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The Partisan

Leonard Cohen

I was intending to head South from Buster Voodoo to a track named after a Mexican revolutionary (Zapata) from an Argentinian saxophonist (Barbieri). I’ve changed my mind and headed North instead – now it is a Canadian poet singing a song from the French resistance.

You know, during my school days Leonard Cohen‘s music was often described as music for the depressed – you either induced or augmented melancholia with Leonard.

Changes in perception over time supports the idea that the reader/listener decides meaning, which is often (possibly always) well beyond the control of the creator and by no means immutable.

I clearly remember interpreting this song with a level of pessimism, perhaps even a sense of futility. For me the chorus was saying that freedom will come but it is death that will bring freedom.

Oh the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
And then we’ll come from the shadows.

I see it now as hopeful and paying homage to human strength, resilience, and ascendence.

I must admit that back then I had no idea this song was not written by L. Cohen.

In case you are unaware it was written by Anna Marly and Emmanuel d’Astier – it was La Complainte du Partisan. The English adaptation came from Hy Zaret – a prolific New York (Tin Pan Alley) songwriter, whose greatest success came from a partnership with composer Alex North. Together they wrote Unchained Melody.

(Note: Alex North composed the score for the film Viva Zapata – Zapata could easily have been the focus here had we headed South instead of North from Buster Voodoo.)

Joan Baez performs it on (and uses a phrase from it for the title of) her 1972 album – Come From The Shadows. It was also recorded by  Buffy Sainte Marie on her 1971 album She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina.

How does The Partisan connect with Buster Voodoo?

Really, it is nothing more than the sound of the acoustic guitar – the playing is clearly less percussive and more melodic; less aggressive and more mellow. Nevertheless, The Partisan is what come to mind I was listening to Buster Voodoo and thinking about “what next” – (given another Rodrigo Y Gabriela is not encouraged).

An admission though … I wanted to hear the version recorded in Helsinki that is on the 2010 album Songs From The Road. And some of this desire is fired by the playing of Javier Mas (who is playing a bandurria – I think). If you haven’t heard or seen this – play it full screen, through a good pair of headphones.


And here is Leonard performing the song on TV in 1969 in conjunction with the release of Songs From A Room.


Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.

* Song of the French Partisan – this web page has comprehensive information about the song. It’s an interesting read but I had trouble with the sound files.

* Rock History 101: Leonard Cohen – The Partisan – a brief article about the song and the perceptions of the French at war. The last paragraph is about the last verse changing. The English version is as I have quoted above. The original is written:

Le vent souffle sur les tombes
La liberté reviendra
On nous oubliera
Nous rentrerons dans l’ombre

* An interview from 1966 – Leonard is a great interviewee. This one is from Canadian TV. (9m 55s).

* Ladies & Gentlemen … Mr Leonard Cohen (44m 06) – a fantastic documentary from 1965, well before he’d released his first album.

And the next stop will be …?

It’s hard to move away from Leonard Cohen but …

North:  Hallelujah from k.d. lang
East:     The Riegel by Pearls Before Swine
South:  Buster Voodoo brought us here.
West:    Johnny, I Hardly Knew You by Tommy Makem & The Clancy Brothers.

Crossroad 7