I featured Marc Cohn on this site last year in an entry for my Poetry in Song series, highlighting the ballad “Silver Thunderbird.” I claimed that Cohn was an underrated writer, who is justly famous for his smash hit “Walking in Memphis” but deserves more recognition for his other work. Since then I’ve listened to even more of his songs and am more convinced than ever that I was right. Most recently, I embedded his song “Old Soldier” at the end of my post on Steve McQueen. When that piece went viral, I took some satisfaction from the fact that I’d tucked away a little-known Marc Cohn nugget in there.
Marc Cohn’s music is kind of like bacon. It makes me thirsty… for more Marc Cohn music. Think early Bruce Springsteen, with talent. (I’m sorry, I know the Boss’s early work did inspire Cohn, but every time I tried to like it I’d think, “Maybe this is what Marc Cohn would sound like drunk, with a cold, on a really, really, really bad day.” Because unlike Bruce Springsteen, Marc Cohn can actually sing. And play. And form two coherent thoughts in a row. And write a melody with more than two notes in it. Okay, rant over.) ANYWAY, here are some tracks that I’ve been savoring lately for your listening pleasure.
One Thing of Beauty: This one is begging to be featured in a Questions and Answers entry, but I’m having trouble deciding just which song I should use to answer it. There are several good options. Anyway, because this song is a B-side, very few people have heard it, which is a shame because it’s hands-down one of Cohn’s finest moments. It’s bittersweet, reflective and joyful at the same time. Very profound, very uplifting.
Give me just one thing of beauty
To last me for all of my years
Give me just one thing of beauty
To wash away all of my tears…
Ghost Train: This is clearly about Cohn’s mother, who passed away when he was very young. It’s heartbreaking and gorgeous at the same time. The music and the vocals are deep and soulful, like rain soaking into dry ground. Perfect for night driving.
Some trains they leave in the morning
Some leave in the afternoon
Some trains they leave here right on time
Some they just leave too soon
Way too soon…
Walk On Water: This is a darker, minor-key composition with some fascinating chords. The lyrics are mysteriously poetic but seem to be a really roundabout way of telling a girl you want to break up with her. Either way, it’s beautiful.
Let’s go down to the sound tonight
Tide is low, and we can walk on water
Reel me in under that starry light
Just like a fisherman’s daughter…
Girl of Mysterious Sorrow: This one is also minor-key, but guitar-driven—kind of a Spanish flavor. The lyrics paint a picture of a man visiting a young woman’s grave. Exactly why she died so young is only hinted at—perhaps a suicide. It’s subtle, but full of deep meaning and compassion.
Gonna park in the street, gonna open the gate
Walk to the spot where you always wait
I’ll be shaking my head like I usually do
‘Cause the name and the dates tell me nothing about you…
Old Soldier: I know I featured this one before, but it’s too good not to showcase again. Possibly his very best song after “Walking in Memphis.”
You’re not getting no younger
That much is true now
But you still got that hunger
Burning in you now
So what do you do now?