A few weeks ago, we were invited to attend an advance screening of Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, slated for release this June. Music nerds that we are, we were pretty excited. The film centers around a concert staged (weirdly, in Sydney, Australia) as a tribute to not-dead-yet Cohen; interviews with the man himself are interspersed throughout. Despite the somewhat promising lineup, which included Nick Cave, Beth Orton, The Handsome Family, and U2, this film was just plain bad. The performances were mostly terrible, with the exception of Orton and Antony (new discovery for me), and godawful cliched camera and film effects lent a false and unnecessary gravity to the interviews. Listening to Mr. Cohen speak, though, is always a delight; we agreed the film was worth it just to hear him discuss how the “punksters” took to the much-maligned Death of a Ladies’ Man.

As we left discussing the disappointing performances, Will made the very good point that it’s a testament to the quality of the songs that a) it’s so hard for lesser artists to do them justice and b) we enjoyed the songs themselves in spite of the lame interpretations. This got me thinking nostalgically of I’m Your Fan, a compilation of Cohen covers that was a staple of my library in 1991. That tape (yep) disappeared years ago, so I tracked down a used CD online and decided to give it a listen to see if it was as good as I remembered. The verdict? Not as wonderful as my 17-year-old self thought, but a hell of a lot better than the limp performances in the film. The lineup on this CD is a who’s who of late 80s/early 90s alterna heroes: REM, the Pixies, Ian McCulloch, James, House of Love, Lloyd Cole, Lilac Time, That Petrol Emotion, and many more. I was recently talking smack about James, but their woozy “So Long Marianne” is actually a lot of fun. Lloyd Cole does a fine, smoky “Chelsea Hotel,” and Nick Cave turns in a weird, improvisational (and probably drunken, if the mid-song belch is any indication) recasting of “Tower of Song.”

The track I was most concerned about, however, was John Cale’s version of “Hallelujah,” my favorite back in the day. One reviewer wrote that Cale sounds like an English professor singing alone in his study, one of the most marvelously apt descriptions I have ever heard. After listening to Rufus and Martha Wainwright yowl their way through this song in the film, it was doubly important that this live up to my memory, and it didn’t disappoint. He may not have the operatic range of the Wainwrights, but he does perfect justice to the pain, desire, and wry humor conveyed in Cohen’s lyrics and provides a perfect coda to the compilation.

Advertisements