Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Hallelujah for novel research... and Leonard Cohen!

It's not uncommon to hear writers lament how easily they're distracted from putting words down on the screen when the internet is only a click away.  It's too easy, they say, to pretend there's essential research to be done... only to find themselves, an hour later, still wandering about in cyberspace, hand-in-hand with Google.  And I'll put my hand up to that: I'm guilty too.  But I love it.

I love discovering weird and wonderful snippets of information to gather up and hoard away in a messy corner of my brain on the off-chance that one day they may come in useful.  And, without it, the task of writing The Grease Monkey's Tale would have been much more laborious because I don't know a whole heap about cars or the mechanics of them; nor as much about the illegal manufacture of drugs and money laundering as I really needed to know.

I've put myself in a similar position with novel Number Three, inasmuch as the main character is an accomplished pianist and I know sweet nothing about music - more's the pity.  Fortunately, this girl is also autodidactic and delights in discovering weird and wonderful snippets of information that she gathers up... so I've now got a ready-made excuse to wander about in cyberspace, hand-in-hand with Google (and her), almost anytime I want!

There's a section in her story where she moves her hands across the keys of her friend's Bechstein boudoir grand, ghosting out the chords of a song, and I needed to find out exactly what those chords were (without knowing a whole heap about music).  Twenty minutes later, I'm listening to one of my all-time favourite songs: Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and, on another couple of tabs, I've discovered all manner of discussion about the meaning of the lyrics and the significance of the chords.  It's exactly what I need!

Ten minutes later, I'm still on YouTube, but listening to Leonard Cohen - the man himself - singing this very song in Helsinki and London and...

At 76, he's still a stunning performer and he absolutely wowed his Australian audience in Melbourne last year (my daughter amongst them) - creating a new generation of fans and satisfying the die-hards too.  While I sometimes think his lyrics are clumsy, with too many forced rhymes (sorry), some of the worst of these songs are also my favourites!  They're stunningly evocative and remind me of moods and places and times and friends from my distant past.  I can't hear Suzanne without remembering back to a time when, after a party, I was strolling alongside the Thames at five in the morning with a girl I fancied, watching the sun whisk up a new day; nor can I listen to So Long, Marianne or Sisters of Mercy without an olfactory flashback that involves the smell of joss sticks mingled with other sweet-smelling substances.  His songs have become a springboard into nostalgia.

However, Halleluja, whether sung by Mr Buckley or Mr Cohen is in a league of its own, and I was delighted to come across it when researching Number Three.  It'll get an oblique reference (for those in the know) - C Major, F Major, G Major, A Minor, F Major - and might even get one or two readers humming along or looking these chords up on the internet.

PS. Whether you're a new or old fan of Leonard Cohen, his Live in London album is very well worth buying.  Superb.


Jane Turley said...

I too love the internet Paul and access to all that information - yesterday I read up about Exocet missiles (Don't ask I don't want the FBI onto me) and today how lightening and thunder is made ( I'd forgotten), the Queen, (couldn't remember how old she was)and a whole host of other stuff. It's a wonder I write anything at all!

Leonard Cohen - one of Mr T's favs. He (LC that is!) makes me feel like throwing myself off a cliff though - give me Michael Jackson any day:))

Paul said...

Well, doesn't LC say something like 'your love is cold as a razor blade' - or something like? Throwing yourself off a cliff would be an appropriate homage, I'd say :-)

But please don't. If you have to listen to MJ instead - well, so be it.

Mike French said...

Funny enough I was listening to this on the way back from walking the kids to school today - one of my favs - I also( whoops ! ) thought he had drowned and had died( as you tend to do when you drown ) but must have mixed him up with someone else!

Paul said...

Strange how something keeps cropping up, ain't it, Mike. As for the drowning, yep, I believe that Jeff Buckley did drown (in the Mississippi?), but the concert I was referring to was an LC job. They both do a wonderful job with this song, and there's lots of tremendous lesser-known covers around too.

Shae Spry said...

Oh the joys of trolling the internet! Would you believe I'd not heard Leonard's original version until your blog inspired me to look it up!? I also enjoy the versions by the Chior of Hard Knocks and K.D.Lang.
PS, the novel sounds great!

Paul said...

I think I came across the Jeff Buckley cover - and thought he'd written it - before I learned that Leonard Cohen actually wrote it. I'll have to look up the K.D.Laing and Choir of Hard Knocks' covers too now :-)

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, Shae.