Leonard Cohen’s “Show Me The Place”

Thanks to Steven Greydanus’ musings on this Fred Stobaugh piece from a few weeks ago, I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Show Me The Place” almost non-stop ever since.

I love it. Absolutely love it. Though I’m not entirely sure why I love it so.

Musically, it’s pretty straightforward (aka, plain). And I’m not at all sure what the words are getting at (aka, I have no idea what they’re saying, though I can’t escape the impression that they’re semi-profound). But I love the fact that Cohen’s making albums, even now. And there something so fantastic and fascinating about his singing. (OK, “singing’s” a bit strong; more like “speaking in a low and melodic manner.”)

That’s a huge part of his charm, for me, and one that has grown even greater as he’s aged (gracefully, I’m grateful to say). That voice is so incredibly lived-in; so imperfect; so real. (Want to know what the opposite of “Autotune” sounds like? Try “Old Ideas.” The entire album is mesmerizing.)

Also, that hat!

Show me the place, where you want your slave to go
Show me the place, I’ve forgotten I don’t know
Show me the place where my head is bending low
Show me the place, where you want your slave to go

Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can’t move this thing alone
Show me the place where the Word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began

The troubles came I saved what I could save
A shred of light, a particle a wave
But there were chains so I hastened to behave
There were chains so I loved you like a slave

Show me the place, where you want your slave to go
Show me the place, I’ve forgotten I don’t know
Show me the place, where my head is bending low
Show me the place, where you want your slave to go

The troubles came I saved what I could save
A shred of light, a particle a wave
But there were chains so I hastened to behave
There were chains so I loved you like a slave

Show me the place
Show me the place
Show me the place

Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can’t move this thing alone
Show me the place where the Word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I like the song too, but the lyrics don’t strike me as too profound. I take the meaning of the song as the singer being enslaved by some personal affliction, and he’s asking for that place of freedom, which is clearly implied to be God’s grace. I shouldn’t say that it’s not profound, it is, but it’s arranged overly simple. (Show me the place, Show me the place, Show me the place…)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

      It’s the particle/wave stuff that really throws me off, Manny. Up ’til that point, I’m inclined to agree with your interpretation. (So maybe it’s not fair to say I have no idea. Just that he throws a wrench in it from time to time.)

      But I do think the notion that our “chains” influence the ways in which we can love (God, or anyone, for that matter) IS profound. …in the sense of “deep,” not in the sense of “complicated.”

      And I also love the way he recognizes that the solution is found at the Manger. And that we must hasten there, chains and all. Because that’s where we’ll learn how to overcome the chains.

      (As for the simplicity of the arrangement, I find it distracting to read, but not to listen to. If that makes sense. I dig the repetition, musically.)

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Yes, yes, it’s profound. That was poorly worded on my part. I guess what I was trying to say is that it’s a theme (a profound theme) that’s been done to some regularity and Cohen has presented it in an simplified way. Simplified doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It seems like he’s trying to reduce it down to a presentation of essence, if that makes sense. Sometimes a simple presentation down to essence can be quite moving. I’m thinking of Johnny Cash’s last album before he died. He really captured his faith in a simple presentation of its essence. I think Cohen was after something similar. I did listen to a few of the other songs on the album that song was on (it’s on youtube) and they are similar. I think the vagueness of this song, “Show Me The Place,” kind of hurts it. It’s still a good song, but with each listening it seems not shine as much for me. The “shred of light, particle of wave” part I think is to suggest the metaphysical world, or the approximity to it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

          “…a presentation of essence…”

          I like that notion, Manny. And I actually had the Cash comparison quite explicitly in my mind when listening to/writing about this song. (Cash’s voice on those later recordings has that same incredible, “lived in” feeling. I love it!)

          I understand what you’re saying about it losing a little luster as you re-listen. Fotunately for me, that has not happened — at least in this case. (And I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve listened to it over-and-over-and-over. I’m just still not quite sure why it’s sticking with me.)

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I have thought that too.

  • DKJ

    It would likely help you alot to know that Cohen is from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. A city and a province that was at one time a vibrantly Catholic culture until the cultual revolution hit in the late 60′s. Now Quebec is trying to pass legislation that forces everyone to leave any sign of their faith at home when they go to work. In other words you would not be allowed to wear your crucifix to work or if you were Muslum no head covering. So it stands to reason that Cohen’s music has such strong Catholic overtones but then wanders away from Catholic references in other parts of his music. Alleluia is a good example. I love the song because it sounds like praise to God but then there are references to a woman being tied to a kitchen chair. It is almost insulting but I am not sure he intends it that way.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

      What you say about “Hallelujah” reminds me of another song from this Old Ideas album, DKJ: “Amen.” Lots of conflicting ideas going on in there, for sure.

      But I’m with you. I don’t think he’s meaning to be insulting (or conflicting). I think he’s just working his way through things out loud, and in song. (“Going Home” is another perfect example. I think he’s just being incredibly honest.)


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