Granville Automatic is one of the most unique music acts working today.
I don’t mean unique in that vapid, sensationalistic way that has become so common today that it’s not even unique anymore (face tattoos, sex tapes, shirts made out of bologna). I mean unique in a substantive, intellectually stimulating way. Unique with integrity and depth.
Granville’s songs dive deep into history to bring people’s stories to life with poetry and emotion. Not too long ago I interviewed them about their album Tiny Televisions, which tells tales of the history of Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee.
I’m the sort of guy who likes to sit down with music and think about it. If that’s the sort of guy or gal that you are, you’ll likely feel the same about Granville.
Well, Granville is back at it again with “Leonard Cohen,” and this time they’ve found a new trick that perfectly fits the historical-music niche they’ve carved out for themselves — they recorded the song on an Edison Triumph machine.
According to Intertique, the Triumph was birthed in 1901, springing out of the Spring Motor Phonograph. It sold for around $50, which would be around $1,500 today (according to this inflation calculator).
The Triumph gives Granville’s song an eerie, haunting feel. It makes me think of a ghost serenading a lost lover, or a song springing to life on a broken radio in the attic of an abandoned house.
It’s an interesting effect, whatever that feeling is, and it works beautifully with Vanessa Olivarez’s vocals, especially when she hits her highs.
Then, of course, there’s that whole Leonard Cohen angle and the picture of the old cabin on the cover, black and white reminder of Time, Old Creeper, always out there lurking, choking our favorite spaces with weeds, rusting our lives, turning our best days into memories that will someday be unremembered.
For all its corrosiveness, though, there’s something magical about the past. There’s a force of life in it, one that’s hard to describe, but one that’s undeniable and one that some of us seem particularly sensitive to.
It’s mostly melancholy, I guess, that magic of the past, of history, of Time, but aren’t most beautiful things melancholic? All of them? I don’t know why that would be, but it seems to be true.
Maybe beauty is a tradeoff for melancholia— or maybe melancholia is the price we pay for beauty. Some strange cosmic law binding the two together.
Hell, I don’t know.
I also don’t know how, exactly, to describe the feeling I get when staring into history, but it’s something warm in a sweet, sad way, and “Leonard Cohen” has it in spades.
Leonard Cohen the man sure as hell had that sad, wizened beauty, too.
According to Granville Automatic’s press release, they wrote the song about a late 1960s period when Cohen lived in a cabin in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, which is about forty minutes south of Nashville.
I don’t know if you can tell
This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel
This is you trying to get well
No news in the evening mail
Writing words that ain’t for sale
And when the darkness falls on these hills
You’ll be thinking about some other town…
— lyrics from “Leonard Cohen” by Granville Automatic
I’m a Cohen fan but had never heard of this part of his life, so I took to reading about it. As it turns out, it was at that cabin where he wrote “Bird on a Wire,” which happens to have my single favorite lyric ever penned.
Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
— lyrics from “Bird on a Wire,” by Leonard Cohen
Nashville’s WPLN has an excellent piece on Cohen’s time at the cabin. I’ve left a link to it at the end of this piece.
Enough Rambling, Jeff, Give us the Damn Song
Yea, yea, I know. Hard for me to shut my mouth.
I just dig this song. A lot.
It makes me miss everything and nothing in particular, all at once. It’s my favorite of Granville’s thus far.
Check it out.
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