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flo's avatar

What do you think of the lyrics "Who by Fire" by Leonard Cohen?

Asked by flo (7794 points ) September 29th, 2011

What could he be talking about? Have you ever the song? Do you like the melody? Here the lyrics
here
the music

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27 Answers

harple's avatar

I think the song is asking: Who are you? What are your motivations? What makes you who you are?

Musically, erm, I find the melody hymn-like…

GabrielsLamb's avatar

I believe it maybe possibly could have been written for Marilyn Monroe?

But I honestly dont know
It’s a great lyric… I love him.

Have you ever had the pleasure of seeing his art? Here… Enjoy!

http://www.richardgoodallgallery.com/contemporaryart/leonard-cohen-art-c-10.html

thorninmud's avatar

I understand him to be saying, ” Who knows how or when they’ll die. Who will be taken by this, who will be taken by that?” The “caller” is death. That’s what I’m hearing, at least.

janbb's avatar

Yes, it is clearly saying who is going to die by what means. To me, the idea of the caller posits the question of a G-d or fate.

harple's avatar

@thorninmud @janbb Re-reading it with your words in my head, yes, I see that now… Goodness, it’s deep!

janbb's avatar

I believe it also echoes a Hebrew prayer or chant by I can’t for the life of me recall exactly which one.

harple's avatar

@janbb The first line refers to the witch trials…

flo's avatar

Refreshing, lyrics,nice break from the usual , “tonight is the night”, lyrics. What is “Who in this mirror”?

janbb's avatar

@harple You’re right and also barbituates doesn’t work, but I do hear an echo of something, not an exact copying. And I may be wrong on that idea all together.

janbb's avatar

Not sure what he means by “who in this mirror.” Maybe it means “When am I going to die?”

flo's avatar

@GabrielsLamb I saw the art work, not bad but I like his songs better.

janbb's avatar

And here you go! From Leonard Cohen’s own mouth.

lillycoyote's avatar

@janbb Yes, it’s a variation on a Jewish prayer, Un’taneh Tokef, and the wikipedia entry

janbb's avatar

Yeah – that’s what my link said too. You should be a librarian @lilycoyote.

lillycoyote's avatar

@janbb Yeah, I know. I just had a feeling the first line wasn’t from the Salem trials, maybe that it was a variation inspired by Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice(poem) so I went a searchin’ and by the time I got back and went to paste in my comment, I realized the matter had already pretty much been settled by you. But I’d put enough effort into it that didn’t feel like just abandoning it. :-)

janbb's avatar

@lillycoyote Completely understand that feeling. :-)

flo's avatar

What other song lyrics do you find interesting?

Earthgirl's avatar

flo I like this song…it has just a subtle traditional Jewish feel to it. Here’s a sample I found of something very traditional and not subtley traditional!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oct9nJopdYU&feature=related

janbb ,lillycoyote good research! By a strange coincidence I had this line from an old prayer I learned in Catholic school stuck in my head just this week. The phrase “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears” was stuck in my head. And just now I see it is a line form the Jewish prayer Un’taneh Tokef. Shows you how Christianity is so tied to Judaism. The full version of the Catholic prayer is the Salve Regina. Here is the link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salve_Regina

ratboy's avatar

This may already have mentioned, but it’s good enough to see twice.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

May I ask… what in the heck barbituates have to do with jewish prayers? THat’s actually where I got Marilyn Monroe from…

lillycoyote's avatar

@GabrielsLamb Leonard Cohen is a musician, songwriter and lyricist. I believe the mention of barbiturates falls under the “poetic license” clause of laws regarding song lyrics inspired by Jewish prayer, but I really think a Rabbi or at least a possibly an actual Jewish person, not me, should probably weigh in here on this one.

janbb's avatar

@GabrielsLamb The lyrics were inspired by a Jewish prayer; they are not a Jewish prayer. Leonard Cohen was riffing on the idea of the prayer which is about the ways G-d might take us,and making it his own work. Cohen is a Jew by birth and the lyrics echo the prayer (the tune sounds a bit liturgical too.)

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Thanks guys! I love it no matter what it is…or isn’t.

*But I still think it’s about Marilyn Monroe on some subsconscious level…

I mean READ it. LOL

*I Know it’s not, I just hate being wrong.

lillycoyote's avatar

@GabrielsLamb If fully understand. I hate admitting that I was wrong even more than I hate being wrong in the first place. :-)

martianspringtime's avatar

I love pretty much anything Leonard Cohen does. I do like this song, though it’s not my favourite. I’m watching the interview @ratboy posted and when he starts off saying “who by fire” he sounds a little like Alan Rickman…

flo's avatar

After @janbb nailed what it is about early on I found it strange how it wasn’t obvious. So thanks to all.

answerjill's avatar

It is interesting that this question was asked right around Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), which is the occasion when the Unetana Tokef is said.

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