylor is making the same point, only from a very personal sense: she dates too much, goes out too much, gets dumped too often so what does she do with world opinion? She shakes it off. It is a bubblegum “Dirt Off My Shoulder”.
“Almost Like The Blues” is a sound we are used to from Leonard Cohen, it isn’t so far away from the songs on Old Ideas. Same voice, same deep orchestrated café jazz without the drums (the drums are playing a samba) same looking at the future darkly, quite fitting in a an reaching 80 soon.
I saw some people starving
There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning
They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
I was staring at my shoes
It was sad and it was tragic
It was almost like the blues.
The words themselves are prosetry, they aren’t really poetic, but the punchline is so strong, it makes them poetry and the joke is so deep and so upsetting it is both very funny and sickening.
Taylor doesn’t get you to the same place till the chorus, but the chorus, which she repeats often, is satisfying every time you hear it. I swear this is true: I was skipping on my way to work this morning while it played.
Players gonna play, play, play, play, play
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,
I’m just gonna shake shake shake
shake it off
It is the right response to criticism and it has some of the wiseness of Cohen: melody answers hate, life is subjective, it is almost the blues but it isn’t the blues so just shake it off. At different ends of the life spectrum, 56 years divides them, they have at least two things in common.
Which leads to number three and a subtext to both songs, a lack of compromise. Taylor responds to claims she can’t hold a man, indeed, seeing her ex with another woman, by dancing. Cohen reacts to hell by dancing the samba. And both react to troubles with humor. At the bottom, both these songs are darkly humorous. It is almost like shaking with laughter, it is almost like the deepest wells of sorrow. But it isn’t sorrow and you cans till dance over your blues.
Almost Like The Blues – Leonard Cohen – A
Shake It Off – Taylor Swift – A
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